I graduated from Northeastern University in 2018 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science, and a concentration in Cyber Operations. Only a year later, I applied and was admitted to Brandeis University’s Master’s Degree in Information Security Leadership, as a part time student in their school of Graduate Professional Studies. As I progress through this degree program, I plan to write a series of short blog posts on each course in the curriculum. This post is intended to serve as an introduction to the series.
Why Graduate School?
At the time I applied to grad school, I was already employed full time as a penetration tester. I got the job following two six-month COOPs with the same company, which transitioned to the full time offer. During my final months of college, I felt strongly that I wouldn’t pursue graduate education. There ended up being a few core reasons I changed my tune.
I had excess time, and won’t forever: Currently, I’m a person with few obligations outside my full-time employment. While I of course have hobbies and social activities, I realized after a year of working that I had significantly more free time than I was used to. This flexibility led me to consider productive, structured uses of that time.
I missed academics: Since grade school, I’ve been generally academically successful, and have always felt very comfortable navigating academic structures. I find the process of academic achievement intrinsically rewarding, and enjoy engaging with topics through an academic lens. Once finally “done,” following 16 years of structured education, I frankly felt some nostalgia for the framework it provides for development.
I’m growth oriented, but have a hard time forcing myself to learn things that don’t interest me (as much): I’m constantly tackling new topics for both the core elements of my employment, and due to my research and general interests in security. However, after a year I came to terms with the fact that I wasn’t particularly good at forcing myself to devote energy outside work to topics that held less interest to me. Returning to an academic framework was an easy way to direct those extracurricular efforts, and also develop complimentary competencies and credentials.
I value graduate education: I come from a family with a high regard for education, and graduate education is the norm in my immediate family. My mother has an M.SW and PhD, my father has an M.Ed., and my brother was working on his MA at the time. I think some of my disinterest was a minor form of rebellion against this pattern, which on reflection I realized was a bit daft.
When I started to look at graduate programs, I quickly developed a few characteristics I was looking for:
At-least primarily part-time students: I obviously respect those who direct all their efforts to graduate study, however, as my plan was to work on a program part time I wanted to make sure I enrolled in a program that was well attuned to the complications that presents. I also was looking to be in a cohort of other working professionals, and people who would be performing a similar balancing act.
Wholly online: Boston is home to numerous extraordinary educational institutions, however I didn’t want to have to confine my search based on geography. Also, I expected to have sufficient time to devote to an MS over the next couple of years. However, knowing I would be balancing the program with fulltime work, other interests, and general life, I decided to only consider online programs. The time spent commuting to a physical program, even when balanced with the pedagogical benefits of in-person courses, was not something I wanted to commit to.
Not primarily practical: There is huge value to technical degrees that focus on hands-on, practical knowledge. However, given I spend 40+ hours a week performing hands-on security assessments, and do technical research on top of that, adding another similar workload was not appealing. I also knew that a technical program would likely have significant overlap with my previous technical and educational experiences, including the graduate courses I took at Northeastern as part of my concentration. Ideally, I was looking for a program with a theoretical and business slant on cybersecurity, to compliment my existent and developing skillset.
After reviewing a wide variety of well-regarded programs, Brandeis’ ISL best fit my needs. It certainly didn’t hurt that I had a high level of respect for the institution, and have been familiar with the university and even its campus since I was a child. My mother’s PhD is from Brandeis, and in High School I did a program on its campus focused on the use of technology in education.