Was my master’s degree worth it?

Right now I’m wondering: was my master’s degree worth it?

I’m writing this the day before my graduation ceremony. And by “graduation”, I mean the virtual ceremony that my school is hosting for all 15,000+ graduates. Usually the days before convocation are spent running to hair appointments and figuring out last minute outfit fixes; this year, I’m at home working my way through every show on Netflix. Instead of taking pictures with my family in front of my school, I’ll be streaming it at home (maybe I’ll cast it to the TV to fully immerse myself in the experience). I won’t be hearing my name as I walk across the stage; I’ll be reading it on a pamphlet that comes with my diploma in the mail.

Now, obviously it is not the university’s fault that the world has skidded to a halt. Large group gatherings are still not permitted, and even if they were, it’s probably not a wise decision to hold convocation ceremonies. Having said that, it’s still such an unceremonious (literally) way to end my degree. I haven’t been at school since mid-March and it’s given me a lot of time to think about my grad school experience.

Let me set the stage

Let’s rewind back to 2016. I just finished my undergrad degree and I found a job at a start-up a couple months after graduating. From the start, I knew this job was not really for me. I didn’t love the work and while my co-workers were all nice, it wasn’t an environment that I could be myself in. Despite my reservations, I kept at it because the pay was decent and I was grateful for a job. A year later, the start-up was acquired by an international company and my boss announced that we would be relocating. I had to decide whether I would move with the company or decline their offer.

At the time, I was single and living at home. I hadn’t lived in another city and I was intrigued at the possibility of a change in scenery. I also had to consider the fact that the new salary offer was significantly higher than what I was currently making. The idea of returning to school had been floating in the back of my mind, and I knew that if I went back I would need to have some savings to support myself. Although I had to leave my family and dog behind, I felt that this was the right move for me.

So I packed up and moved myself to Montreal. I loved the city, but still wasn’t a huge fan of my job. That might be an understatement actually; I honestly hated it. I was lucky to have one small task a day. Then I had just waste the rest of my day till I could leave at 5. The work was boring, tedious and repetitive. Even though I was working at one of the world’s most desirable companies, I knew this was not a long term career option for me. I would never be promoted to a better position; I knew I would toil away until the depression made it absolutely impossible to go on. Grad school became an even more appealing option.

When you ask children what they want to be when they grow up, they usually say something like astronaut or doctor. I used to say I wanted to be a teacher, author or librarian. I was a voracious reader, spending all my free time with a book. When my mom brought me to the library after school on Fridays, I’d take home a stack of books and have them finished by Sunday. My love of reading and libraries is well-established in my psyche.

As I got older and became more aware of the real world, the basic pleasure of reading evolved into a passion for access to literacy. (If you feel the same way, donate to Room to Read here). I believe every child should have access to books and the ability to read them. I knew the best way for me to turn this passion into a career was to become a librarian. And so I decided to apply for my master in library science.

I wrote and rewrote my application essay probably 20 times. I wanted to be genuine and convey my true intentions. In my essay, I talked about the importance of access to knowledge and how libraries are democratic institutions that provide a safe space for information sharing and exchange.

I experienced a lot of anxiety and self-doubt at this time: was my essay good enough? Were my marks high enough? Were my references strong enough? The dreariness of my job, the loneliness of a big city with no friends, and the stress of school applications really took a toll and my mental health suffered. Come the start of 2018, I was hanging on by a thread.

I must have done something right, as a few months later I was accepted into my top choice of school back home.  By this time, I had started dating someone that I really liked. I didn’t want it to end, but I also knew that this degree was too important for me not to move back for. Fortunately, he felt the same way and decided to move back with me. By the time the school year started in 2018, I was happy in my personal life and optimistic about my degree.

First Year

I went into my first year excited to learn the ins and outs of librarianship. I was eager for classes that challenged me to think and explore new ideas. This degree would give me the opportunity to extend my love of learning to new and exciting content. I was going to learn how to be a librarian.

Things didn’t pan out quite how I expected. My core classes were abstract and theoretical with no real concrete learning objectives. I sat there thinking “Yeah, I already think about this” ” Well, this isn’t new”. “That’s just common sense”. As the weeks went on, I kept waiting for a mind-blowing moment that never came. The winter term was much the same, and I ended first year a bit disappointed. I felt the courses were abstract to the point of useless. I felt really let down to be honest; surely there was more to being a librarian than just talking about the importance of public libraries.

I was fortunate enough to land a summer job at a public library that paid well and provided me with library experience. The librarians were all amazing and they took the time to teach me the ropes. I learned more in those four months than the previous eight. I enjoyed my time there, but left a bit jaded about the all the bureaucracy within the public library system. That’s a topic for another time.

Second Year

I decided I needed to shift gears for my second year. I had already completed the required courses for the library concentration, and I didn’t want to waste an entire year’s worth of time and tuition on electives. Second year I enrolled in records management courses and finally saw some substantial and concrete content. I learned much more than I did first year; I can’t even recall much from my library classes. How sad is that?

Now, as I sit here waiting for my diploma to arrive in the mail, I am faced with possibly the worst employment prospects in modern history. The pandemic has shuttered all libraries and learning institutions, eliminating any possibility of new positions. As other organizations scramble to stay afloat, none are looking for a records management implementation. In other words, I have a professional masters degree and absolutely no employment prospects for at least the next 6 months. I’m trying to figure out my next steps; with so much uncertainty, I really have no clue. I am trying to “pivot” as everyone suggests, but it’s not easy.

I know that I am not alone in this struggle, and I am fortunate to still have a place to live. But when I consider how lack-luster my grad school experience was, together with the decimated job market and the substantial student loans I took on, I am questioning my decision to take the chance on my master’s degree. I always say that more education is always a good thing, and I still believe that. And yes, hindsight is 20/20 so it’s easy for me to sit here now and say I shouldn’t have done it. Having completed the degree and spent some time working in a library, I’m not sure I want to be a librarian for the rest of my life.

Was my master’s degree worth it? As of now, I can’t confidently say if it was. Maybe only time will tell. I still feel passionate about literacy and access, but maybe I can channel this in a different way. Overall, I just feel uncertain about my choices and unclear about my future. It’s a weird place to be in. I’m excited about this blog and how it will grow. I guess I’ll just have to see where life takes me!

Tomorrow, I will be a graduate. It should be a time of celebration and excitement, and hope for the future. I’ll be watching it at home on the couch wondering what to do with my life.

If you’re also sitting at home looking for something to do, check out these yummy recipes to help pass the time!

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