Sometimes a casual conversation makes me stop and scratch my head. This happened to me the other day as I chatted with a colleague and friend. She was telling me how she had returned to school to earn a Master’s degree. What gave me pause was that I had heard the same update from another friend just the day before. Both of these individuals are senior level professionals, comfortable with their current situation, not looking for advancement or career change.
I am in awe of these two women. True confession, I earned my advanced degrees very early in my career, both in residency programs while not working. I cannot fathom the pressure of learning while you work, deal with family and other life issues.
Pondering my conversations, I am also struck by the fact that the true purpose of advanced education still exists for some of us. Higher Education has been getting bad press these days due to the score of graduates who are unable to find work and who are faced with mounting debt from educational expenses. As a parent of a recent grad, I can personally attest to the anxiety and stress at the thought of a 20-something unemployed and moving home (thankfully he got a job!). I also am in agreement with some of the negative criticism I read about bloated college and university curricula with esoteric programs that have little value on the job market.
That said, I feel that the pursuit of advanced degrees must be based on the love of learning in itself. Learning is an end, not the means to an end like a job or promotion. Learning for enrichment allows us to tackle challenging topics, to explore unknown territories and to even discover new areas of interest. To solely focus on the marketability of the learning would sadly diminish the experience.
Many aspects of our higher education system need serious examination and review. But let us all keep pursuing learning and growth as life goals, not simply as a way to get career advancement.