Academic Experiences in Computer Information Systems: Associate vs. Graduate Education

 I had the chance to catch up with my brother-in-law over the weekend, and cross-compare notes about our educational paths. I am finishing my Masters in Information Systems (MSIS), and he is half of the way through his Associates in Computer IS at Portland Community College in Oregon. I am attending Drexel via online courses, and he is attending a hybrid online/in-class program at his local community college.I felt that there was an opportunity to give a perspective about IT programs, especially CIS, at the undergrad and graduate levels – so I interviewed him and have added relevant material from my experience at Drexel. I hope that it is useful, and perhaps can help guide readers in case they decide to embark into the IT realm.

Regarding the reasoning that the two of us returned to school as non-traditional (older) students:

Brother-in-law: “I originally started taking classes part-time in the fall of 2010. In January, 2011, I was let go from my job and school seemed like the most best option, especially considering the state of the economy. Fortunately, the employment dept. has an option for education that allows a person to go to school while collecting unemployment benefits, so long as they are in an approved program and you maintain a certain GPA.”

Personally, I knew that I wanted to attend graduate school, and went into my undergrad with this intent. At the same time, the fact that he was eligible for retraining is a definite boon – since he is capable, I think that it is making the best of what could have been a problematic experience.

Why major in computer information systems (CIS):

Him: “Computer Information Systems was actually my 3rd choice after Medical Lab Tech and Electronic Engineering Tech. The MLT program was already full, and EET didn’t seem to be as lucrative as I would prefer. CIS is flexible enough that I can tailor my classes to focus on a particular part of CIS, in my case databases.”

Myself: Information Systems was almost an afterthought – I decided that I wanted to continue pursuing my education. Really, I should have approached things from an even longer-term viewpoint and began my PhD program. This is ultimately where I see myself heading. As far as career options, I looked around at what my friends were doing, and realized that 1. computers and technology had the growth, and 2. I really like technology and development.

Time in the classroom and stress management:

Him: “Each week I spend approximately 7 hours in the classroom, plus 20 or more working from home. Ultimately, I am doing homework 7 days a week. I typically try to take regular breaks throughout the day. This may include reading fiction, video games, going for a walk.”

From my perspective: I am doing work 7 days a week, every day of the week. Typically work involves 1-2 hours a day from Monday-Thursday, 2-4 hours on Friday, and typically 12-16 hours spread out over the weekend. This can go up when I am working on a research project – these numbers are probably the low end of my time commitment. Since I work a 40-hour, full-time job, my school/research/work week is probably 80 hours.

You can really see the difference in time commitments between the Associates and Masters-level academic work. Beyond that, the actual technology requirements tend to be a little different. Two-year programs develop skill sets, and eventually move into requirements analysis, system design and architecture, and software engineering. Business methods and management is part of the MSIS, but typical PhD programs are much more involved with research and development (the applied vs. theoretical debate that is shown in the Masters vs. PhD coursework).

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