Reoccurring Dream of Endless Master Degrees

In 2019, I began looking up stories of PhDs. I got nothing but horror stories. Stories of not having enough to eat, being abused by their advisors, advisors refusing to graduate their students to use them as cheap labor and other such horror stories. This caused me to get so intimidated that I had decided that I was never going to apply for a PhD program at the time and it took a good 2 years to break out of it.

However, this intimidation only applied at the doctoral level. I had no intimidation at the master’s level. I also had an intense fear that I would never find employment. Much of this intense fear was founded in reality as employers repeatedly ghosted me for jobs that required or preferred a bachelor’s. Additionally, as of this post, I have only had one job that required a bachelor’s.

My brain had the idea to start dreaming about endlessly pursuing master’s degrees to avoid ever going into the job market. Basically, embrace becoming a forever student and just say no to stable employment. Pursue degree after degree funded while taking advantage of tuition waivers to have just enough undergraduate credits to apply to another master’s programs. Go to schools where professors are expected to neglect master’s students and so don’t vet them nearly as hard their PhD students. Live in poverty forever because that’s how I thought I was going to live like anyhow since employers only wanted me for temp jobs and then wouldn’t give me any more temp jobs after a few months. Sounds depressing, but if you look at the underemployment rate for autistic folks, it’s the norm, not the exception. Anyways, let me actually describe the dream.

In the dream, I started out being a teaching assistant and adjunct along with pursuing all of these various degrees. The first degree I pursued was mathematics. During the mathematics degree, I attempted to convince the department that I should be allowed to take 18 credits of undergraduate computer science since it stated in their guidelines that tuition waiver can apply up to 18 hours for undergraduate courses and to all graduate courses. They refuses and I instead did 9 hours at the undergraduate level and 9 hours at the graduate level. I remember my thesis being on graph theory and how information flowed in social networks.

The next degree I pursued was computer science. Almost every time I did a different master’s, I went to a different school, so I was moving almost every 2 to 3 years. This time, I was able to convince them to let me study 18 hours of chemistry at the undergraduate level. I then did my master’s thesis on computational chemistry. The chemistry department was impressed with my fairly clean code and chemistry knowledge and asked if I wanted to study a PhD with them. I stated no. After a bit of back and forth, they asked if I would like to “trial” a master’s and that I could switch to the PhD at anytime with a little bit of paperwork. They stated that I was too fearful of the PhD process and that it wasn’t as bad as I had thought of, especially since I was able to publish papers that was my original research in both computational chemistry and graph theory.

This time, I wasn’t able to squeeze any additional undergraduate courses in, but I was able to pivot to biology by collaborating with several biologists and showing an interest in marine biology. I then went to another school, this time combining my chemistry knowledge with graph theory to model how shrimp moved. Don’t ask me why my brain thought of this, it just did. This school allowed me to do 12 hours of undergraduate courses in English, but I had to pay a nominal fee. I then pivoted drastically to creative writing.

In creative writing, I mainly focused on writing queer Black stories. The professors repeatedly asked why I didn’t do a PhD in Black studies, but I always deflected and lied, saying that I was interested more in writing than I was in Black studies. The actual truth was that not only was I intimidated in general by PhDs, but that I was especially intimidated by Black studies as the Black scholars had much more rigorous approaches and that I would be promptly booted from such a program.

Since I had a minor in psychology, there was no need to do additional studies to prepare for this. I studied a master’s in psychology. The neuroscience lab repeatedly tried to recruit me to do a PhD, especially since I had degrees in biology, chemistry, and mathematics. I was able to even stay on as an extra year as a lab assistant because I was that helpful. I then pursued a master’s in library and information science. This time, I was unfunded, but I was able to avoid taking out loans by tutoring in a number of subjects, being an adjunct for several courses, and freelancing some of my work. The librarians accused me of degree collecting to which I eagerly agreed. They said that I was going to have to get a real job, to which I did the grave mistake of insulting them by saying that they don’t have a real job. Quick side note: Librarian is a real job, it’s competitive, they do a lot with being under-resourced. Never say that they don’t have a real job. Anyways, all the librarians ghosted me after that and I was barely able to get out of my master’s.

At this point, I had 7 master degrees. I was nearing 40 at this time. Nearing the end of my library and information science degree, I was contacted by a professor that I frequently touched base on a lot of issues. He had encouraged me to pursue a master’s in education since I liked education, and had some experience teaching others. He helped me get fully funded for the program. During this, he connected me to quite a few community colleges that were hurting for lecturers due to the fact that they paid poorly, mainly served Black students, and were located in areas most academics stayed away from. The dean of the STEM department took a great interest in my skill set, especially since I could teach computer science, mathematics, biology and chemistry. He asked if I wanted to be hired on after I finish my master’s. I initially said no, but he was able to convince me that this would be a good fit for me. I winded up getting hired by that school for that department to be a full time instructor for not only the STEM department, but I was also associated with the English department and was listed as the librarian to go to for finding STEM resources. At the end, I was happy and high fived some of the Black students there when I confirmed that they were going to pass algebra.

Anyways, this is the long story of how I got so scared of a PhD and my job prospects that I had this elaborate dream of doing 8 master degrees and became an instructor at the end. A truly wild dream!

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