Tag Archives: education

So I signed up for this screenwriting class…

It seems like every day since I turned three I’ve had a midlife crisis. I envy people who knew what they wanted to be since they were dressing up in the role for kindergarten Halloween, but I’m not one of those people. Our childhood shapes our hopes and dreams early on by how our parents reward or criticize us by even the slightest creasing of their eyebrow. I imagine in most families parents are happy with their kids doing fairly basic things — hitting the ball in a baseball game, coming home with a “B” on their report card, getting their first job. Other parents aren’t impressed by standard success metrics. Parents like mine expect more. They raise you to feel special and then your life is spent trying to be special or giving up and feeling let down. You officially have a parental-induced complex that even the best cognitive behavioral therapist can not eradicate.

Different cultures have different measures of success. While every family is unique, there is some truth to how particular groups fuck up their children in fairly standard ways. Asian parents teach their children that they must not feel special, only be better than everyone else, and being better than everyone else is not about innate intelligence or specialness but instead about working hard. Creativity is less valued – however, any talent that requires a lot of repetitive practice is considered high value (i.e. playing an instrument.) Jewish parents, meanwhile, put pressure on their children to be special and successful. Working hard is important but more important is some superhuman talent – we are the “chosen people” after all. Being good at something is not enough. We end up with such complex of hating ourselves while also desiring to be special that many of us develop biting senses of self-deprecating humor (Seinfeld, Woody Allen, Jon Stewart, Mel Brooks, Billy Crystal, the Marx Brothers, Sarah Silverman, Joan Rivers, Ben Stiller, Howard Stern, Adam Sandler, Larry David, Carl Reiner, George Burns, Milton Berle, Howie Mandel, et al.) There is a humor than one must have when they are incapable of achieving equal parts success and fame for their unique, novel contributions to society. Such complexes can be hilarious as comedy is the intersection of feeling bad for someone and relating to their situation just enough to laugh with them at the same time.

So. Here I am – this 32 year old Jewish girl who’s actually now a woman who lives in a one bedroom apartment with her new husband and a job which, despite paying well, is one where success is based on being practically a machine and not unique or special or creative or whatnot. Here I am, still dealing with the complexes my parents gave me and still feeling like life is meaningless if I don’t do something more special than save enough to retire on. I don’t exactly long for fame anymore – I used to want to be a famous actress but then I realized my face did not fare well on film or in any medium that would capture it from an angle other than slightly to the side and from above (not to mention my non-existent acting skills.) What’s changed, however, is that while I still want to create, I feel more comfortable with my ideas and my talents. I acknowledge now that most successful people weren’t successful from day one – they worked at it and they failed a lot and then they had a lucky break – and they certainly didn’t try to please someone else in order to achieve success. A lot of people took risks because that’s what their heart told them to do and for everyone that made it a few thousand didn’t or did to some extent but you never heard of them. There’s a heck of a lot of television writers in LA who you’d never recognize when you happen to be in line behind them at In-N-Out. But they get to write on a daily basis and get paid for it and their ideas come to life and that’s all sorts of cool. At the end of the day it’s just a job, like any other job, but I can’t help but feel like doing that would be a bit more fulfilling than waking up every morning to come up with a new way to promote the newest upgrade to business software.

With that, I signed up for a screenwriting class online that starts on Wednesday this week. I figure I’ll be a horrible screenwriter (dialogue is not my forte) but it could be fun to write a script even if it will undoubtedly suck. I have a lot to say about the world and people and the psychology of people and maybe writing is a way to accomplish that. Screenplays at least have a beginning, middle, and end, and can become more than just a self-published book that collects virtual dust on a Kindle shelf, if it even makes it that far. I look at the lists of comedic screenwriters and women are few and far between. In one list Lena Dunham was recognized at a top 10 comic screenwriter and Tina Fey is listed as well – but the majority on the list are men. (For the record I don’t find Tina Fey’s comedy very funny outside of old-school weekend update and Lena Dunham is too young/hipster for me and makes me feel like an old lady.) Jenji Kohan is listed as a comedic writer with a vag but she writes for television not film – not a bad thing, but still I’m looking for female comic screenwriters, not TV writers. Todd Phillips of the Hangover series has a dick, Adam McKay has a dick, Mike Judge has a dick, The Farrelly Brothers have two dicks, Seth MacFarlane (who, tangent, I saw singing karaoke in LA once and it was magical) has a dick, Wes Anderson has a dick I imagine he admires in the mirror nightly, and Judd Apatow has a dick that he uses to inspire his screenplays (40 Year Old Virgin, This is 40, Knocked Up.) Ok, so where are the female comedic screenplay writers?

Ok, so there are some. Here’s a list of female screenwriters (not all are comic screenwriters) and many of them have written well-loved films over the years. There are women writing in Hollywood – but just like in tech, women in leadership roles are few and far between. I’m not saying I’m destined to be the next great comic screenwriter (I’m not even funny) BUT there is a lack of comic roles for women to play and it would be quite satisfying to take a stab at resolving that.

Besides specific roles, the type of comedy women write and what men write is quite different. I watched Tina Fey’s “Whiskey Tango FoxTrot” and cringed at how dumb the movie was — while comedies written by men are creative in pushing the limits, everything in this film was just so cliche. It wasn’t funny. At. All. Amy Schumer is the hottest female comedian today – yet her movie Trainwreck was a trainwreck of a comedy. Her standup is ok and I appreciate her shtick, but there was nothing creative or original about her film. And, surprise, surprise, it wasn’t funny.

Then you have movies like Bridesmaids where women writers attempt to do the “Hangover” thing for the ladies — Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo gathered together some of the most popular female comedians and tried to capture the same spirit of the aforementioned film – yet, in the end, they got stuck at poop jokes and nothing as creative as a tiger showing up in their bathroom or ending up at Mike Tyson’s house. You have Melissa McCarthy’s annoying shtick which is hit-or-miss funny if you can forget she’s just doing the same thing she always does in every fucking movie … and Kristin Wiig being Kristin Wiig… and because it’s a female movie it has to be all feel good and let’s be friends forever bullshit bullshit bull.

The last funny-ish film I watched featuring women was “How to be Single” – which was still not that funny but at least it had its moments. Ok, it was god awful horrible but for an airplane movie I did have a few LOL moments when I hoped the people in the seats next to me were really asleep. The movie was written by Abby Kohn (who wrote one other romantic comedy), Marc Silverstein (the dick) and Dana Fox (who seems to cowrite for male comedy writers.) Really, that movie was only funny because of Rebel Wilson, who is almost as annoying as Melissa McCarthy but somehow her shtick is charming and believable which makes her quips laugh-worthy. Without Wilson, the movie would have been god awful.

So where does this get me? I doubt I’ll be writing the script for the next “Room” anytime soon, but perhaps I’d have a shot at writing comedy. There’s a huge gap in screenplays featuring women that are comic but not flat-out dumb or traditional rom-coms written by dicks and the people attached to them. It seems like a good mission to have to write one hilarious movie that isn’t so damn cliche and instead can be like Woody Allen-style funny from a female’s perspective and sans all the child molesting / marry your step daughter stuff because even though I want gender equality in Hollywood I have to draw the line somewhere.

It was just yesterday when my  boss told me he doesn’t want to fire me only he doesn’t want me to be in charge of things like I have been because I suck at being in charge of things and to his surprise I wasn’t upset or pushing back on this I just nodded and agreed and confirmed that he wanted me to stay as long as I focus on the things I do best and completely stop trying to do the many things I can’t do well. He gave me the option to leave if I want but I don’t really want to leave, I want to just focus on being good at something and then being able to leave work at a reasonable time to take classes and try to not be too tired to write. Now that the wedding is over and I’m not pregnant yet I have time. Time to write my first “will never be seen by anyone and will be horrible” screenplay and learn a thing or two about if I have a chance at ever writing for a living. I have a secret little fantasy of this working out extremely well and then going for my MFA at UCLA in screenwriting and getting really good at writing and writing all these hilarious scripts that sell well at the box office but also give female actors some real funny material to cut their teeth on versus the standard bullshit comedy that is written for women.

I might lose my job but I think the best thing to do now is to try to keep it, do my best, limit my responsibilities, do a good job, and give myself a set number of projects to accomplish in a given week so I feel productive, look productive, am productive, and can go home and have a life and focus on my writing / creative projects. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is but at the moment I’m feeling hopeful and like maybe I can make this work. I’m too old to be letting life pass me by. I spent my entire childhood and early adult life dedicated to being creative and suddenly as an adult I cut this huge part of me out of my life. If anything, even if this is just a hobby, maybe I’ll find myself again.

 

Fantasizing About Graduate School

It’s time. For almost nine years I’ve been in the workforce, far away from academia, exploring a multitude of careers and learning more about myself while saving nearly $300k. What I’ve learned is that in order to be happy, I must have a day job that satisfies much of my fundamental needs:

  1. Enables me to be a SOCIAL, collaborative creature, interacting with the same people on a regular basis, over the course of multiple projects.
  2. Enables me to work on PROJECTS as opposed to ongoing, never-ending, headache-inducing programs. I need a sense of completion. My brain requires the structured chunking of time in order to be most productive and content.
  3. Enables me to APPLY CREATIVITY. I do not want to live a life where creativity is the end goal. The creativity should be a means to accomplish a very clear problem that has been identified via patterns or an examination of problems that are likely to arise in the near-term future. Continue reading

America’s Most Stressed Generation

In today’s latest bit of depressing sociological discovery by The New York Times, reporter Catherine Rampell highlights what personal finance bloggers have been saying for years – college degrees are the high school diploma of years ago, but the cost for the degree isn’t fairly matched with the proper career and salary.

The article features a law firm in Atlanta that has a policy to only hire employees with college degrees, even for the $10 per hour “runner” job that really shouldn’t require a college education to perform. Due to diploma inflation and weak job markets, it’s easy to make the cut off for consideration in any role a degree. The firm agrees the education isn’t really necessary for the positions, but the social life gained in college to joke about school sports teams is. How sad.

In 2005, when I graduated college, the job market was better than it was today. I still had a very hard time finding a job, but refused to settle for an administrative position which took the four years of schooling I had just completed and rendered them useless. Luckily, I had the fortune of changing jobs frequently early in my career and moving up with each transition. These poor college grads working at this law firm are loyal to a fault, and are excited for small raises being promoted from one position that shouldn’t require a college degree to another. These are the same people who need to go back to school to get an MBA or professional masters degree in order to make any sort of reasonable living. The bachelors degree just gets them a very basic job. Continue reading

Obama’s Student Loan Debt Repayment Program

According to the Washington Post, total outstanding student debt has passed $1 trillion, more than the nation’s credit card debt, and average indebtedness for students is rising. While I’ve often written about whether college is beneficial in modern society (where some of the most successful and wealthiest entrepreneurs are college drop outs), for many there is proven long-term fiscal value of a degree. But not everyone can afford to pay outright for skyrocketing tuition costs.

  • Public four-year colleges charge, on average, $7,605 per year in tuition and fees for in-state students. The average surcharge for full-time out-of-state students at these institutions is $11,990.
  • Private nonprofit four-year colleges charge, on average, $27,293 per year in tuition and fees.
  • Public two-year colleges charge, on average, $2,713 per year in tuition and fees.

Continue reading

Should Everyone Go to College?

My alma mater, a private midwest college with a strong arts program, recently announced that it is raising tuition to $30k a year. While this is quite high, other private schools in the area also announced tuition hikes… The University of Chicago raised tuition to 4% to $55,416 for 2011-2012 and beyond.

At least the students at The University of Chicago have high odds to earn back their extremely high tuition fee… but what about the others of us who are not Ivy League material? Is it worth it to pay $100k – $250k for a college degree?

We were raised to think YES, but some are now arguing the opposite. In The Atlantic, Professor X returns to further on his original controversial article “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: University education for everyone is a destructive myth.” Professor X is a professor at a “college of last resort,” he calls it. In 2008, he wrote:

“I wonder, sometimes, at the conclusion of a course, when I fail nine out of 15 students, whether the college will send me a note either (1) informing me of a serious bottleneck in the march toward commencement and demanding that I pass more students, or (2) commending me on my fiscal ingenuity—my high failure rate forces students to pay for classes two or three times over.

What actually happens is that nothing happens. I feel no pressure from the colleges in either direction. My department chairpersons, on those rare occasions when I see them, are friendly, even warm. They don’t mention all those students who have failed my courses, and I don’t bring them up. There seems, as is often the case in colleges, to be a huge gulf between academia and reality. No one is thinking about the larger implications, let alone the morality, of admitting so many students to classes they cannot possibly pass.”

Continue reading

Graduate School — Calculating a Reality Check

I’ve been doing a lot of daydreaming about graduate school as of late. If I can manage to get past the GMATs and possibly retake the GREs for a better score, there’s still one more overwhelming knot I must tackle: reward vs. cost of a graduate degree.

Today, I started a spreadsheet to attempt understanding just how much money over time each of my top-choice programs would cost me. I tried my best to fairly estimate how much it would cost for a year including tuition, room, board and other necessary costs. My top-choice schools range from $30k a year to $80k a year. Most programs are 2 years, some are 3. Some are MBA programs, others are in design research. My top choice is in both, and happens to cost the most when lost salary is added in (it’s a 3 year program.)

Based on my current income, I feel it is safe to say that I could make $100k average per year during the time I would be in graduate school. So to understand the total cost of school, I’ve added that yearly lost income. Granted, I could freelance and consult on the side during school or obtain scholarships and other work situations, but at this time I’m looking at the cost of graduate school w/ no work vs. working full time. And I can’t handle the results of my calculations.

My top choice school, which would grant me an MBA and a Design masters degree, will cost approx $500k over 3 years. (WHAT? A HALF MILLION DOLLARS?) It’s $160k total, give or take, without the income loss factored in. Quite frankly if I continue on the professional track I’m on now I can probably match any income bump I’d get from having an advanced degree.

Now, the thing is, I’m not going for my masters degree for a raise. I’m going because I want to give myself a fighting change to lead product management for an innovative company. That leads me to wondering, however, if I’d be better off investing that $500k in starting a company instead of going to grad school.

Even the in-state program that I’m interested in will cost me $260k over a period of 2 years including lost income. How can I justify this kind of spending?

This all comes at a time when my networth is eeking closer and closer to $100k. At the moment, that seems like A LOT of money. But when I look at the cost of these graduate degrees (and the cost of life in general), it seems like pocket change.

Looking ahead to the future I know I won’t have the luxury to save as much as I do now. I’d like to start a family when I’m in my early 30s. My boyfriend is also planning on going to school so will have loans as well. Once I go to graduate school my value will be entirely in the amount of time I work in life. These days I feel like it’s a waste of time to do anything other than work… all my freelance projects earn me additional income – why spend time outside at a park when I can be earning valuable cash to invest when the market is down and I’m still young?

Not that I’m complaining… life is going really well, esp given the current economic circumstances. I’m just trying to figure out how to justify graduate school to myself when on paper (eh, Google docs spreadsheet) it just doesn’t make fiscal sense. Then there’s this whole “having to get in” issue as well.

Are Certificate Programs Worth it?

My career counselor (who I’ve seen twice so far) wants me to take a class. She recommended an extension program based at a top University where I could take courses in business and marketing, and possibly complete the certificate program. The program is expensive and not something I want to invest in unless I’m sure I would complete it (I’ve been known to start things and not follow through, working on that as well.)

I could get a certificate in marketing or business administration, which would give me a solid pre-MBA education… more to see if I really want to pursue an MBA than help me obtain one (though it might help.) Each course is $600-$800 and then there are the text books. I realize graduate school is even more than that, but it’s hard to justify spending that amount of money for a certificate. Especially when I could just buy the textbooks and read them on my own, if I was able to combat depression & ADD and muster up some motivation.

Have any of you ever done a certificate program? How much did you spend on it and was it worth it?

My 529 Plan for Grad School

A few months ago, I started a 529 plan for myself. Since I plan to go to grad school within the next 4 years, I figured it couldn’t hurt to start saving with a tax advantaged plan. I’m going a little bit higher risk than I should given my short time frame, but I’m fairly diversified, and I figure worst case scenerio I’ll just have to take out the full loan I would have had to take out if I didn’t save any extra money.

So far I have only $680 in the account. I have $100 going in to it automatically each month. Come tax time, if I have a rebate this year (which I think I should since I’m estimating my networth minus $15k in assumed additional taxes. Some of that will be taxes from my freelance work, but I haven’t done that much freelance this year, so I will have a larger net worth than my estimate at the end of the year, hopefully.)

Then, I just have to figure out how much money I really should put into the 529. Besides the fact that I may, for whatever reason, end up not going to graduate school, my bigger concern is that I can’t use the money for anything else without a major penalty, except education for my not-yet-existent kids. If I don’t have kids, well, then that money will go to my sister’s not-yet-existent kids, or I’ll just donate it to my cousins. I’m sure one day SOMEONE can use it. And starting to save now for my kids’ accounts is not such a bad idea… that’s quite a long time for the money to grow, with all the earnings tax free (as long as the tax code stays the same, another worry.)

So at the end of the year, when I get my tax refund, first I’ll put $3000 towards my 2010 Roth IRA, like I did last year. Any extra money left over… I need to figure out if I should put all of it into the 529 plan, or if that’s stupid. I have a few months to decide. In the mean time, I best get studying for the GREs, which I’m taking next month!

How Will I Pay for Grad School?

It has become increasingly clear to me that in order to pursue the career I want to have, I’ll either need a miracle or a masters degree. I’m mostly looking forward to the latter, after all, my undergrad years were tainted by depression, self-doubt, immaturity, and academic confusion. It really is time for me to go back to school, focus on what I want professionally, and hopefully thrive.

The cost of thriving, however, is keeping me questioning if grad school is worth it. There’s also plenty of other options that may work out just as well in the long run in terms of my professional life. I can take classes, read lots of books, teach myself, work my way up in the world. But I’ve done that with my current career and while it’s been fun, I don’t think I could stand to start from scratch entirely. The programs I’m looking at offer great connections and job prospects (esp if the economy starts picking up by the time I graduate. If it doesn’t i’ll prob be unemployed anyway.)

All that said, I am still freaked out about the cost of grad school. Sure, as of May I will likely have about $35k in savings, but that’s for my retirement and emergency fund. School will cost me about $100k for two years if I count in the cost of living. I may be able to work part time to offset some of those costs, but still, even if I could get it down to just the cost of tuition (about $60k total) that’s, like, double what I’ve been able to save in the past 25 years of my life. And I’ll be losing upwards of $120k for two years that I would have made if I remained employed. So the whole thing would cost me $200k or more. Yikes!

Those numbers are enough to keep me out of grad school. I’m so jealous of my boyfriend, who is going to get a free ride to grad school, courtesy of his frugal mother who doesn’t spend money on anything. So she’s saved up enough for him. In a way I want to pay for myself because it will be worth more. I think my undergrad education felt like a free ride. My parents were paying, it was what I had to do, it wasn’t for me, I didn’t understand the value of an education in line with my professional development.

Do any of you have experience with 529 plans? They sound like they might be a good idea to start saving for grad school… if the market starts to go up. Esp if I can put in a lot of money now while we’re in this recession (I feel really bad for the people who put money in before the recession and lost 30% or more). In California the tax savings on a 529 isn’t that great… well you don’t get a state tax deduction (same with the HSA) – but you do get the federal deduction. And the money you use for education can be spent tax free. I can’t figure out if that’s as good of a deal as it sounds.

Also, there is still the chance that there will be a miracle and I won’t end up wanting to go to grad school at all. Then my 529 plan will be stuck. I can use it to fund my children’s college education – but then I have to have kids. 🙂

I don’t understand how anyone has the balls to go into debt for grad school. Not sure if I do.

Today, I’m Thankful For… Free MIT Courses

Today, I’m Thankful For… is a series dedicated to calling out the free things in life that deserve praise.

I’m challenging all my readers to take a few minutes each day to think of one “free” thing that is awesome in their lives. If you write in a blog, post a link to your “Today, I’m Thankful For…” entry as a comment and I’ll add a link to it in my next post of the series. Since we’re constantly being advertised to for all the things that cost us money, this is an advertisement for all that’s free. Go ahead, buy in.

Today’s Post:

Today, I’m thankful for the free, online courses at MIT. I’ve never been quite the academic my curiosity has made me out to be, so I’m constantly trying to balance my ADD with my insatiable thirst for new knowledge. Also, I have some weird anxiety over succeeding when I’m actually paying for a class and it “counts,” which gets in the way of learning what I’m supposed to be learning. So these free classes are ideal.

Yes, they’re really free. You don’t get the interaction of talking to a professor, or other students. They’re pre-recorded classes from other years. Some of the classes only have notes, while others offer in-depth readings, and I think a few even have videos of the professors giving lectures.

I’m most thankful for MIT’s computer programming courses. One of my goals for 2009 is to learn computer programming. It’s not so much that I want to be a programmer professionally as my current job would benefit from understanding a bit of code. I also dream of being able to make apps as a hobby, at least to the point where I understand where API’s fit into the various programming languages I’m learning. I’m starting out with Python and Javascript. I’ve read a whole bunch of online tutorials (which are also free) but this (six credit) “Intro to Computer Programming” course has a text that’s really clear and helping me get my head around the complex topic. And it’s FREE! How cool is that?

If you’re interested in other subjects, they’ve got you covered. Business classes from one of the top MBA programs in the world? Sure thing. Arts & Literature classes to make you feel like you’re really in college again? Yup. Want to spend your spare time learning about Physics? Go for it.

When the cost of attending college is so high, and getting higher by the minute, it feels like I’m saving hundreds of dollars reading all of these online courses in my spare time. Maybe one day I’ll apply to their graduate MBA program and get the real first-hand experience of taking these courses, but until then I’m happy learning for free!

Read Previous Installments of “Today, I’m Thankful For…”

Part 1: Trees