Do you look like Julia?

Politically, I’m on the left side of left, I’m so far left, you can’t see me (unless you’re there too). But this post isn’t about whether or not I like or dislike Obama or Romney (I am not a fan of either if you were wondering) but about the ‘Life of Julia’ Campaign that Obama’s team put together. Have you seen it?

Because of my public policy background I have an astute appreciation for what they’re doing with this – it’s important for people to understand how policies will actually affect them on an personal level. Otherwise, public policies exist in a vacuum where Congressional members care about them but the people (for whom they will matter) don’t.

However I have some key issues with both the specifics and style of the campaign.

If you don’t want to go through the slide show I’ll give you a brief synopsis. Julia is shown at various ages throughout her life, engaging in the very standardized “this is what a woman’s life looks like in America” model. Hmm…I didn’t realize that women’s lives in America were so homogenized, orrrr white, or filled with babies, and college.

Anyway! Each slide features a public policy that Obama has created or supported and explains how that policy affects Julia’s life in a positive way (See the slides below).

Pretty effective stuff don’t you agree? (Well it’s effective if YOU can relate to the lady in the slide show).

Now you know I didn’t just put that last slide up there by accident because Student Loans are a BIG ISSUE on this blog. What about Julia’s mom in this scenario – what’s going on to help her with the debt she might still have? What about making tuition prices less outrageous for Julia’s son?

I appreciate the public policy messaging savvy but I’d like the campaign to think about reaching out to those who don’t exactly live Julia’s life.


Dr. Orange Chair Mc Fancy Pants

I can’t believe I’m thinking this, especially after my rant about the cost of graduate school (we can’t deny that Master’s programs can be a University’s bread and butter) and how much I didn’t enjoy my Master’s program BUT I am thinking about pursuing my DrPH (that’s a doctorate in public health for those who may not know).

Boom! I bet you didn’t see that coming (or maybe you did and then you’re more clairvoyant than me).

I’ve come into a unique situation in which I could begin taking classes, join a program, and finish up a program at little to no cost. This whole ‘free degree’ thing is pretty appealing. Well, it’s not really free is it? I mean, financially, maybe. But there’s a whole time and sanity sink that comes with going back to school (papers, classes, teachers you don’t like, more bureaucracy than you can shake a stick at).

I have felt since getting my Master’s that it hasn’t done much for me…and maybe it will, maybe it won’t (maybe it has maybe it hasn’t). It is what it is. So then why am I suddenly enthralled by the thought of getting a Doctorate?

I don’t really have to ask because I know…it’s the academic in me that wants to go ALL THE WAY, the one who wants to be Dr. Orange Chair Mc Fancy Pants. I’d also like to believe that at the doctorate level, education isn’t such a business transaction where I pay a gagillion dollars and get a sheet of paper in return that somehow says I’m awesome. I’d like to believe I could take away a real leadership skill set from this and that it could help propel my career.

But one thing I’ve learned in my job search history is that institutions seem to care a lot more about what you have done and less about where or what you have studied. Would my experience with a doctorate be so different as to make it worth it? Unclear.

If you could pursue higher education for free, would you? To what end? And what do you think it could help you accomplish?

Creating a Forum Between Youth and Supervisors

Yesterday I had a unique opportunity to have an extraordinarily candid conversation with my boss. We were returning from an event and had about an hour long drive ahead of us. We spoke briefly about our experiences with the organization and perceptions of office culture but we quickly stumbled on an interesting topic – generational differences regarding the hiring process and expectations.

I have talked before about the importance and challenges of advocating for yourself at work and this was a key part of our discussion. As we started to compare the expectations youth have of work benefits, telecommuting options and salary, and the reality that has been my boss’ experiences we realized there were some extraordinarily large gaps!

My belief is that youth are sold a bill of goods that stresses the sole importance of higher education – to a certain extent we are taught that if you have the degree, you’ll have the job (please don’t take this as a knock on higher education, it’s just a statement about the importance of experience v. degrees).  But the folks who are hiring us aren’t as impressed with the degree as we think they should be. Rather, they are looking for bountiful experience, something many youth have very little of (and little opportunity to get). So this creates the gap! A 23-year old with a Master’s degree feels they are trained for certain tasks but are frustrated when they can’t get hired to do the work they really want to do because they don’t have years of experience in an office setting.

Interestingly, my boss was shocked by this, and said that she had no idea that this is what might be going on. And why would she? I am not familiar with a forum that allows youth and hiring managers to really talk about these issues. Maybe there is one and I don’t know about it, but if not, how do we have this conversation with the people in power that there’s a huge gap between each side’s expectations?  What is the appropriate forum and how do we make it productive?

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Student Loan Initiatives – Unclear About What’s New

Since I have my mountains of student debt to start dealing with, I always pay attention to what’s going on government wise with student loans. So when Obama unveiled his student loan relief plan, I was intrigued. Unfortunately, I’m not really seeing anything new enough to require an “unveiling”.

The president’s plan is to be enforced by executive authority which is good (in my opinion) because it won’t need Congress but it is pretty limited in scope.

Heather Jarvis at Student Loan Expert breaks it down:

The changes will reduce interest rates for some graduates, and will have a significant impact on student loan payments for current students.

The Administration will:
Offer a limited-time discount (including a .5 percent interest rate reduction) to the about 6 million borrowers who have at least one Direct Loan and at least one FFEL loan.
Make more generous Income-Based Repayment (IBR) terms available sooner for about 1.6 millioncurrent students by moving up the effective date for improvements to the Income-Based Repayment plan from 2014 to 2012.

Student loan borrowers who have graduated or are no longer in school can choose the current Income-Based Repayment plan. Fewer than 450,000 borrowers participate in the Income-Based Repayment plan, and millions more of the 36 million Americans with federal student loan debt can likely benefit. The administration says it will take steps to let borrowers know about IBR and make it easier to participate in IBR.
This seems to me to be a very small, very early first-of-the-first kind of steps in helping with student debt burden. “The administration is clearly acting in the interest of students, and this is a good thing in the current environment,” said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education. “But the fact remains that the biggest student loan issue facing us is the doubling of interest rates in eight months.”

Is Graduate School Really an Investment?

My sister has said she feels badly for young professionals because they are skilled and want to do more than their jobs allow, but without the years of experience, they can’t be in the positions that really challenge them or are particularly meaningful.

I think something that contributes to this is the way our culture presents higher education and the pathway to the golden career! We runrunrun through school, gain minimal experience, and expect a big fancy job with a big fancy paycheck and big fancy tasks. Unfortunately, this is the reality for a rare few. I really wish that people would talk to youth honestly about the MANY options they have and the real pros and cons.

Penelope Trunk wrote about graduate school recently and I love what she has to say:
It’s pretty well established that non-science degrees are not necessary for a job. In fact, the degrees cost you too much moneyrequire too long of a commitment, and do not teach you the real-life skills they promise.

Then she goes on to comment on the six most common arguments people make for graduate school and why they’re wrong. 

1. My parents are paying. 
Get them to buy you a company instead… if you spent the next three years running a company, even if it failed, you would be more employable than you are now, and you’d have a good sense of where your skill set fits in the workplace

2. It’s free. 
But you’re spending your time. You will show (on your resume) that you went to grad school. Someone will say, “Why did you go to grad school?” Will you explain that it was free? After all, it’s free to go home every night after work and read on a single topic as well. So in fact, what you are doing is taking an unpaid internship in a company that guarantees that the skills you built in the internship will be useless.

3. It’s a time to grow and get to know myself
If you’re looking for a life changing, spiritually moving experience, how about therapy? It’s a more honest way of self-examination—no papers and tests. And it’s cheaper. 

Bah! I love that one. Yes, therapy. 

4. The degree makes me stand out in my field. 
Yes, if you want to stand out as someone who couldn’t get a job. Given the choice between getting paid to learn the ropes on the job and paying for someone to teach you, you look like an underachiever to pick the latter.

Before I went to graduate school I solicited a lot of advice: work force v. school and people had very different opinions. Obviously, there are times when I wish I had gone the other way. I don’t think my degree is useless but I don’t know that it has made me stand out…especially with such a large group of peers who have the very same degree. 

5. I’m planning on teaching
Forget it. There are no teaching jobs.

6. A degree makes job hunting easier. 
It makes it harder. Forget the fact that you don’t need a graduate degree in the humanities to get any job in the business world. The biggest problem is that the degree makes you look unemployable. You look like you didn’t know what to do about having to enter the adult world, so you decided to prolong childhood by continuing to earn grades rather than money even though you were not actually helping yourself to earn money.

In some ways I think this statement is very true and applicable. I believed I couldn’t penetrate the public health field without a degree but people do it ALL the time. Why was I so different? I don’t know … but I think I was afraid to start working and stop schooling, especially when graduate school was always in the plan.

Obviously I am not the biggest fan of graduate school. Degrees seem to be a business transaction these days – you pay money, you get a piece of paper and some letters behind your name. I absolutely believe in the benefits of education but in today’s world, work experience is a bigger asset and more rare to come across.