You know we Nigerians, admitting that you are experiencing a moment of cluelessness about your own life is quite the task to admit. We would much rather copy and paste someone else ambition blueprint than admit that we are still discovering ourselves.
The post graduate degree conversation is one of those subjects. I was one of those people who believed that a post graduate degree would really be critical for people trying to specialise in a certain field, go a step further to advance certain skills or those switching careers and to a great extent I still feel that way.
However, I am becoming more aware of other reasons. For instance the minimum entry requirements to work in certain companies would be a masters degree. We can’t pretend to be unaware of the prejudices and restrictions people encounter with a degree from a Nigerian university, thus causing many to acquire a post graduate certificate from anywhere possible – as long as it isn’t Nigeria. The collapse of the educational sector is a conversation for another day.
That said, I have seen a lot of people, come back to Nigeria with their fresh new certificates languishing and gathering dust in a drawer somewhere as they go back to their old jobs. Sometimes they earn less in newer jobs they don’t enjoy, and sometimes they just take whatever it is they can get.
I suppose what I am trying to say is that, a masters degree isn’t a rite of passage the way we make it out to seem. It is something that requires thinking and deliberation. So these days rather than give an answer, I just give people a few questions to ask themselves and hopefully they can deduce whether or not it would be that vital to them.
Why do I want to do this? Is it essential to my personal growth and career? Whether you are saving up to finance your post graduate education, or you intend taking out a loan or maybe your parents are gracious enough to pay for it, there just needs to be a reason to doing this. At least, it should be one that you can justify to yourself, even if not anyone else.
The fact that all your friends are going out of the country to pursue a post graduate degree is sustainable enough a reason. It could also be that your parents just demanded you to (well… fear of a Naija parent is the beginning of wisdom). The truth is, there are many reasons that may or may not have to do with the degree programme itself. Some people want to be exposed to another way of learning. Some need to network with certain kinds of individuals from certain kinds of schools. Some seek a specific type of training, and others are looking for a new cultural experience.
I actually know people who just wanted a break from working life and some just want to move away from home to experience some kind of independence. Whatever the reasons are, be it switching careers, seeking new experiences, specialising in a field or advancing your knowledge or even using it as a bargaining and negotiation tool, I just think it is important to know why you are doing it in the first place. I think it’s important to find at least some level of rhyme and reason to making the decision.
What am I hoping to get out of this? A lot of people romanticise and idealise the proposed outcome of a master’s degree. I have watched how it has lead many friends of mine to a deep and dark depression. After paying for an expensive MBA or post graduate programme, you expected to be hot cake in Lagos. Maybe three or four job offers in toe, needing a special prayer session imploring the spirits to come down and help you make the right decisions… as you are too spoilt for choice. That is usually the dream; but sometimes it doesn’t quite work out that way. Rather after waiting for two years because you haven’t gotten any call backs from your interviews, you take up a role at your cousin’s uncle’s friend’s office – which was lobbied for you… just because you couldn’t take any more Mexican soap opera’s on TV. You just know that the pay package doesn’t include a company car or driver and neither was there a fully furnished flat on Banana Island.
Be realistic about what it is you are hoping to get out of it. Sometimes what is important is that it equips you to be able to create your own opportunities, and not necessarily open a faucet of big money gigs that you expect. Other times it’s about added value. I know coming from me this is a bit of a cliché, but just manage your expectations and stay grounded in reality – at least the Nigerian reality.
What if I change my mind and I later find other things interesting? People never want to admit it because they fear they will look flakey, unserious or unfocused but a lot of the time, we do change our minds. At first you feel very certain about all the things you want, and how you want them to be. A lot of the time, it is only when you get really entrenched in the system do you realise that you may not want all those things after all. It is also a scary thing to have made all these plans and put in so much work, to wake up and realise you don’t want it anymore. This for me is the reason I think it is important to give yourself some time and space to learn first before deciding to take on a post grad because if done right, that second degree could be your joker to an easy transition into that next phase of your life.
What other options and opportunities are open to me? Certain industries are changing and some are growing at an incredibly alarming rate. This is the same for consumer tastes and trends. This is not to say that some careers are becoming out dated or obsolete; but you are going to constantly need more than a one year programme to stay on top of your game. My point is that, your post graduate certificate may just be, the very beginning or in no time, somewhat inconsequential to your learning journey. Some industries require more innovation and disruption for you to thrive.
Short courses, workshops, apprenticeships, conferences, seminars, training programmes and fellowships are also options to explore – especially when you are in a place where you are still discovering what it is you like and where you want to be. Some of them don’t require the same level of financial and time commitment as a full blown masters degree.
Feel free to share your experiences about pursuing a post graduate degree programme and some of the questions you wish you asked yourself.