Why I Went Back to School for a Second Graduate Degree

Mark Wieder

By: Mark Wieder

Are you currently facing the tough decision of whether or not to pursue a professional level degree, or are you considering a career transition? Anyone facing a difficult career change, as I did, should consider the following: What is ultimately convincing you to follow your aspiration, or alternatively, what is holding you back?

In this post I reveal the driving factors that led me to pursue an Executive Masters of Natural Resources (XMNR) degree after obtaining my Juris Doctor (JD) law degree.

Why go back to school?

I was working for the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission under a commissioner whose political appointment was expiring in six months when I contemplated enrolling in graduate school. I was about to lose a steady, full-time job at a time when I – and many other new attorneys – struggled to compete in a market oversaturated with experienced attorneys. So, I reached out to my friend Ralph, who advises others on making appropriate career choices. Ralph asked me to form a plan.

The plan meant considering where I wanted to work in twenty years and then work backwards from there. I could enroll in a program, or take a new job, only if I was moving towards my ultimate goal: leading a small team using technology and data to solve transboundary water shortages.

I wanted a program that would equip me with three specific tools to significantly amplify my career trajectory. First, I needed to understand the term “sustainability professional.” Second, I needed to develop strong leadership skills. Finally, I needed to expand my professional network. The program was a veritable win-win-win, because I could knock out all three at once, plus gain international work experience as a bonus. After polling the diverse 2015 cohort and talking to prospective students, I find that pursuing a career change is a common reason for looking into the program.

Mark Wieder Presenting Does the XMNR program complement a JD?

The XMNR degree complements a JD in a number of ways. Both degrees support leadership development as well as the pursuit of human rights and equitable resolutions. Yet neither my work experience nor my time in law school provided me with the same paradoxical opportunity as the one provided in the XMNR classroom setting: the opportunity to fail.

XMNR is also an opportunity to reflect. Environments that discourage failure may also discourage growth. Since failure breeds growth and reflection illuminates what was previously unknown, creating a program with the ups and downs of failure and post-action reflection fosters an innovative classroom experience unlike any other.

Similar to law school, the XMNR program teaches analytical thinking. The program is less about environmental zeal than it is about collaborating to address the challenges facing our population and planet in the years to come.

What I learned and my newly found goals.

The tools provided by the XMNR program within the first two months not only filled the gaps I was pursuing as part of my long-term career goals, but also filled internal core gaps not previously contemplated. Halfway through the program, I realized that the conclusion of my job allowed me to take on my biggest fear, an unwillingness to take risks brought on by my penchant for working without a plan.

Mark Wieder Talking2014 was my “Year of Change.” I went back to school, made new friends, became better equipped to work as a team, learned how to reflect introspectively on experiences, and developed personally and professionally. I switched out of a steady, full-time job. I let my mom move in with me during a transition phase and helped her set a new path as a way to constructively move forward with her own goals. I listened. I learned. I grew by making mistakes and by taking on new challenges. And finally, I decided to start my own company, Popped Culture.

As 2015 approaches, I am nicknaming it the “Year of Progress.” I plan to transform Popped Culture from concept into reality as the XMNR program comes to a close over the next few months. Popped Culture promotes social change by providing healthy snacks to underprivileged children when school is not in session. It does so by using afterschool channels put in place by existing hunger relief systems and educational institutions. The company is a small-batch gourmet kettle corn business that I could have started with or without a finance degree and a JD, but I can confidently take the risk now thanks to the learnings of the XMNR program. Popped Culture has a plan in place to drive social innovation.

Although change is inevitable, it is easy to want to resist. Everyone should support progress, though. So pause now to reflect on the “Year of Change” and get ready to toast to the “Year of Progress.” Have the courage to follow your heart and your intuition. Be willing to pursue the things that others say you cannot do. Never be satisfied, and always push yourself. This very moment is just like the moment when I applied to the XMNR program – I was unsure of what would happen next, but I had a plan in place. The plan was to use the XMNR program to amplify my career trajectory. It undoubtedly has.


This post was originally shared on Mark Wieder’s Linkedin page where his goal is to provide semimonthly to monthly commentary on topics addressing sustainability, global energy concerns, business development, and leadership.