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Considering Going Back to School for Engineering Masters. Bad idea?

TheGreatZaminoTheGreatZamino Registered User regular
edited August 2010 in Help / Advice Forum
So I am currently working in textbook publishing as an editorial coordinator in New York. Unfortunately, I am thinking about leaving because I don't see myself ever really advancing (I've been working 2 years without a promotion and many other folks are waiting as well). Also, publishing as we know it is about to die out. Hard.

In my free time, I perform comedy and improv, act in web shorts, and write sketches and stories for friends. I get a big kick out of this and love every second of it.

Unfortunately, my parents don't approve. I'm 26, living on my own, and I wouldn't care, but I think they're right in that I will never be able to make a decent living at this.

So I did some scouting online and found out about a graduate program at a major (top 50) university that accepts humanities majors into their school of engineering and leaves them with a masters after 2 to 4 years.

I think this would be a great change of pace for me as my work doesn't challenge me at all and I have enough savings that I could definitely complete the program (all students receive generous aid packages). I've also taken a bunch of programming classes and I went to a top 20 university and can definitely do the coursework, but I am afraid that this program will leave me in a similar predicament farther down the line.

Is it worth it to make a career (and life) change in light of work and economic realities, or should I just suck it up and keep trying to make it in comedy/writing?

Thanks in advance.

TheGreatZamino on

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    WildEEPWildEEP Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Do you even like engineering?

    While I understand the draw of - I want more money - there is no garantuee that an engineering masters degree will deliver that. Do you like something about engineering - is it something you want to do for the rest of your life? If yes, then sure. Go ahead, get a masters degree.

    If no, or I'm not sure, then don't. Figure out what you wanna be when you grow up first, and then make a plan on that happening.

    You said you like the comedy / acting gig. You can make it pay, but if you think it isnt work, then you're fooling yourself. I've got friends in the music business who thought that music was something you did on the weekends and for fun. Once it got time to put food on the table with it, they realized that its some seriously long and hard work.

    So if you want to stick with the writing/comedy/acting stuff, then you've got to get serious about it. If its what you love, then thats what you do. The alternative is some serious misery.
    When I say serious, I mean steps like - finding an agent, attending casting calls, attending a school for the arts, etc. Something that expands beyond the words "free time" and "friends".

    WildEEP on
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    UsagiUsagi Nah Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Like WildEEP says, did you pick engineering because $ or because "oh hey this looks cool and I really like X, Y and Z about it". I mean, there are lots of ways to make money, but if you don't enjoy whatever branch of engineering you were looking at it's probably not going to make you any happier.

    Engineering undergrad is hard work, and graduate studies are downright mind-breaking at some points, but if you do well, get co-ops/internships, work professional societies for networking, you'll definitely find good work waiting for you when you graduate.

    Usagi on
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    TheGreatZaminoTheGreatZamino Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    All true. I am fascinated by technology, particularly computer engineering and display and interface design, if that helps at all, but math and science was Greek to me in college where I barely knew my ass from apple butter. I figure being older and more mature in a more focused program will mean less struggling with the basics.

    As for comedy, I actually did work and get featured in a few things for ESPN and a few indie production companies. I also got comprehensive training in improv at the UCB theatre and took loads of electives in screenwriting, movement, and voice work, but I have always needed a great day job to pay the rent.

    I think the major problem with acting is I don't want to leave New York and all of the jobs and agents are in LA.

    TheGreatZamino on
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    MagicToasterMagicToaster JapanRegistered User regular
    edited August 2010
    What's your BA in?

    Edit: Ah, I saw it! Humanities. Usually, when I suggest people to do a MA as a way to further their career they usually have some sort of experience in the field. Be it professional or educational. Otherwise, you might find out later that you spent all that energy only to find that nobody is willing to give you a chance.

    If you're doing it for yourself, go nuts. But if you wanna live off this, I suggest you have a plan B to fall back on.

    MagicToaster on
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    TheGreatZaminoTheGreatZamino Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    English, but I took computer science, computer design, and graphic classes as electives.

    TheGreatZamino on
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    VeritasVRVeritasVR Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    I figure being older and more mature in a more focused program will mean less struggling with the basics.

    Actually this is the opposite of the truth. The longer a person does not continue or reinforce his education in an area will make it harder to come back.

    Also, just because a school SAYS they can let you do an engineering masters with X undergrad doesn't mean you have the particular class pre-requisites.

    VeritasVR on
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    Let 'em eat fucking pineapples!
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    UsagiUsagi Nah Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    All true. I am fascinated by technology, particularly computer engineering and display and interface design, if that helps at all, but math and science was Greek to me in college where I barely knew my ass from apple butter. I figure being older and more mature in a more focused program will mean less struggling with the basics.

    Out of curiosity, what was the highest level of math you took during your BA? Because there's a lot of math and other science (physics/chem/etc) required even for undergrad level engineering, and I'd assume to get through this masters program you'd end up taking it all.

    It doesn't have to be intimidating, universities do a great job of providing opportunities to learn from professors, teaching assistants/GSI's and tutors until you're comfortable with the material. But it is a lot of work.
    I think the major problem with acting is I don't want to leave New York and all of the jobs and agents are in LA.

    Hmm. Being tied down to a location, especially right now with how the economy is dictating work, is going to make finding jobs harder, not going to lie. In my experience, you'll have better luck finding engineering work in places like DC and Philly than NYC. Unless you have a really good reason, you may have to consider relocating.

    Usagi on
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    TheGreatZaminoTheGreatZamino Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    VeritasVR wrote: »
    I figure being older and more mature in a more focused program will mean less struggling with the basics.

    Actually this is the opposite of the truth. The longer a person does not continue or reinforce his education in an area will make it harder to come back.

    Also, just because a school SAYS they can let you do an engineering masters with X undergrad doesn't mean you have the particular class pre-requisites.

    I kind of set the watch by my dad, who went to medical school on the Army's dime, but had a load of requirements to meet after his Engineering degree. He was also 27.

    TheGreatZamino on
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    TheGreatZaminoTheGreatZamino Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Usagi wrote: »
    Out of curiosity, what was the highest level of math you took during your BA? Because there's a lot of math and other science (physics/chem/etc) required even for undergrad level engineering, and I'd assume to get through this masters program you'd end up taking it all.

    I got through 1 semester of calculus and one semester of statistics. I got a B+ on both classes in a pretty hard department.
    Usagi wrote: »
    Hmm. Being tied down to a location, especially right now with how the economy is dictating work, is going to make finding jobs harder, not going to lie. In my experience, you'll have better luck finding engineering work in places like DC and Philly than NYC. Unless you have a really good reason, you may have to consider relocating.

    Yeah, I recently had a conversation with HR about how saying you don't want to relocate pretty much ends a conversation about getting a new job before it starts.

    TheGreatZamino on
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    WildEEPWildEEP Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Its true that fixed locations are extremely limiting. Is it due to family concerns, financial limits, etc. ?

    WildEEP on
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    TheGreatZaminoTheGreatZamino Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    It's the place my folks are happy to visit and where I have the most roots. Also, it's tough to leave that kind of epicenter of culture. I know they're not particularly great reasons.

    TheGreatZamino on
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    ImprovoloneImprovolone Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    I think the major problem with acting is I don't want to leave New York and all of the jobs and agents are in LA.
    That's a fucking lie.

    Look, being an actor is a full time job and then some. To succeed you have to commit fucking everything to it. No agent is going to waste time on someone who isn't all in.

    Can you do it? Maybe. Moving to Chicago or LA would be good (my preference), but NYC has a shit load of work available. It doesn't have as much film/TV work as LA, but it has more legitimate theatre.

    You should look into working with TMLMTBGB. UCB is good, but their focus is very much on the game of the scene. It works for them, but it is a style. Expand your horizons, take a class with Miles Stroth next time he's in town, for instance. That's about as close as you can get to working with Del.

    Improvolone on
    Voice actor for hire. My time is free if your project is!
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    WildEEPWildEEP Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Ok so basically, the reason you can't relocate is simply: "Because this is home"
    Nothing wrong with that, its a choice you make, and you already see the cost.

    Isn't there still a great deal of stage acting going on in NY? That may not pay huge amounts, but then its not exactly 40 hours a week.

    WildEEP on
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    ImprovoloneImprovolone Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    WildEEP wrote: »
    Ok so basically, the reason you can't relocate is simply: "Because this is home"
    Nothing wrong with that, its a choice you make, and you already see the cost.

    Isn't there still a great deal of stage acting going on in NY? That may not pay huge amounts, but then its not exactly 40 hours a week.

    Yea, it can be closer to 90

    Improvolone on
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    TheGreatZaminoTheGreatZamino Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    WildEEP wrote: »
    Ok so basically, the reason you can't relocate is simply: "Because this is home"
    Nothing wrong with that, its a choice you make, and you already see the cost.

    Isn't there still a great deal of stage acting going on in NY? That may not pay huge amounts, but then its not exactly 40 hours a week.

    Problem with stage acting is I can't dance and I can't sing. I would love to be one of the people that does, but I am pretty much relegated to comedy, stand-up, and writing. Anybody needs a Bottom for Midsummer's Night Dream and I'm your guy, but I also have no formal theatre training outside of some Meisner, voice and movement, and UCB post-college.

    Also, I am looking to train at other theatres as soon as I manage to save some money for myself (another factor). The Magnet, The PIT, Lee Strasberg, and The Atlantic are all places I would love to go to learn. I'm definitely looking up Miles Stroth ASAP.

    TheGreatZamino on
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    ImprovoloneImprovolone Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Yea, you might never work Broadway, but Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway theatres often have roles that require no singing or dancing. Also, taking singing lessons. Everyone can sing well enough, dancing is trickier. Seriously though, you've had movement training and you don't think you can dance?
    How often are you doing stand-up?


    Don't waste money with Strassberg unless you want to be, and will commit, to being an actor. I can't imagine thats a very cheap program.

    Improvolone on
    Voice actor for hire. My time is free if your project is!
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    TheGreatZaminoTheGreatZamino Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Open mics whenever possible and my improv troupe has been performing every week for nearly two years. We just sold out Comix two weeks ago and we have another one of those shows in another month.

    TheGreatZamino on
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    ImprovoloneImprovolone Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Did you perform at DCM? Have you submitted to any other festivals?

    Improvolone on
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    TheGreatZaminoTheGreatZamino Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    We performed at DCM last year, but were rejected this year (not from out of town). We also perform at universities and attend a bunch of festivals whenever the other teammates' schedules permit.

    TheGreatZamino on
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    ImprovoloneImprovolone Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    PM me your contact info, I have some friends who regularly set up stand up nights at places they've rented out.

    Improvolone on
    Voice actor for hire. My time is free if your project is!
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    ImprovoloneImprovolone Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    I see that I've got on a performance train and missed the original question entirely... I'd be shocked if you could get into, let alone get through, a Master's program in Engineering without a background that ties into it. Want more money? Get into the health industry. Be a nurse, a radiation technician, an ultrasound tech, etc.

    Improvolone on
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    TheGreatZaminoTheGreatZamino Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Sent info.

    Edit: Yeah, I spent half my life working in healthcare with my dad as an orderly. After a while, everyone starts to just look like a bag of money.

    TheGreatZamino on
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    zilozilo Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Usagi wrote: »
    Out of curiosity, what was the highest level of math you took during your BA? Because there's a lot of math and other science (physics/chem/etc) required even for undergrad level engineering, and I'd assume to get through this masters program you'd end up taking it all.

    I got through 1 semester of calculus and one semester of statistics. I got a B+ on both classes in a pretty hard department.

    I would be really, really skeptical of any program that accepts engineering grad students with just Calc 1. I don't think you're quite as ready for it as you think you are, at a minimum I'd guess you've got 2-2.5 years of prereqs before you'd be ready for engineering grad work (my B.S. is in computer engineering, my M.S. is in computer science).

    zilo on
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    TheGreatZaminoTheGreatZamino Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Thanks for the honesty on this. Also, the program in question is LEAP at BU. Essentially, they put you through the undergrad requisites over the course of the first 2 years depending on your course of study (in my case, probably computer engineering) and then spend the next two years on your grad work. I'm not meant to be doing grad work right out the gate and I think the program would also take up my summers.

    TheGreatZamino on
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    zilozilo Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Thanks for the honesty on this. Also, the program in question is LEAP at BU. Essentially, they put you through the undergrad requisites over the course of the first 2 years depending on your course of study (in my case, probably computer engineering) and then spend the next two years on your grad work. I'm not meant to be doing grad work right out the gate and I think the program would also take up my summers.

    That sounds totally reasonable. Hard as hell, but not outside the realm of possibility. Have you thought about what you might want to do with a degree in CprE? Speaking from experience, it's rough out there. There are jobs at Intel, nVidia, AMD, Apple, etc. but all of them will require you to relocate, probably to California. I can't think of any big CprE employers in NYC, they require too much lab space for a city like that.

    zilo on
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    TheGreatZaminoTheGreatZamino Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    I'm a big fan of the ITP at NYU crowd. A lot of really cool software and art installations are coming out of there along with some entrepreneurs. I'd love to be a part of that scene in a much more hands-on way.

    TheGreatZamino on
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    BoomShakeBoomShake The Engineer Columbia, MDRegistered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Chemical engineer here.
    math and science was Greek to me in college where I barely knew my ass from apple butter.
    I got through 1 semester of calculus and one semester of statistics. I got a B+ on both classes in a pretty hard department.

    At best, you are going to struggle significantly, even if you work and study constantly. More likely, you're going to get wrecked, especially considering you've been out of the math game. It was hard enough coming back after a summer and dusting off the archives. I can't imagine what it'd be like years later on top of it not coming naturally to begin with. Engineering is math and algorithms and optimization wrapped in science and logic. The only people that have to study higher math than engineers are mathematicians. And then you've got all of the other science/computer classes. As an English major, almost nothing will carry over except to satisfy some humanities electives and perhaps the most basic general science coures.

    Unless you really really want to be an engineer for the absolute love of the field, you're better off going with performance or something else.

    BoomShake on
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    b0bd0db0bd0d Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    I disagree. I returned to school when I was also 26 with no real background in math. I actually failed college algbera twice the first time I went to college when I was 20 and then dropped out not long after. Worked for a few years then said fuck it, I wana go back to school. I started with trig and worked all the way up to differential equations. Took physics, dynamics, electrical circuits, fluids, statics, etc, etc, etc. I'm not going to lie, it was hard but it wasn't that hard.

    I believe that anybody can learn math, it's how much effort it requires. Some people can learn it quick, some people, like my dumb ass, have to bang their head against it until it goes in and stays in. Dude, I made flash cards. I took multple practice tests before the actual test. I studied on friday and saturday and went to math help on sunday. I burned through notebooks doing the same homework problems over and over again. I even bought an old copy of our calculus book and worked problems from that. Hint, get a solution manual. The first time I got an A on an exam, I stuck that motherfucker to the fridge in my apt and mailed a copy to my dad.

    And I use my english skills like crazy in engineering. paper, reports, emails, all types of communciation require getting your point across clearly. I'm on an internship right now. So far I've written a ten page report, another 12 page report, I have to give a presentation, and use email constantly to comminucate to fellow engineers both in the office and in other companies. When you're talking about complex subjects, you have to know how to communicate effectively. One of those reports is on a whole bunch of math shit I did. yes, I'm using my english skills to explain my engineering skills.

    So yeah, I actually did what you want to do minus the already having a degree. It's hard and a lot of work but I love it. It feels like I made the right choice. I'm flat broke most of the time but man, hot college chicks! oh wait, you're going for engineering....sorry...you might see some in the halls or something...

    b0bd0d on
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    NODeNODe Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    b0bd0d wrote: »
    I disagree. I returned to school when I was also 26 with no real background in math. I actually failed college algbera twice the first time I went to college when I was 20 and then dropped out not long after. Worked for a few years then said fuck it, I wana go back to school. I started with trig and worked all the way up to differential equations. Took physics, dynamics, electrical circuits, fluids, statics, etc, etc, etc. I'm not going to lie, it was hard but it wasn't that hard.

    I believe that anybody can learn math, it's how much effort it requires. Some people can learn it quick, some people, like my dumb ass, have to bang their head against it until it goes in and stays in. Dude, I made flash cards. I took multple practice tests before the actual test. I studied on friday and saturday and went to math help on sunday. I burned through notebooks doing the same homework problems over and over again. I even bought an old copy of our calculus book and worked problems from that. Hint, get a solution manual. The first time I got an A on an exam, I stuck that motherfucker to the fridge in my apt and mailed a copy to my dad.

    And I use my english skills like crazy in engineering. paper, reports, emails, all types of communciation require getting your point across clearly. I'm on an internship right now. So far I've written a ten page report, another 12 page report, I have to give a presentation, and use email constantly to comminucate to fellow engineers both in the office and in other companies. When you're talking about complex subjects, you have to know how to communicate effectively. One of those reports is on a whole bunch of math shit I did. yes, I'm using my english skills to explain my engineering skills.

    So yeah, I actually did what you want to do minus the already having a degree. It's hard and a lot of work but I love it. It feels like I made the right choice. I'm flat broke most of the time but man, hot college chicks! oh wait, you're going for engineering....sorry...you might see some in the halls or something...

    Thumbs up to most of this post. Especially the lime, several engineer friends and relatives have commented on the lack of communication skills in their various industries. It might not help you as much in school, but out of it, you'll have a step up.

    NODe on
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    zilozilo Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    I'm a big fan of the ITP at NYU crowd. A lot of really cool software and art installations are coming out of there along with some entrepreneurs. I'd love to be a part of that scene in a much more hands-on way.

    I'd be reeeeeally wary of putting all of your eggs in that one basket. If they don't hire you (and going purely on the odds, they probably won't), then you're much worse off than you are now- you'll have to move anyway, plus you'll be $LOTS in debt.

    zilo on
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    mcdermottmcdermott Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Thanks for the honesty on this. Also, the program in question is LEAP at BU. Essentially, they put you through the undergrad requisites over the course of the first 2 years depending on your course of study (in my case, probably computer engineering) and then spend the next two years on your grad work. I'm not meant to be doing grad work right out the gate and I think the program would also take up my summers.

    Man, I have no idea how you meet the ABET requirements for an engineering undergrad degree in two years, even with a BA to build on (to cover the gen-eds, I suppose). At least not and keep your sanity.

    mcdermott on
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    zilozilo Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Two years for CprE would be possible with summer classes, though not easy. Calc 1, 2, 3, diff eq, linear math, physics 1 & 2, chemistry 1, circuits, electromagnetics, programming 1 & 2, algorithms, and a few other associated computer theory classes... it's doable.

    zilo on
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    TerrendosTerrendos Decorative Monocle Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    I would look into exactly how many prerequisites and such you'd have to take. I'm imagining it being at least 5-6 semesters of work as a full time student.

    But really, you should probably like math if you're planning on being an engineer. You're going to be doing lots and lots and lots of it. It doesn't matter what kind of engineering you do, chances are you're going to be doing lots of math. And unfortunately, if it's computer engineering it's going to be abstract stuff like numerical methods and matrix algebra and stuff which I personally found to be a pain in the butt. YMMV on that particular point though. That kind of stuff comes naturally to some people.

    Terrendos on
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    TheGreatZaminoTheGreatZamino Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Thanks for all of the input so far on this from everyone. I am in the process of moving to less expensive borough of the city so I might start saving for testing and school. I think ultimately it's going to depend on how well I do on the GRE. I just found out my work only gives a 10% discount on prep courses (rather than paying for the whole thing) and so I'm going to have to take that into consideration as well (seeing as I'll probably have to take the thing twice to make sure I maximize my score).

    TheGreatZamino on
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