evolosophy/grad school As soon as I found a catchphrase, I placed it here.
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The Update, Without The Update
Publish: 2024-06-14 20:15:36
Categories: grad school

It's been a minute. How's it going? 🙂

Me? I'm good, thanks.

So, "what's been going on?", amiright? When we last left off, our friends at the University of Washington (UW) offered me a spot, almost guaranteeing my decision (right?).

So how come there hasn't been a post to make it official? Well... let's discuss.

Yes, Let's Discuss

Prior to UW's offer, University of Michigan - Dearborn (UoM) had become the obvious front runner, mainly on the strength and flexibility of their program. I can't stress enough how good their program looks. Add to this UoM's overall good communication and general experience throughout the process, it was easy to place them in the #1 spot after Minnesota told me to fuck off.

Now, to be honest, I was very excited when UW offered me a spot. They're local, their program is 1.5 years (versus that normal 2 years MS program), and UW is one of the top public universities in the country. Genuinely, accepting UW's offer seemed so obvious that it was silly to consider not accepting.

"Seemed".

While UW, as a university is a well-ranked institution, it's not necessarily true that all their programs are awesome. And, the more I looked into it, the less sense it made to choose UW.

I'm Judging You

I've talked a couple of times now about researching programs and whatnot, but let's be clear, by & large it's a shit show. What am I doing? I'm going to DuckDuckGo and I'm googling "Top MSDS programs 2024", "Best Data Science graduate research programs 2024", and shit like that. Then, I'm reading.

I mean, it's exactly what you'd expect, but the point I'm trying to make here is that there are no 'official' reviews or rankings. There are some big names review sitesthat offer up their opinions, like Fortune, Forbes and US News - all of which have multiple lists of program rankings. And then, there's a bunch of other sites to read.

So anyway, I read a bunch of these sites, and I would see certain Data Science programs pop up over and over. Never once did I see anyone mention UW. Not once. Should I be concerned?

Interweb articles are fine as a first pass, but now that I'm in the top 2 ( 😉 ), I'm able to take the time to look deeper into the programs themselves, and try to judge them by their merits and not their reputations. So I've been looking deeper. And, again, UW seems to fall behind.

UW has a very rigid program. Officially it's a fixed curriculum, although their is an option to swap out up to two courses. However, for each one, you have to write up an official request with justification as to why a) you feel you can skip the course you want to skip and b) you will benefit from taking the alternate course. Compare this to UoM that gives you a pool of core courses with a some flexibility and a set of elective courses with a lot of flexibility. Again, UW is looking like the less attractive option. Should I be concerned?

Digging deeper, from what I can tell, UW's program does a good job of covering all of the basics, but fails to get into any serious depth when it comes to specializing with Data Science. This was reinforced during a Zoom "Open House" that UW sponsored to welcome the upcoming MSDS class, answer questions and set up next steps. During the session, as they described the program, they mentioned that it was more of an "applied data science program", than a theoretical one. Should I be concerned?

So UW isn't looking like such a slam dunk. "What about costs?" you ask? Well, I'm glad you asked, let's compare the two programs estimated cost of tuition:
UW UoM
$53,000 😮 $21,000

I know... right? I mean, I should be concerned by now, right?

Enter The Dark Horse

So, the more I'm researching the harder it is to see Washington being the place to be. That's from a purely academic perspective. There are several other reasons to argue for leaving the area as well, but this post is too long as is, maybe we'll chat about it some other time. Needless to say, UoM seems to have successfully defended the throne.

Well, as I'm researching all of this... guess who show's up? CUNY, the City University of New York, returned their decision and I was accepted to that program as well! 😀

Now, time can change things, can't it? Back in Next Steps I talked about my CUNY prospects as such:

CUNY - sure, maybe. The big cool factor here is that I'd get to go "back" to New York. That's nice, but that's about it.

Honestly CUNY was one of my flyers. 🙂 But after losing Minnesota, and (almost for sure) dropping UW, things have really changed. CUNY is a reasonably close second to UoM's Data Science program while offering a life opportunity that is calling to me more and more as I consider the two options.

I didn't expect it, but CUNY is not only in the race... but this dark horse may have joined the race in first place!

Ooof... so... more research. 🙂

So here's the deal, I'll keep this one short: CUNY has a good program. It's well-rated, it's well-organized and is more relevant than UW seemed. There's flexibility built into the curriculum via electives, though it doesn't have the breadth of UoM's program.

How about cost?
UW UoM CUNY
$53,000 😮 $21,000 $23,000

So... ignoring cost of living for a few seconds, academically UoM and CUNY are identical here.

Are you seeing why I haven't updated you guys in 6 weeks? 😂 This shit isn't obvious! But we gotta decide, don't we? Time's tick-tick-ticking.

The East Is the Seed!

UoM has the best program offering. Clearly. CUNY's is still good though. Genuinely, I think I'd be happy with either program.

But what my life would look like is drastically different. UoM offers a suburban, easily-affordable life that includes a budget that's fairly easy to swallow. CUNY offers two years in NYC on a very-tight budget, grittier lifestyle (public transport, smaller apartment, few amenities, etc.)... but with much more interesting possibilities vis a vis life experience .

It's going to warrant it's own post, but for now, I'll say that the decision has kind of made itself. As of now, I'm trying to see if I can make CUNY work. 🙂 🙂 🙂 It's not official yet, and there's more to share, but I did want to post something after 6 weeks of silence.

So, yeah, I'm not yet sure I can make it work. I'm trying to figure out housing, and it's looking like I may have to sell my car if I did move to NYC... which, I don't know, it's a sacrifice I wasn't ready for, so let's see how that affects things.

I'm really running out of time to decide and act. A decision is coming either way. Once I know, you'll know. 🙂

27 👀
Hold That U-Haul - Maybe
Publish: 2024-04-30 18:12:26
Categories: grad school

Well, the University of Washington has emailed me to officially remove me from the wait list...

ACCEPTED! 😀

Haha, wow. A roller coaster, right? 😂

So... what does this actually mean? It means I'm going to UW now, right? Honestly... I don't know. This is all just happening and I wanted to share it as it's going down... but I gotta figure it out now.

I mean, technically, I'm still waiting to hear back from CUNY, and I have several other acceptances. But mentally, I've been shifting into a University of Michigan state of mind. With everything associated with the Dearborn / Ann Arbor debacle having been worked out, it started to feel like the best option. Now... well..

Well, I won't say anymore. I literally just found out. So.. for now: woo! But... next up: time to decide.

The tanks been getting fueled up... we've got our launch coordinates... launch site is almost finalized... I don't know, blast off seems pretty fucking imminent... 😀

25 👀
FAFSA: complete
Publish: 2024-04-29 17:55:00
Categories: grad school

While I have yet to figure out what school I'm actually going to be attending, there's still one last piece of the puzzle that needed to fall in place, my student loan application - aka the FAFSA.

Well, I got an email from the gov' telling me that my application has been processed! Yay! 😀

I logged in and checked. Sure enough, "status: processed".

That's it. 'Processed'. 😐

You know, maybe I'm remembering incorrectly, but I thought when I applied for student loans during my undergrad, each year it was awarded I was told how much money was being awarded. However, when I check now, the Student Aid website just says I've been awarded "up to $20,000"... which is the stated max on the Student Aid website anyway.

The site does say that I should check with my school for the exact details, so maybe that's how it went down during undergrad and I just don't remember. However, since I don't have a school yet, I don't actually know what's available to me.

I think I mentioned this already in 'I Got The Money', but to repeat, at the start of this craziness, I viewed the FAFSA as a gating factor - determining whether or not I can afford to do this. But (as I've also covered) at this point I think I've decided this is happening no matter what. So... while I'd like to have this settled and ironed out, I won't sweat it too much.

For now, I'm assuming the financial aid will be there. If it is, great... if it's not, not so great but it's not going to derail anything.

We march forward. 🙂

24 👀
I Don't Got The Money. I Got The Money.
Publish: 2024-04-28 16:21:40
Categories: grad school

So, how the hell am I paying for all of this?

Umm... I don't know? 🙂

It's been almost 3 years since I've been gainfully employed. After 2 years of self-employment (Ha!) and a little vacationing, I've eaten up the bulk of my savings. With a two years Master's program starting in half a year, it's going to be a while before I'm gainfully employed once again.

Now, here's the thing, I simply don't have enough cash left to get through this. So, how do I do this?

The "Money" Story

I'm broke

Originally, my tentative multi-point plan was:

  1. Year 1 - pay for life with cash on hand.
  2. Year 2 - pay for life by completely selling off my personal stock portfolio.
  3. Tuition - apply for student loans via the FAFSA, take out the max, pay for all of college via loans.
  4. Fudge Factor - with rough, back-of-the-envelope calculations it was clear I may not have quite enough. As an experience electrical engineer, hopefully I'd find it easy to get a paying part-time gig as a TA at the university I attended to make a few bucks. If not that, some other side work somewhere along the way.

That's the math. Things don't quite fit... but if I can get the loans to pay for the tuition, I should be able to ride out the rest.

Should.

I'm rich

OK, so I still haven't heard back from the FAFSA. That's one concern. A second concern is that the rough budgeting above still falls on the optimistic side of budgetary planning - one broken leg shits the bed pretty quickly. My third concern is, well, having worked my entire life just to earn my way into the (upper?) middle class, I'm not super keen on living the poor life again. I'm just not.

So, at the start of this adventure in late 2023, I wasn't sure how serious to take it. I was still job hunting and this honestly started off as kind of a flyer. The rough budgeting above was fine. As it has transitioned into reality, the gaps in the budget have been on my mind once or twice. But also, to be really honest, I really hate the idea of selling my stock portfolio. I'm really proud of some of my buys and really, really want to see the portfolio mature.

So I think I've made a decision. I won't have to worry about this for another year or so, so there's still room for me to figure out other options, but I do believe I've found a proper answer for all of it - the budget gaps, the reliance of student loans, and the lack safety net. While, sadly, I don't have a rich uncle to turn to, I do have one last card to play: the retirement account.

This is stupid. I get that.

No really, let me say it again. This is stupid.

Pulling money from your retirement account early, and paying a penalty for it, is almost never a good idea. And it's hard to argue that it's my best option now. Especially if I'm choosing to use this money pool before my no-penalty-on-removal stock portfolio. By every financial measure, this is the worse option. But, as of now, I'm going this route anyway. Let me share why.

First, I'm choosing my retirement account over my stock portfolio for sentimental reasons. Again, really a stupid way to make financial decisions, but sometimes we're dumb. 🙂

Second, by choosing to make a single, huge pull from my retirement account in the 2nd year of grad school, I'm leaving my stock assets in play for quick selling bits & pieces if any emergencies do indeed occur.

Third, and this directly plays off number 2, is the peace of mind. The "if" of this adventure is almost entirely dead. This is (almost for sure) happening. Deciding to fund this to the end, no matter the source of money, is very freeing. I should cover this in more detail one day, but going into undergrad with a "poor person" mentality caused me to make some terrible choices at the end. If I've worked my whole life for one thing, it's this - being able to make a big decision and then see it through no matter what.

The "Life" Story

So yeah. I don't have the money, but I do. I'm still planning on maxing out my public federal student loans and hopefully avoiding any private ones. If picking up some income along the way makes sense, I'll give that a go as well.

I don't plan on sharing my too much more of my personal financial data, but I do want to share the funding aspects as the adventure unfolds. Life's opportunities continue to be unfairly dictated by how much you're willing to pay into the system, financially and otherwise. I think paying for all of it is enough of a challenge that it's worth sharing.

And, moreover, if I do get pick up some sort of job along the way, well of course I'll have to blog about it. 😋

I can't make any mathematically sound argument for my plan. But let's be honest, even if I had enough cash on hand to pay for all of this, it would still be hard to argue that this is a good financial move. I'm in my mid 40's and have 20 years experience as an electrical engineer. I've turned down job offers in recent months that pay significantly more than starting salary will be for me coming out in 2 years. The raw & simple fact is that the financial hit I'm taking will almost for sure never be recovered in the working life I have left. The simpler fact is that I grad school isn't to blame for any of this, I dug my hole well prior - this is the fix. Simple, honest fact. 🙂

When I get out and start working, I will make a very, very clear and direct plan to pay back what I take out of my retirement account. 100%. That said, financially, I will never recover from choosing to stop working, much less choosing to go back to school.

But read the heading; this is my "life" story, not my "money" story. 😉 I'm still doing my best to be financially intelligent, but I've worked my whole life to get to make this one particular (albeit huge) bad call. And if that bad call buys me the opportunity I want, then I can consider myself fortunate that it's a choice I get to make. 🙂

So, yeah, that's where things sit. Things will remain fluid throughout, I'm sure, but I do think there's a plan that gets me to the finish line. Whether it's smart or not, well, that's yet to be determined. 🙂 Stay tuned...

PS - as some poor kid from a tiny apartment in Queens, NYC, this is probably the first time in my life I've truly felt non-poor. Weird huh? But that's the journey, isn't it? Climbing up not only from life's challenges, but from our own self-imposed limits? Maybe I'll regret it, but sitting in this coffee shop sipping a London Fog and smashing keyboard keys into a blog post, I will admit that it does feel like a small personal victory to get to be reckless by choice.

23 👀
Dearborn
Publish: 2024-04-25 15:04:58
Categories: grad school

What a roller-coaster, huh? 😮

OK, so I've been doing a little research after my Michigan education. The good news is that there's ample good news. Let's discuss. 🙂

The Breakdown

Dearborn Ain't Bad

So this is clearly the most important point, so let's start here. Amongst my initial concerns when I realized my Dearborn/Ann Arbor stupidity was that not only did I confuse myself during the application process, but that I had confused the two campuses during my research. More directly: I was concerned that I researched Ann Arbor, saw it was great, applied to Dearborn and it was shit.

Good news point #1 - I did not. 🙂 Yes they're two separate campuses and two separate programs, but I went back and looked at some of the review sites I visited and I was indeed looking at Dearborn (almost) the entire time. Going back, I've confirmed two things:

  1. Dearborn's MS in Data Science is indeed a good program.
  2. University of Michigan - Dearborn, while not as highly ranked as University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, it is still considered a good school, and actually ranks higher than my alum, PSU... though, order-of-magnitude, they're more-or-less the same.

So, going in, this already feels legitimately viable again.

(maybe I'm not not top-tier)

So, let's be honest about where the record stands. While I had planned to apply to 3 top-tier schools, I ended up only applying to 2. Of those two, one rejected me altogether and the other has wait-listed me (which I'm assume is just a delayed rejection). Whether I like it or not, the facts are the facts.

Maybe it was silly to assume that, returning for a Master's in my 40's, I would have a sincere shot at getting into a top-tier program. I don't wanna sell myself short, or justify their rejection, but if Data Science is the new hotness, I'm guessing these schools are getting flooded by 4.0 assholes ready to rocket themselves into their career. So... reality check.

Silver lining here is obvious. Given the choice of being rejected by U of M-AA, or accepted by U of M-D, it may have turned out to be fortunate that I've applied to the program that gives me an actual option, you know? 🙂

Hurt Me Quickly

Early on in the year, I was chatting with a friend of mine, sharing with him that I'd applied to some Master's programs. During the conversation. we got to talking about research and getting a PhD. The truth is, I hadn't, mostly figuring I'm too fucking old for that nonsense.

Well, after a bit of thinking, I went from "no way", to "I mean, it's highly unlikely, but if the right opportunity showed up...". The real reason I hadn't considered a PhD is exactly as I stated, I just figured I'm too old and there's not time for that at this point in my career. But here's the thing... I've already missed the boat... by like twenty fucking years! How am I still worried about a career, right?? 😂

So, I very much admit that I allowed for a sliver of a possibility for, instead of getting a Master's and getting back to work, sticking around for a PhD, maybe even some Post-Doc work, and mostly spending my life tucked away in research heaven. Not a likely option, but at least a hint of possibility at a research school.

Well, at this point, that "hint of possibility", is dead. I won't get that from any of the programs left in my list. While, clearly, that's not the best news. Silver lining? It's good to keep my expectations in-line going into things. Approaching this as a two-year commitment as a direct feed back into the workplace is mentally and emotionally different than viewing it as something more than it is and being disappointed on the back end.

I know what to expect, and I'm very much happy with the possible outcome as-is. Genuinely. 🙂

Rankings Matter, Except They Don't

All this talk about college rankings and the "prestige" associated with different school names. Ugh! Who fucking gives a shit, right?

Look, I don't want to make it sound like I'm changing my tune. I don't think there's any magic that happens at any university. I definitely don't think the "top" schools produce the top anything. It's all bullshit.

But, well, it's all bullshit. I've learned that along the way, for sure. And in this bullshit world of ours, dumb people all-too-often get to make the important decisions. My goal for going returning to school is the education, but the fact is, if that's all that mattered I could do this entire thing myself faster and better without going back to school.

I'm going back for the formality so that I can peddle the paper for a job, that's modern life. I don't suddenly believe in university prestige. But I have accepted the value associated with brands in our world. So, it matters, but it doesn't really matter... and I get that.

Wanna Know What Else?

Well, so that's Dearborn. I admittedly felt like a dumbass a couple of weeks ago. Well, I still feel like a dumbass, but I'm feeling good about this dumbass's options again.

Wanna know something else though? And this is fucking hilarious. Fun Fact: I saw this coming.

So this shit is awesome. A couple of weeks ago, when I was in "WTF" mode, I start looking back at my early notes. Like I said at the start of this post, I was concerned that I confused the two campuses in my research and gave Dearborn too much credit. So... here's the thing, early, early on, in my notes, I clearly looked at both campuses separately and made the clear choice to choose Dearborn over Ann Arbor based solely on tuition costs.

So... yeah... I'm a fucking idiot. I knew it. I forgot it. I learned it again. I shit my pants. 😂

That said, do allow me the smallest amount of self defense. While I admittedly forgot that I had looked at the two as I had, I can see that even then, I didn't understand the distinction between the two campuses. If all feels very obvious now.

Now What?

Two weeks ago, I had mentally started shifting myself to Michigan already. I even started packing my place and was genuinely considering moving out by mid-May. That momentum has been squelched and, at this point, mid-to-late--June is earliest. But, earliest to go where?

Maybe I should do a full "update" post again... but as of right now, the short version is this this: Dearborn is very much likely still my best, viable option. If I got accepted to UW, I'd have to revisit this, but as of right now, I do believe that I'm still heading east. And, to be clear, if I do end up at Dearborn, I am very much happy with that as an option.

So... tentatively, I'm still heading east, but that was going to be the case in all but the UW case, I guess. Let's find out far east I'll be driving. 🙂 Time's ticking and a decision's coming, no matter what.

22 👀

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one day. possibly.