Updated on 02.02.09

Going Back to School and Still Working

Trent Hamm

Julie writes in:

I have decided to apply to a library science master’s program. I can afford it without taking out a loan, it will take two years, and I will be able to take all my classes in the evenings after work and on weekends.

The problem? I don’t work in a library. I’m a little nervous about how my bosses will react to learning that I will probably be leaving my job in a few years, and I don’t want to jeopardize it in the meantime (though I really don’t think that will happen, I want to cover all my bases…).

Right now, I occasionally work late or attend (optional) evening events. When I’m unable to do these things once class starts, should I tell the truth? Will people find out anyway? (I’m also on Facebook and would love to be able to talk about school there, but some of my friends are also friends with people I work with.)

Is this something I should be concerned about, and how should I deal with it? What do you think?

First of all, I seriously applaud you for taking the initiative to follow something you’ve dreamed about. You’re switching careers to do something you want and done it in a financially sensible way – that’s something to truly be applauded.

Your question isn’t as straightforward as it seems. In a nutshell, you’re asking if you have an obligation to tell your employer that you’re embarking on a life path that will eventually lead you away from the company. I think each side of the equation deserves a fair examination.

The case for telling the employer is straightforward: it’s the honest thing to do. It does not require any duplicity and it’s much more likely to allow you to leave the company without burning any bridges if you eventually find out that library science isn’t for you. The risk is obvious, too: it does make you more expendable in the eyes of the company, and in a down economy, that could mean that your employment could go away sooner than you’d like.

On the other hand, you have the option of not telling your employer about your choice. This is much more likely to maintain the short term security of your job, but it puts you in a position where you may have to be dishonest about your choices.

My approach would be to be honest and open about what you’re doing but not focus on the potential job you’re seeking when you acquire the degree. Instead, tell the truth: you’re taking classes in library science because you’re passionate about library science and you’re stepping up to the plate about that passion. This way, you can openly share the things you’re learning and the progress you’re making with your friends and coworkers, but the focus is not on the idea that you’re potentially changing careers.

The reason for doing things this way is pretty simple. Once you have that degree, you might not, in the end, wind up actually working with that degree. You may find that you’re happier at your current job, but now you have that library science degree as a fallback plan (and perhaps as a resume builder in your current career). Simply acquiring this degree is not a guarantee that you will be switching careers.

Of course, when you’re in a situation where you’re actively hunting for library science jobs, you’ll be in something of a different position. My personal feeling is that, as long as you give your employer the appropriate amount of notice if you decide to leave, you shouldn’t feel obligated to tell your employer that you’re searching for a different job (unless, of course, you’re directly asked about it).

At this point, you’re following a passion, not seeking another job. Keep that in mind and you’ll be fine.

I’m quite sure that commenters will have a lot of different takes on this, though.

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  1. Alicia C. says:

    Great (and timely) advice Trent. I am having the same issue. I currently work as a landscape architect but have started looking into graduate degrees in early childhood education. I wasnt sure what to do about the same issues that Julie has. Thanks for the advice!

  2. jana says:

    i think i agree with Trent, actually. the person who asked him does not have to rush to the boss’s office first thing in the morning, telling them they really want to quit this boring job. i would try to find a way to tell it in a nice way, assuring the boss i would be going to work as required, ie not omiting my responsibilities at the current job. also, after about 17 years of work experience, i can tell for sure that it id a good idea to be on god terms with the company one is working for – one never knows whom )from the current company) are they going to meet on their newxt job. who knows, Julie might end up working with her current boss at a library one day

  3. My philosophy is that as long as you do the right thing, then you’re fine. If your intentions are good, which they seem to be, then you have nothing to worry about.

    Not sure who would really blame you for following your passion. They will probably envious of the move and wonder why they can’t be ‘lucky’ enough to pursue their dreams.

    Bravo Julie!


  4. Katrina says:

    As someone who is in her last semester of library school, I can tell you that anyone you inform that you want to be a librarian is going to look at you like you have 6 heads. The more practice you get at informing people, the better, starting with your boss.

    If you need to sell the idea on him/her, say that you’re learning valuable information seeking and organizing skills that will be useful in any modern workplace, such as using the Internet, databases and other such fun things. It might be a load of BS, but it sounds so good!

  5. Jaime says:

    I am actually in the middle of doing this myself, and I totally agree with Trent. I currently work in healthcare research as an epidemiologist (I’ve been with the company for 5 years) and am applying to go back to school to get a master’s degree in genetic counseling. I’m also planning to work during my 2-year program (although I would cut back to part-time). The other issue is that I will need to move from my current location in Los Angeles, so I will have to work remotely.

    When I made this decision last fall, I was very up front with my boss and coworkers. I explained my reasons for wanting to switch careers, and I emphasized the fact that I was committed to working during my time in school. Everyone has been very supportive.

    That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if any raise I get during my annual review (in September) is a bit less than it otherwise would have been. I doubt that this has less to do with fact that I probably won’t be here in 2-3 years are more to do with the switch to part-time. I also suspect that I’ll be less likely to get a promotion for the same reasons. Personally, I’m okay with this, and my predictions very well could be wrong. :)

  6. Carmen says:

    Totally agree with the advice given in the post. Be honest with your employer but play down the longer term potential consequences.

    As a long shot, is your employer big and healthy enough financially to contribute to your schooling costs as part of your personal development? I used to work for a great boss who fully understood the benefits of fulfilled employees and managed us in this way. Two years of very high achievement and commitment from you as an employee is worth a LOT. But I know we are in a recession hence my realisation that it is a long shot.

    Good luck and enjoy!

  7. J says:

    I would actually advise that you be as vague as possible with your employer regarding your evening activities. For one thing, it’s none of their business what you do at night. If you can’t make events because of a class, you “have a conflict” or “already have plans”. It doesn’t need to be anything more than that. If someone is insistent, they are not only being rude, but you can feel OK about telling them that you prefer to keep your after-work and weekend activities private.

    I lost my job because I wanted to take “the high road” and advised my employer I wanted to switch departments (not even leave the company!). You’ll go right to the head of the layoff list if the department needs to cut headcount and they know you are going to jump ship — why bother keeping the person you know will be quitting in a year when there are other people they hope are staying around.

    With the advent of Facebook, Twitter, mobile phones and 24/7 everything, some people have a perception that everyone (including your employer) needs to know what you are doing at all times. I don’t think that’s a good thing, you need time to do what you want to do, and shouldn’t feel that your work can take up your nights and weekends.

  8. Aya @ thrive says:

    I agree too; you can be passionate about a subject but not be considering a career change just because you’re studying it. If you make it clear that you like your current job, your employer might not jump to the conclusion that you’re on your way out of the company. Plus, I think you’re better off being honest, and if anything, your choices should be respected!

  9. Elizabeth says:

    Keep in mind that with Facebook, you can create custom groups and allow them to see different information on your profile. So you can let family and friends outside of work know that you’re embarking on a new experience of heading into a different field, while your circle of friends from work can just see that you are enjoying the job you currently have and are occasionally known to watch marathons of Grey’s Anatomy or whatever your guilty pleasure is.
    This does require a certain amount of maintenance, but you wouldn’t have to worry about a slip up that spreads through the office.

  10. sid says:

    I’m in the same situation, only my boss wasn’t as understanding. When I told my supervisor i got accepted into a masters program and would need to cut back my hours and would need a couple months off here and there she was supportive, but the director said no because he figured I would eventually leave and he’d rather get rid of me than have me in and out all the time. After talking to HR and getting my supervisor to harass him a bit he eventually allowed it, but told me flat out, if he has to lay anyone off with everything that’s going on, I’m the first one to go.

    I guess the lesson from this, tell them you’re considering doing that before you actually sign up for the program and ask them how they would deal with it.

  11. TheAntiChick says:

    I think a lot depends on your relationship with your employer/boss/coworkers. I’m going back to school myself to change careers… currently a computer geek and going back to get my nursing degree. Currently it’s just night classes to re-take my sciences and fill in some pre-requisites. I have a great relationship with my coworkers and boss, and chatted with them about it. My boss and I have even started talking about reduced hours and partial work from home options to allow for the nursing school demands even though that’s about 18-24 months away at this point. She knows that I’ll be leaving after school, but that’s about 5 years off at this point, more than enough notice! She’s happy for me in finding my passion and pursuing it, and wants to help, and I’m a good employee and will continue to be until I leave and she knows it.

    If things where you work aren’t as solid as my situation, I’d suggest keeping things closer to the vest and being vague, as others have suggested, and not officially saying that you’re leaving until you’re actually seeking another job. Every employment situation is different, and only people in them can really judge what’s the best way to approach it. I personally recommend as much openness and honesty as is prudent.

  12. imelda says:

    I have to say I’m a little surprised by the unanimous agreement in the response to Julie’s dilemma. I don’t have any experience on this issue, but what J says (comment 7) sounds very sensible to me.

    Maybe it depends on a lot of things–how much Julie normally talks with her boss and coworkers about her outside life, whether working evenings and weekends is a requirement of her job, etc. But what Trent said, that “it does make you more expendable in the eyes of the company,” is like a glaring red flag to me. Why would you want to put yourself in that position, in this economy?

  13. VG says:

    Well, I’m an employer, and I can tell you that if I respect someone and need the work done, I’ll keep someone who is planning to change careers until they’re ready to go. UNLESS I find myself in a position that I need to downsize for some reason. Then *of course* they would be the one to go. What would you expect? So if it’s imperative that you keep the job until the bitter end (graduation), then keep your intentions to yourself. But if you’re comfortable with the knowledge that you’ve moved yourself to the top of the list for potential layoffs, then spill your guts.

  14. LC says:

    This is the reason for the popular expresion “mind your own business.”

  15. VG says:

    I want to add to my comment, lest I sound callous. When I’m thinking about my employees, and how to handle down-sizing, I factor in all kinds of things. How good they are at their job, how loyal they are to the company/career choice, even how easy it would be for them to land on their feet. So if I know you’re luke-warm about the job, but your co-worker is totally devoted and in it for the long-haul, it’s only fair to them (and the company) that you be the one to go.

  16. Michael says:

    I have 2 facebook accounts. One with friends, and LOTS of inappropriate photos/comments/links/general mayhem. This is entirely private; you can’t even see my photo in a search. The other one has an assortment of photos that show me in social settings, but *nothing* controversial. I joined some interest groups and am facebook friends with only work-related people. The content for both is relatively the same, but the professional one is a lot more tame. Some of my friends have created duplicate professional accounts as well, and we’re friends, and tag one another in photos that are safe for work. It’s a bit of work, but it shows I’m interested in the social aspect of work, and the content is respectable to represent the company.

  17. J says:

    I’ll clarify my earlier comments. I’m making the implicit assumption that Julie’s current employer is the kind where they expect you to have a “career”, where you are assigned work that is unique to your skills and background.

    If, however, it’s a job where two years is an eternity and most people only do it temporarily, and the position is easily replaced (wait staff comes immediately to mind), then the employer might be ecstatic about knowing they have someone who is willing to stick around that long!

    But, again, as someone who has “been there” and shortly been walked out the door when the layoffs came, tread very very softly. Layoffs often don’t originate with direct managers, and all the higher ups may know about you is that you are taking night classes to be a librarian, and aren’t putting in the extra time your co-workers do by working “optional” (ha) events and weekends.

  18. Greg says:

    I have to disagree with Trent. I don’t disagree with the idea that honesty is best. But I don’t think it is really any of your employer’s business what you do with your time outside of work. When your job can be taken away from you at any time because they need to save money, you have no responsibility to communicate your intention to find other work at any time. Now, you may work with and for people that won’t make an issue of knowing your intentions, but why risk it?

  19. michael says:

    Also, I would not tell the company. They wouldn’t give you any notice to lay you off, you shouldn’t give any notice that you’re going to ‘lay’ them off in a few years.

  20. Becca says:

    I, too, am in the middle of a masters program while working full-time. Unfortunately, I am also salaried, and sometimes need to work extra hours that conflict with my school schedule (evenings and weekends), and then it IS the company’s business to know what is preventing me from coming in and getting my work done.

    That said, I would advise that you come up with a really good, intelligent spiel about how whatever program you’re doing can help with your job now and the company as a whole. For example, I’m in a public administration program, but working in the private sector. My answer to the “how will this degree help you with your job?” question is always the same thing – we contract with government entities, and my MPA will give me more insight into their processes and help my company have a better relationship with our clients. And that is true, if I decide to stay with my company after completing my degree.

    My advice to Julie would be this: come up with some ways that a library science degree will help at your current job, and be sure to bring those up any time there’s the possibility of an issue arising because you are in school and working simultaneously.

  21. Laura says:

    I don’t think you have an obligation to tell them, though I would probably tell them if you think that it will be okay. I was going to say, as a new librarian, that you should probably put as much effort as you can to find a library assistant or library related job for your fulltime employment while you’re in school, especially if you haven’t worked in a library already. I know that when I graduated last spring and went out job hunting, my experience as a library assistant made me a very competitive candidate, even against more experienced librarians. Librarians also tend to be really supportive of new people in the field. My former bosses really mentored me throughout school and have helped me as references and general coaches when I was job hunting. I know it wasn’t your question, but I can’t help but offer this advice!

  22. Chris says:

    I disagree. I believe it’s none of her boss’s business what she does after hours. If she decides to pursue another degree, it is her business only. If it interferes with her work obligations, then it could be a problem, but from what I read from her article, she can do it completely after hours. The only thing she is worried about is that it could cut into the extras she has been giving her employer, like longer hours and evening work-related activities. As long as these are optional, which I understand they are, then it’s no problem. I would not notify the employer if at all possible.

    There should be a separation between your professional life and your private life for your own protection. After you’ve given your boss his or her 40 hours, then you’re on YOUR time, not your boss’s.

  23. Jim says:

    Who grows up thinking “I really want to be a librarian” ?!

  24. IRG says:

    As long as you do the job you are paid to do, as needed, it’s nobody’s business what you do outside the office.

    It’s bad enough that many companies already think they own you 24/7 (no matter how little you are paid), now you should tell them and put yourself in jeopardy–in the name of “honesty”?

    Companies are not honest with staff about their financial situation and a bout a lot of stuff that affects an employees decisions about their future. (Can we all count how many times we and people we know were lied to, outright, about something critical in our work and it jeopardized our personal lives as well?)

    Whether you work for a large or small firm, keep your biz to yourself. Especially higher education–unless the company specifically asked you to take courses to further your skills. That’s the only exception.

    Even if the economy wasn’t this bad, why risk your job? (You really do not know how people will take the news about your passsion. Do not be naive, people. Even “stupid” bosses are not stupid. Who in this economy spends time/money on a passion like library science, UNLESS it’s more than a possible passion. Come on.)

    In a perfect world, any company would be thrilled to have its workers improve their skills (and some do, by paying for courses they approve–always a catch). But in reality, most companies, even while planning layoffs, are looking at people and thinking: I’m not going to put more into them and then have them leave.

    Keep your mouth shut and do not put yourself at risk. There is nothing dishonest in taking classes. Misrepresenting it as a “passion” …now that’s a bit dishonest given what you’ve written. And even if you don’t get a job, it’s your intention that you would be lying about.

  25. Travis @ CMM says:

    I wouldn’t lie to your boss, or hide it. But I also wouldn’t make an announcement about it either. If your boss ever asks, just be honest about it. There’s a chance that you could get laid off quicker because of it, but I think honesty is more important. Other jobs will come along. Congrats on following your dreams.

  26. The Other Michael says:

    As a academic librarian who is involved in hiring other librarians, I say it doesn’t matter what your employer thinks. In fact, you need to find a job in a library NOW.

    The library profession is full of people who have gotten their MLSs but have no library experience — those people do not get library jobs. The situation is worsening now that various governmental agencies are slashing funding.

    The key to getting a library job is not an MLS; it’s having library (and preferably management, in or out of a library setting) experience.

    I recommend talking with some working librarians about the situation — set up some information interviews. Your professors will not be straight with you, and the listservs for new librarians (like NEWLIB-L) have too many trolls to ask the serious questions you should be asking.

    Last thing: Get all the tech skills you can while in library school; library techies are in demand. Good luck.

  27. Dan S. says:

    Are you absolutely positively sure that you are going to leave your job after completing your Masters program?

    I think it’s reasonable to get a degree and it definitely doesn’t have to mean that you’re planning to leave your current employer. Plus, you’re enhancing your skills, and isn’t there some way that this can be applied at your current job? Isn’t skills enhancement a good thing? I’d leave it alone — and if anyone asks, you like Library Science enough to get a degree in it.

    Plus — and perhaps I live in a bubble — do any employers actually expect that you’ll be spending your entire career with them…?

  28. cherie says:

    I vehemently disagree with this:
    “The case for telling the employer is straightforward: it’s the honest thing to do. It does not require any duplicity and it’s much more likely to allow you to leave the company without burning any bridges if you eventually find out that library science isn’t for you”

    You owe your spouse the truth on this issue but who else needs to know?

    Do you tell you boss if you’re considering having a child? That may affect your work in the future. . . what about divorce? also might affect things

    This is your PRIVATE LIFE

    The boss is not consulting with you on future plans he/she may have to move the business, close it, lay you off, expand your department etc

    This is not their business. If you need to miss evening work then that may be a problem and you need to take the heat on it – if telling is the only option to get out of obligations then I’d be prepared to have my job next on the line . . . and your boss would be entitled to let you go.

    But things that do not interfere with your job should not be noised about at work, or on your facebook page! protect your privacy – you’ll be glad you did.

  29. bethh says:

    First of all, congratulations to Julie for trying something new, and not going into debt to do so! I second comment #17 – depending on what you want to do with the degree, you may need to get some library experience before you finish. I got my MLS in 2004 and am on my second career in the field.

    As far as your current employer: if you have to ask, then you may want to keep it vague, and as another person pointed out, think of ways to spin your studies as applicable to your current situation.

    good luck!

  30. LRH says:

    I actually did this for 4 years. At the time I went back to school for another degree, I was unsatisfied with my job in a financial services company and was looking for something different, so I went for a degree in interior design, which is a passion of mine.

    I did tell some close friends at work, but other than that, I did not tell my bosses or other higher-ups. However, I also did not lie when I was asked by one boss who had heard the rumor I was taking classes. I made it a point to minimize the impact of school on my job and vice versa.

    I am a full-time salaried employee, sometimes required to work late. If something came up on a night I had class, I would simply say that I had an “appointment” or “prior commitment” and then leave, making sure to put in extra time on the days I could, including coming in early if needed.

    Fast forward to 4 years later. I got the degree, but many things also changed at my job and I was promoted. I’m now much happier at my job and do not plan on transitioning immediately to interior design. I’m glad I did not directly tell my employer because I may have been overlooked for the promotion when the time came if they thought I wasn’t committed.

    As for the Facebook question, I second what one of the other posters said – use filters if you can.

  31. Carrie says:

    What you do on your own time is not your employer’s business. I echo what the other people said. Once they find out you have a life outside of work, they will be more likely to show you the door. Don’t expect your employer to either listen to your “passion” explanation or believe it. You can explain and they still can misunderstand your intentions for taking the classes. I firmly believe in keeping a thick wall between your private life and your professional life. It gives your employer less ammunition to work with.

  32. I attended a community college orientation program last fall (not me, I was hanging out because I drove a student to the event).

    And I heard some very excellent advice from one of the professors. His point to the incoming students was:

    You can go to school full time and work part time.

    Or you can go to school part time and work full time.

    It generally does not work very well to go to school full time (12-18 credit hours at most places) and work full time during that same semester. Something’s going to crash.

  33. Mister E says:

    I would say it depends on the relationship you have with your managers but at the end of the day your commitment to them is 9-5 (or whatever) and anything you do outside those hours is none of their business.

    If “optional” extracurriculars are expected of you then I’d tell them as much as I needed to get out of it but no more. If they ask why you can’t make an event, tell them you’re taking a course but portray it as a personal interest thing as opposed to a means to enter a different field. _Always_ be honest but don’t volunteer more information than is necessary.

  34. Chris says:

    In this economy, I wouldn’t give them ANY details. The most I would say…should it even come up in conversation…is that I am going back to school for an advanced degree. Which is true, but doesn’t tell them anything as far as the details go. Play your cards close to the chest because that is exactly how they do it. The less they know about you and what you are doing, the better. All you want your current job to know is that you are hardworking and committed. Period!

  35. Tom says:

    I agree with Trent as well. I have an employee that I supervise who came to me with the news that she’d be studying for a master’s degree in a program that had absolutely nothing to do with our field of work. Moreover, she needed to reduce her work hours to enter the academic program. I was only too happy to accomodate this hard working, ethical employee. I didn’t have to train her replacement, and now she is highly motivated in the hours she does devote to the company. So far it has been a win-win situation.

  36. Janine says:

    Think about it from the other way around: If your employer was considering cutting staff one year down the road. Do you think they’d ‘be honest’ with staff, saying that this might happen? Mmmm NO. You shouldn’t use the term ‘being honest’ about something like this. To keep this type of information from your employer is not deceptive, it is protective.

  37. Kathy Donatello says:

    A wise employer will recognized that any classes you take that help you improve yourself as a person will also improve you as an employee. Who knows, you may be able to create a new position for yourself within the company later on such as creating and maintaining a technical or specialty resource library, or organizing their human resource manuals, etc. I went back to college to finish a bachelor degree in a field unrelated to my occupation. My employer had a reimbursement program that helped pay for tuition, but they benefited in many ways from what I learned and the benefit of a hard working, organized, skilled employee for 35 years. Best of luck to you.

  38. Kristine says:

    From personal experience, I have to agree that you put yourself in danger by announcing your plans needlessly. Today, I would say don’t offer more information than necessary.

    I was in a situation where I needed to move to a different state in a few months to take care of my father. I chose to give my boss (who I thought I got along with well and would respond well to this) the several months notice instead of waiting til the last two weeks. Initially, it seemed to be good – he was appreciative and said there would be no problem. I trained a colleague to do the most important parts of my job – and then they let me go, earlier than I had planned.

    Even before they let me go, I found that my actions were scrutinized through a magnifying glass. Everything was interpreted through ‘she’s leaving soon, maybe she doesn’t care about her work’ lenses. It was not pleasant. Fair warning.

    Best of luck with your plans! Seize your dreams with both hands!

  39. SuSu says:

    I am an academic librarian as well and I agree with The Other Michael- You need to get a job in a library as soon as possible. I went in to library school a few years ago with no library experience. I never would have gotten a professional level job after graduation without library experience, and I barely had enough to meet minimum requirements for the job I got. While in school I worked as a substitute teacher (as much in the school libraries as possible) in between two short term paid internships at 2 different types of libraries. One of the internships I got because I took the initiative to find all of the “special” libraries (not public or academic) in my area and contacted each one to set up a visit/tour/interview with someone there so I could learn more. It just happened that one of those libraries was about to post a summer internship, and my visit turned into an informal interview for the position. There are many types of libraries out there-law, medical, public, academic, etc. It will really benefit you to “try out” a few different ones so that you know where you’d like to work. Some library student focus on archives in school because its interesting, then realize after graduation that what they want to do is academic reference so they can work with the public more, for example. And also, technology expertise is a must- the more databases, ILS’s, other library resources you can have demonstrable experience using the better. If you can set up a webpage, create a podcast, etc., even better.
    Your school should have resources to help you find a library job or internship. Look into it as soon as you can.

  40. Eric says:

    I’m doing something similar. I’m switching from engineering in semiconductor manufacturing to physical therapy. I’m taking prereq courses right now at night after work. A few people know about it, but not many. If I stay at this job, my new boss actually has an idea about my future career plans and he is OK with it. He understands that people move on and I can provide a service to his group and this company for the next year or two. I’m lucky in that regards but I have been trying to keep this quiet.

    My problem with a PT program is that it is a full time program and working during one is impossible so it is back to living like a college student at age 32.

  41. Arlene says:

    I’m also in the middle of a MLS program (part-time school, full-time work) and want to echo the commenters who advise getting a job in a library or a related-field ASAP. I regularly receive notices from library and information management placement services describing wonderful candidates who have just finished their master’s degree with minimal experience in the field and those names remain on the list week after week. It isn’t only a matter of getting a job after graduation; it gives you direct insight to the profession so that you can [a] pick out your courses based on something other than “that sounds fun” (librarianship has become quite the wide-ranging field) and [b] contribute to the discussions based on your experiences. It isn’t a coincidence that those working outside the field don’t seem to get as much out of the program.

    That being said, unless you are working in, say, a dive shop, it’d be easy to explain you are getting a master’s with a focus on information management, which can apply to most occupations in some capacity.

  42. Kathi says:

    I started a master’s program a few years back, thinking I might want to change jobs, but after a while, my current job changed for the better, my family life changed for the worse, and it no longer held the same appeal. I think not sharing too much with your employer is probably wise, at least until you’ve gotten into it enough to start making definite plans.

  43. Kathy says:

    I also just started to go to school online at the Art Institute. I’ve always had a passion for art. Currently I am teaching high school science. I told a few people and it was no big deal. There are several teachers going for masters degrees, albeit in education. I just say I’d like to learn scientific illustration and that seems to be enough. I’ve also said things like well, next year we want to make sure there are enough supplies, or next year when I write lesson plans, whatever. It makes your fellow employees and boss feel like you aren’t going to bail any time soon.

  44. Keri says:

    I agree with the other librarian commenters. Get a job in a library. Even if it means a pay cut. Even if the only thing you can get is shelving books on Saturdays and your nights off. The degree is worthless without experience. If you aren’t able to find a job before you start school, ask your advisor or a professor you like to help you find a job or internship. It’s worth it to take out a little bit in student loans if it means you’ll find a job when you graduate.

  45. Cory says:

    I think it depends *entirely* on your boss and those up from him/her in the chain of command.

    A *good* manager will understand that employees come and go and it’s the rare person who will make the job you give them a lifetime position. They’ll realize that helping you grow personally is good for your performance and that, just maybe, you’ll be working for them again someday even if not at the same company.

    But a poor manager will take it personally. They’ll think that every employee should be a “lifer” and those who aren’t shouldn’t let the door hit them on the butt on the way out.

    I’ve worked for both types and my current boss not only falls into the first category but has enough pull to ensure that I wasn’t penalized for pursuing a dream. She’s the only supervisor I’ve had who I would consider full disclosure. I’d probably tell her too since it might allow her to do things to make my possible departure in two years less disruptive.

    My most recent boss, however, wouldn’t be the type to tell anything at all to. He certainly wouldn’t share information with his staff that might affect their employement.

    One Friday a few of us asked about rumors that they were going to close our branch office. He said that there were absolutely no plans to do that. The following Tuesday he announced that the office was being closed and 1/2 of the staff were out of a job as of that moment. 1/4 would have jobs at one of the other branches and 1/4 should stay for the rest of the week to help close up shop. (He’d be moving on to a better position in the company at the corporate headquarters.)

  46. Rob says:

    I strongly disagree with the content of Trent’s post. In a nutshell, you substantially increase the risk of being laid off if you tell your boss. (“Oh, she’s not planning be around in the future, so she’s expendable *now*.”) Even if the action does not result in your termination, the political prospect of being on the receiving end of your employers’ good graces or any raises is diminished.

    The first time you should inform your boss about your career is when you have a suitable offer from another employer in your hand. Kindly inform him/her that you’ve prepared to take your career in another direction, and that you’ll be glad to assist in the transition of your duties for the next six weeks.

  47. A Librarian says:

    One thing that Julie could consider is, when/if she tells her current employer of her plans, describe how her new knowledge (information management, knowledge management, website design/information architecture, database design, research, finding information, etc.) could be an *asset* to her current employer and in her current position. That is if the connection could be made! The skills that I learned in my library science program led to a great career, but have also helped me in so many other ways (e.g. researching when buying a house, having a child, purchasing a car, etc.). The skills could easily have helped me in any of my pre-library jobs.

  48. almost there says:

    I was warned by a former boss on my way out the door that I needed to play my cards closer to my chest. I shared my concerns about my future with him and he used it against me to his advantage. Your boss does not need to know you are going to school. If anything, just say that evenings are out due to other plans/obligations. I didn’t let my immediate past boss that I planned to retire until a few months away from the event.

  49. Lionheart says:

    I’m a library science student right now, and am fairly specialized: I’m taking a course in rare books and manuscripts, with the intent of becoming a book historian.

    HOWEVER, I would certainly trump up the skills to your employer, too. Library science, unless you’re in a hyper-specialized field, really has little to do with books, and a ton to do with organizational management, technology, and resourcefulness. Any business would find an MLS or MIS candidate extremely useful, because they tend to be technologically adept, capable of conducting wide swaths of research, adaptable, and multi-disciplinary. My recommendation, then, would be to show your employer how the skills you’ll be taking from the degree will contribute to a more efficient, productive business environment.

    Cheers, and good luck! What school’s program are you entering?

  50. Holly Hansen says:

    As another librarian I also wanted to point out that library science degrees are largely more of a “training” sort of degree, sort of like nursing or teaching, where you go to learn how to do something that require specific skills, not exactly to learn about something that interests you. It’s not the same as a degree in say, English Literature or Art History. Therefore, if you tell anyone that you are getting your MLIS, they are going to look at you like you have 6 heads like one commenter said (“you need a master’s degree to be a librarian?”) and then if you tell them you are doing it because you have a “passion for library science”, I think they’d look at you like you have 12 heads. I love my job, but I don’t have a passion for library science! So I’m not sure that would be the best “excuse” should you want to be honest with your boss and tell them that you are in school. I must agree though with the people that are telling you to keep it under wraps unless you are 150% positive that telling your boss will not impact your current job in any way. And I also agree with the other librarians. If you can not find a library job on your own (and I mean anything that will give you library experience-even volunteering at a school library) as soon as you begin your program, ask around and find out about internship possiblities. Often there is a professor or other staff person that sets up internships and/or gets job notices from libraries in your area. See if they can help you find an internship/part time job. My internship lead to full time employment as a librarian before I was even done with my MLIS. Good luck!

  51. Frugal Dad says:

    I think the answer here is, it depends. It depends on a variety of factors, but most importantly your boss’s temperment.

    When I led a team of business analysts at my last job one of my team members confided that her life-long dream was to be a teacher. I encouraged her to go back to school to pursue her dream, and my reward for being flexible was that she out-hustled everyone during working hours for the next two years. Because she loved to “teach,” I even put her in charge of various training aspects of the job and she excelled. When she finished school she moved on, and we missed her, but business kept operating.

  52. ell says:

    I did this for 4 years while working as a webmaster part time, and late full time, and earning my MFA in creative writing.

    I told my employer that I would be taking classes during non-work hours and the various bosses I had were fine with it. I work at a flexible company, and nobody seemed to have the issue that it wasn’t a career-related program, although I did get asked often what I intended to do after I got my degree. I took 2 classes at first, which was very difficult to manage, and finally one class per semester, which worked well. Taking more than 2 classes is practically impossible, IMO, way too much work outside of work.

    I don’t think you can legally get fired for pursuing educational degrees. You can tell people you work with, they will likely be impressed or congratulate you. The “worst” feedback I got was from one manager who said “as long as it doesn’t interfere with your deadlines it’s fine.” Honestly, it’s akin to having a second job, which many people do to make ends meet, and I have done before, and it just makes people think you are a hard and dedicated worker.

    Bottom line: I doubt my employer would have cared that I was pursuing a MFA if I hadn’t told her, but by telling her and the various bosses I had, I did feel like I received an extra degree of sympathy about not working late, and I felt respected by others for it — much in the same way those on my team with families were not thought down on for having children to take care of. It’s just more responsibility, and it’s something you do on your own time, like running a marathon, being in a play. Nobody expects you to devote your life to your work, except in some industries and firms (you’d know if you were in one of those types of cultures).

  53. Andrew Howard says:

    Your Boss needs to know absolutely nothing about your personal life. Just that fact that you are concerned about the bosses reaction tells me that their is no reason to tell him. I have worked for a few companies one would give money to go to school for any degree I desired, another only for a degree they approved and yet another would likely find a way to get rid of me if it was not what they wanted me to learn.

    If you have a mistrust of your boss there is a reason and in my experience bosses cannot be trusted for many reasons (good and bad). If your work schedule will be effected use personal or vacation time. There is no reason to hide the information.

    Perfect example, I currently own a business with 21 employees. If a promising employee up for a promotion told me they were going back to school for something that would not help my business then that employee is no longer promising to me because they will be leaving. In this scenario you would have missed out on a promotion and I would have made more money. My reason were good not evil but YOU would be getting the short end of the stick.

  54. mb says:

    It depends on your relationship with your boss/ coworkers, but I think mentioning briefly that you are taking a class at night for intrest will suffice for honesty’s sake, w/o giving more detail… they don’t need to know more. good luck.

  55. Matt says:

    As someone working full time and going to grad school for a degree that will likely not be applied to my current field, I certainly have a unique perspective on this situation.

    For starters, the nature of this person’s employment is important. For instance, I am what’s called an “at-will” employee in the state of Colorado. This means that my company can fire me at any time they wish and I can leave at any time I wish. So technically I am under no obligation to disclose to them what my plans are for the future.

    That said, I think there are certain situations where you are morally obligated to inform your employer. For instance, if for any reason they were considering moving you to a new position where you would play a key role, it would be dishonest to take such a position under the pretenses that you would be in it for a while.

    Also, you need to consider your relationship with your employer. As the saying goes, you never want to burn your own bridges. An employer who you left out in the cold is unlikely to be giving you any references in the future.

  56. CCTer says:

    I can’t believe the timing of this post. I work in finance and in the midst of a career change into elementary ed. I am struggling with the ethics of not disclosing my career change. I decided to keep the news to myself because company sales have declined quite a bit since Q4 last year. And there were layoffs a couple weeks ago. I am worried about this spring semester because I have a lot of observation hours, bit more than my vacation time allows. And they just keep piling accounts to handle on me. I don’t know at what point I’m going to break down and tell them because I can’t handle the stress. I’m nervous, scared, excited, stressed. I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I wish I could be honest without fear of jeopardizing my job.

  57. jiggy says:

    I guess I wouldn’t be saying new, seeing almost every person agrees with what you’re doing, but I’m gonna say it anyway: good job!

  58. tightwadfan says:

    You are under no obligation to tell your company what you’re doing on your own time. If your company had a development in the works that would result in layoffs 2 years down the road, they wouldn’t tell you. (maybe a tiny number of really cool companies would).

    What you decide to say should be based on your company’s approach to employees, and you know that best.

    I worked for a company that would use any knowledge of employees’ personal lives against them, and we employees had to be extremely discreet about looking for another job. The employees that trusted the management always got burned somehow.

    I worked for another company that was totally supportive and if I’d been in your situation I could have told them about it.

    Make your decision based on your individual company. It’s not “dishonest” to be discreet about this. Your job is a business arrangement, not a marriage.

    But it sounds like from all the advice from librarians here, that your question might be moot.

  59. tightwadfan says:

    Also, as long as you quit your job professionally, (2 weeks’ notice, proper resignation letter), I wouldn’t worry about not getting references. I’ve never heard of a company refusing to give references or other retaliation just because an employees moved onto another career. If you want to be really nice you could give them extra notice.

  60. Kate says:

    While I know that this post is more than going to library school, I have to agree with all the librarians who said to get a job in a library as quickly as possible. In this day and age with shrinking budgets, experience is key. As one who went through library school while working in a library, I had a leg up on other candidates because I had experience in a library and I was also able to practice everything I learned while I was learning it.
    As far as telling employers: I have to say that I disagree that one should be so completely honest and upfront. Personal life is personal life and if you need to work late then you still have that option.

  61. Broke says:

    Don’t tell your boss. Don’t tell co-workers with loose lips. I’ve seen it at my Wall St. job and job at a software company. If you even hint that you might change careers, they will find a way to make you quit or fire you. They made life miserable for 3 former co-workers I know. It may be illegal, but I haven’t seen the ex-employee in a case in my experience. If you feel the need to tell your boss, do it when you have the diploma in hand or have the new gig lined up already.

  62. 1) Your employer doesn’t need to know.
    2) If your employer has a problem with an employee with the motivation to better themselves– then you have the wrong employer
    3) Position it as wanting to become a better researcher/problem solver for the company . . .

    Good Luck!

  63. Andrea says:

    While I agree that honesty is best, there’s also such a thing as too much information. The posters who have pointed out that you could become instantly expendable are dead on the money, from what I hear from my students (I teach adults in a university degree-completion program). If you must say something, for whatever reason, frame your classes as being relevant to your current position by strengthening your current job skills. You’re going to class for added value.

    I have a number of friends in library school, and the job market there is as frightening as it is anywhere else atm. Like it or not, library budgets are one of the first places in which ash-strapped state governments trim money. While making this move makes a lot of sense for the long term, in the short term I think Trent’s OP should be as reserved as she can while still remaining honest, and one does not have to share everything to remain honest.

  64. Andrea says:

    And … definitely get library experience! Those of my friends who have gotten good positions have done so because they were working in libraries well before graduation.

  65. Michelle says:

    Another librarian here who also advises you to get a job in the library field asap. The degree is not going to get you a job unfortunately. Good luck!

  66. Another Librarian says:

    And I’m yet another librarian (we do love to help people, don’t we?) who says you should get as much experience working in a library as possible. I didn’t have any experience when I started library school, but when I left, I’d worked (through internships, student jobs, and volunteering) in three very different places. Those experiences not only helped me decide what area I wanted to work in, but also made my studies more valuable. I feel like I learned more than other students who weren’t working in libraries because I could implement information right away or ask my supervisors questions about things that were discussed in class. All this being said, if you really don’t want to leave your current job, you should volunteer at a library (probably public) in order to get some kind of experience.

  67. Scotty says:

    Personally, and this is just me, I would keep a low profile about it. This is for the simple reason that in probably the majority of cases, your job security suddenly drops a bit.

    This is not to say you have to keep it a state secret, if people ask just be low-key and calm about it. Try to deflect possible indications that you might be in a different long term path.

    I basically do this now. I’m in a situation where I’m studying for an IT certification that, combined with my experience, essentially vaults me out of my current (low end) position. I’ve told my boss about it, but I stay fairly low key, and just act like it’s no big deal. I also try to play off the fact that ‘I can do my job better’ or ‘I can help the company better’ as a result. No big deal.

  68. Jessica says:

    I agree with those that it totally depends on your work culture and the boss. I had a friend who got an MA in Arts Management while she was working. They told her 3 months before she graduated that would be let go when she was done since they figured she was looking for different work anyway.

    However, I worked at place that was very supportive of my going to school even when it didn’t apply.

    So make your decision based off your current work culture and gut.

  69. Amy says:

    Re: poster #10: There’s a BIG difference between telling your employer you’ll need a couple of months off here and there, and telling an employer that oh, by the way, you’re going back to school in the evenings to try some courses and see if you like it (i.e. you don’t have to actually change your work schedule).

    Re: original post: Honestly, I would just mention casually to my boss that I had decided to take a few classes in the evening, and thought that library science looked interesting. That’s all they need to know for now. 1) You may decide you don’t like it; 2) you may love it but have trouble finding a job at first; 3) you may be offered a job but life circumstances have convinced you to stay with your current employer…..

    In other words, anything can happen between now and finishing the degree. There’s no guarantee you’re going to leave your current job. Making a big announcement about going back to school isn’t necessary, but at the same time there’s no need to conceal it.

    I was fortunate; my boss was very supportive when I went to library school. Admittedly, they knew I’d be leaving in a few years anyway to move cross-country when my husband finished his Ph.D. But they still paid for half the degree, which I thought was darn generous! (I did work in an info-related field, kind of….)

    Last but not least: I agree that once you start library school you should try to get a little part-time library experience as you can. Possibly your program will require an internship anyway. But don’t kill yourself with worry over the next few years. I got a good academic library job (albeit part-time, but that’s what I wanted then) straight out of library school, in a library school town that was flooded with new grads every semester. You’ll be making connections because many of your library school profs will be adjuncts who also work at libraries.

    Best of luck! (And sorry I was so long-winded!)

  70. Matt says:

    If people ask what you’re doing with your evenings, she could just tell them “I’m taking some graduate courses.” Make it sound generic, like it’s something you’re doing to keep busy, stay ahead in business, and so on.

    Be honest, though, if they ask you precisely what you’re studying. You could say “library science” or “information science” if you want to be more generic. In fact, saying “technology” might even have a grain of truth to it.

  71. Kelsey says:

    I agree with Trent because of personal experience. I started working at an financial services/accounting firm 4 years ago, as I was in the middle of a MA program in history. My company provided me the flexibility I needed to attend class and write my thesis. When I completed my degree, I discovered that teaching jobs weren’t paying well or hiring, plus the community colleges in my area hire mostly PhDs. I’ve stuck with the same accounting firm and an amazing opportunity has opened up for me, where I’ll use the research and writing skills honed in my Masters program.

    In short, you should go back to school to pursue your passion and be open about what the future holds. Good luck!

  72. 144mph says:

    I disagree with Trent’s advice. Telling your employer about a potential loss of focus on your job because you feel that not doing so would be dishonest is a great example of slave morality in practice.

    Do you think that your employer would sit you down and discuss their idea to make your job redundant in 6 months? Heck no.

    Keep your plans to yourself and a very few trusted friends and family who know about your conscious decision to keep your personal life separate from work.

    I would also question a move to library science. Will libraries even exist in the same capacity in 10 years? I like Dewey and his decimal system as much as the next nerd and I would be hugely surprised if large parts of what we consider to be a library’s central functions don’t go the way of microfiche in a few years. Already, I see increasingly larger and larger chunks of their floorspace allocated to internet computers and renting movies (don’t even get me started about the latter). Do you want to be a video store clerk or a internet cafe attendant?

  73. AnnJo says:

    Without knowing all the details of Julie’s situation, specific advise like Trent’s is just as likely to be wrong as right.

    But there is a simple answer to Julie’s question: Follow the Golden Rule.

    Ask yourself the question, if you were your employer, what would you NEED to know and when would you NEED to know it. If it will likely take a three month search and a year-long training program to replace you in the job you do, then your employer needs 15 months warning. There is a risk of earlier lay-off, but it is a NECESSARY risk to behaving ethically.

    Giving more than that is taking an UNNECESSARY risk that emotional reactions (suspicion about her commitment, resentment about her escape, etc.) might affect her job, or that a perfect replacement candidate will come along two years before Julie’s ready to depart and she will be laid off early for reasons of employer expediency, not necessity.

    Besides, starting a school program is not a 100% commitment to a job change. You may not like it. You may not do well. Family needs may force you to drop it. A promotion may come along that tempts you to stay. Things change. I’d wait on disclosing anything about it until it would become unfair to the employer to wait any longer.

  74. beth says:

    I took a different tack than most here. I just started school back up this semester (to finally finish my bachelor’s), but I decided to use work’s tuition reimbursement program. That meant I needed to choose a major related to my work (in IT), but I can take classes and minor in anything. So I am now an MIS major with a minor in psych (my previous major). As long as I put in at least another year at work when I’m done, I won’t owe anything. And I can continue classes to turn my minor in to a double major if I like, and will have already had 90% of the work reimbursed.

    That said, since I had to go through my boss for approval on everything, I have had his and his boss’s full support. I return the support by letting them know what my class schedule is and where I may need some concessions well ahead of time, and also by being available when needed for any other late-night work (as happens in IT- installs, server crashes, etc.).

    Like everyone else has said, it definitely depends on your boss. But if you have a good working relationship, I don’t see why you couldn’t tell him that you are either taking a few classes in the evening or tell him that you’re going after the full degree.

  75. Erin says:

    I disagree with Trent’s take on this as well. For one thing, I don’t think it would be dishonest not to mention this new school program. People leave jobs all the time, and very rarely tell their employer they are interviewing elsewhere until they have the offer in hand. I don’t think you are under any obligation to tell them that you are planning to leave in 2 *years*.

    If they somehow find out and directly ask you about it, then no, I would not lie. You should prepare a vague but truthful answer for that scenario.

    If you tell them, you are absolutely putting yourself first in line to be laid off, and you are also jeopardizing any raises, interesting projects, etc. that you might get while you are still there. As much as they might like you, they are running a business and when it comes down to it they will most likely put business interests first.

    My sister made the mistake of mentioning to her bosses, a husband and wife who owned the business, that she was interviewing for a job that would be a great career progression for her. She was so friendly with them (it was a very small office, less than 10 employees) and it was so obvious that she would eventually need to leave if she wanted to move up from her fairly low-level position, that she thought they would understand and would appreciate her letting them know ahead of time. Instead they panicked at the thought of being left without help in the interim after she left and started interviewing people for her job. And the other job she had been interviewing for fell through.

  76. M Burris says:

    In 2005 I started my MLS degree part time, and was up front with my employer, but mostly concentrated on the skills that would be applicable to my current job. I moved to another job (GED examiner at a community college), and was completely up front with them, as well. I forged good relationships with my boss, as well as her supervisors, and was able to ask them for letters of recommendation when I graduated. I now am the Library Director at a public library, in spite of having no previous library experience.

    I also agree with previous commentors that it might not be a good idea to inform your company that you want to change careers – instead, talk about how you want to improve these specific skills, and the MLS degree is the one that makes the best

  77. reulte says:

    IRG – (#24) – “Who in this economy spends time/money on a passion like library science, UNLESS it’s more than a possible passion. Come on.”

    Uh – (raised hand) I’m passionate about artifact conservation/archaeology and take seminar courses in it. It has nothing to do with my work and I have no expectation of becoming an archaeologist (I’m 50, have a child under 10, and don’t like travel – much less look terrible in a fedora *wink*).

    Also – several years ago, I was up for a promotion when I told my supervisor that I was applying elsewhere and would leave when I had that job. I gave a time frame (1 year) when I could be expected to leave. I still got the promotion.

    However, I agree with the majority of people who say that you should keep your future plans low key, being generic about future plans, emphasizing how these course help your current work. My concerns are that you have a Facebook site. Now, I have no idea what Facebook is, but any information posted anywhere on the computer is sure to become public knowledge. Gushing over your future plans to leave your current employer are sure to get back to them — no matter how many filters you think you have.

  78. Kim says:

    Wow, I saw this post pop up in my reader and thought “How timely!” … and apparently it is for lots of people.

    I am currently an IT professional, but I’m going to night school to prepare for Nursing (basically the same story as TheAntiChick above. I was planning this when I took my current job, and at the time I felt like I should inform my employer in the interview! And they still hired me. My evening classes were early enough that they impacted my end of day, so I had little choice but to tell my boss. I could not BS that the classes were appropriate to my work either, they are totally unrelated.

    Just because I have had such a positive experience doesn’t mean everyone will, but you have to use your judgment of your situation and your boss to really know what to do – every situation is different. If I were still at my previous job, I might be more taciturn.

    Okay probably not, it’s not how I am, but there are certainly situations out there where you’d be putting yourself in jeopardy.

  79. LisaattheLib says:

    Yes, another Librarian here, I pursued my MLS while working in a library as staff, I was clear on my career goals and my employers was well aware I may leave for a professional position (they couldn’t promise a promotion)
    I agree with other postings, get some experience in Libraries now! Volunteer on weekends or evenings, even if you take longer to complete the MLS the experience will pay off in the end.
    Join local Library associations to network, check out Special Library Association, your state’s Library Assocation, American Library Association. Most offer great membership fees for students.

  80. JS says:

    I’m also planning to do this but found the comments interesting because I DO want to be laid off. I have worked at my company for close to 15 years and would be entitled to a severance package which would enable me to go to school full-time for the year my degree would take without having to work.

    We just had lay-offs and my bosses made it clear to me that I was too valuable to them to be laid off – congratulations to me!

    Perhaps if I reveal my career-change plans I can finally get laid off. Otherwise I walk away with nothing and will be forced to work full-time. My degree will then take two years and I’ll be harried and overworked for all that time. Ugh.

  81. Matt says:

    @144mph: On the contrary, library science is a diverse field, and many librarians are at the forefront of innovation in digital information systems and management. A master’s degree in library science certainly prepares one for a career far more interesting than checking out media to people and chasing them down for late fees.

    Also, there’s nothing wrong with making films available at a library. I do think that some movies merit circulation in libraries more than others, but film as art (and sometimes even as pure entertainment) is an important aspect of culture.

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