I have a Bachelor's and am looking for work. I'm going to school online to be able to start a Computer Science Master's with thesis.

However, I have no research experience and would eventually like more research experience after my Master's because I'll probably want to enroll into a PhD program a decade or two down the line.

One option is: after I'm financially happy, quit my job and get a low paying research assistantship for a few years research experience. Maybe work an additional part time job and freelance at night to help cover costs.

Second option is: eventually land a job where I can convince my boss to let me work from home after a year or so in the office. Then I would attend university during the day mostly for research experience and work my job during the night.

In the United States, which of these two options is often the most realistic? How would I find out if my current or future employer would let me work from home, without damaging my relationship with said employer?

  • When I did my PhD, my honours degree provided the research methods theory and sufficient research experience to commence my PhD. There were others enrolled in their Master degree who also went on to their PhD with the same experience as me. If you're holding off immediately enrolling in the PhD after your Master just for research experience, then that's probably unnecessary. Granted, I had worked in industry for 10 years when I did my honours degree, but there were plenty straight out of school/undergraduate there. – Jane S Nov 20 '18 at 0:48
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    Your second option is a good plan to run into burnout as fast as possible. How do you explain this night-work reason to your employer without scaring him off? – puck Nov 20 '18 at 5:06
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    I think the first question you're trying to ask is, "How do most people in the United States support themselves financially while pursuing a PhD?" I'd argue this isn't actually a workplace question. I'd suggest asking over at Academia but it doesn't look like this would be on topic there either. – BSMP Nov 20 '18 at 6:10
  • I think your second question is on topic but you should edit out the "should I do #1 or #2" part of your question out. – BSMP Nov 20 '18 at 6:11
  • As others have said, option 2 doesn't sound feasible. Aside from the burnout, if you're working remote most employers will want your core hours to be roughly the same as those in the office (otherwise it's a two-day turnaround time any time someone has a question for you). Asking to flex your hours drastically outside normal office hours and working full time from home is almost certainly asking far too much. – delinear Nov 20 '18 at 12:13

The first option is clearly the most realistic - although it hardly feels like a fair contest since the second option is about as realistic as me claiming I hopped on a magic carpet to mars last night to go play bass for Elvis as he reherses for his big gig on Saturn next month.

Which is to say "not at all realistic" (I mean come on.. me play bass guitar? - totally absurd!)

Something I think is missing from your plan is:

"Working from home" != "Working whatever hours you want"

Typically you'd be expected to be available as required during the day for phone calls, meetings etc.

Also unless your research is in the area of time travel you aren't going to have enough hours in the day, even if university "only" took 6 hours of your day (unrealistic for post-grad courses in my experience - expect more like 8-10 for a decent masters), by the time you've added on 8 hours for your "day" job you're already at 14 hours. You're going to need at least another 6 hours for sleep and that leaves you with a mere 4 hours for everything else, eating, washing, doing the boring domestic things like laundry and shopping for food, seeing friends/family/loved ones. It's a one-way express ticket to burnout! And burnout is not a nice place to visit let alone live!

As I mention earlier the first option is the more realistic of the two you mention - however I'd like to throw a third option into the mix. Consider finding employment and then rather than proposing working from home to enable you to study propose a shift to part time instead. Not everyone will go for it - and it will require a bit of schedule juggling with university but it could be very beneficial to you and potentially to the company as well. I was once in very advanced discussions with my then employer to carry out a PhD research project that was also an internal project for the company and they were very enthusiastic about the idea (here in the UK at the time it would also have entitled them to some fun tax breaks which no doubt contributed to their enthusiasm!) so there are ways and means that don't involve burning yourself out or having a low-paying research assistant job that mans you can barely afford to go to classes.

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Having considered a PhD in Computer Science and compared degree programs for a living (in Edtech), here is what I would suggest to you:

  1. If your goal is to eventually get a PhD, apply directly for the PhD without getting a Masters first. You do not need research experience to apply to a PhD program. At most US universities, PhD students will be offered either research assistant or teaching assistant positions to pay for their tuition and you will receive a stipend. These are positions are much more difficult for Masters students to get.
  2. Many US employers offer tuition reimbursement for for-credit courses at universities. You may be able to get your employer to pay for part of your degree program if the degree is relevant to your position. A Masters degree in Computer Science for a software engineer definitely fits the bill.
  3. You could work a few years at an employer and convince them to let you work remotely while you attend school. I did this for my Masters after I put in 2.5 years of work with my company and my group. I was the first one that my group allowed to do this, because I was the team lead and built our framework. But your mileage may vary.

I worked full time (living expenses and health insurance), was a teaching assistant (paid my tuition) and went to school full time, so this is very much possible, but it is very difficult to do.

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You would have to be extremely lucky and be an extremely likeable and persuasive person to have any boss agree to that after just one year.

The more likely path is what the vast majority of mature aged students (including myself) have done, juggle work and study in any way you can and try not to burn out.

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