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  1. #1
    Senior Member ptgatsby's Avatar
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    Default The opportunity cost trap

    The opportunity cost trap is what happens when you really would like to do something, but have to give up too much to get it. For example, becoming an artist after earning a lot of money and going back to school. The trap is that you are kept doing what you like less just because you gain more, yet you don't feel any happier having more, because you aren't doing what you want anyway!

    I've been thinking about this a lot recently (my example below) and haven't made any progress - I'd love to get feedback on people's opinions on this trap... is it a trap? Is it reasonable? How do you deal with it? Can you let it go of what you'd like now because you'd have to give up too much?

    I know a lot of people don't change because they can't afford it, due to family, etc. By opportunity cost, you can afford it, but you are giving up more than you value it... The trap is when you can't give it up, knowing this, so you are caught between still wanting to change and not being able to justify it.


    This is my story with what I'm struggling with...

    I've been in the same job for 6 years are so. The problem is, it's a good job. It pays well (literally targetting the top 25% of positions), excellent benefits, lots of vacation and so forth - hell they are paying for my education right now. There is nothing bad with the job either - I work with incredible people, have great support and so forth.

    The problem is that I would like to go back to school - engineering - and this is not a part time option. Even though I don't feel high satisfaction with what I am doing now, I can't justify giving it up. I keep working out the opportunity cost, and the cost is staggering.

    Engineering school isn't too expensive - say, 25,000 or so. But I'd have to give up my job, which means it costs me hundreds of thousands in lost wages, benefits and so forth. More than that, after the 4 years (which would cost me hundreds of thousands), I get to 'apprentice' for 5 years or so to become a p.eng, which would cost me another hundred thousand or so.

    All told, I estimate the cost, now, to be in excess of $400,000 for a $25,000 degree. And not surprisingly, I'm finding more costs all the time. Hell, I'm not even including the likely promotions and education values if I didn't leave. The real cost is likely nearly double, or triple if the current work-path continues, when I consider a 20 year time horizon.

    I always try to follow a rational approach because I fear concepts like "grass is greener". I mean, I want to build things... but not at that cost. I could buy my own workshop, and I probably wouldn't even do that.


    The obvious rational solution is simply to direct what money I am comfortable with to my own projects... Yet, I can't give up thinking about it...

    Time marches on, too. I'm turning 30 this year - it's only going to get harder and harder.

  2. #2
    Senior Member kuranes's Avatar
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    Default

    Is there any sort of mentor you could get at your current company, and tell him or her about an interest in getting more involved in engineering types of projects than whatever it is you're mostly focused on now ?
    "The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them that they are being attacked and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."
    Reichsfuhrer Herman Goering at the Nuremburg trials.

  3. #3
    Senior Member ptgatsby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kuranes View Post
    Is there any sort of mentor you could get at your current company, and tell him or her about an interest in getting more involved in engineering types of projects than whatever it is you're mostly focused on now ?
    Unfortunately, all of the engineers are very specialised and there isn't much, in terms of engineering, done at the company... So the mentor options would be very limited to large mega-watt engines (which, while cool, are not exactly things I can build in my garage ), and we don't have any projects beyond naval architecture. Unfortunately, to really get into either, I'd need the same 10 or so years of education/training.

    I did consider other companies, but it comes down to the same thing - engineering is a profession and the schooling actually means something. Instead of me, they could take on an apprentice, for example. I could help out with the projects themselves, which would be cool, but it would essentially be me changing jobs, in which case I might as well go back to school.

    It doesn't help that my particular interest is to build things (and to understand how to build things).

  4. #4
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    Engineering don't really require an apprenticeship. The P.eng designation doesn't make any difference to your pay.

    If you're thinking about mechanical engineering, you should realize that much of the time is spent doing CAD drawings and paperwork. The "design" part mostly involve designing pieces that fit together. It's not always creative.

    I think it would be better to find a different outlet for your creativity, unless you absolutely hate your current profession.

  5. #5
    Senior Member kuranes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ptgatsby View Post
    So the mentor options would be very limited to large mega-watt engines (which, while cool, are not exactly things I can build in my garage ), and we don't have any projects beyond naval architecture. Unfortunately, to really get into either, I'd need the same 10 or so years of education/training.

    I did consider other companies, but it comes down to the same thing - engineering is a profession and the schooling actually means something.
    I guess I'm missing some factor in play here. I understand the basics, of course, I think. You are interested in aspects of engineering besides that of huge engines because you would like some hands-on activities, correct ? Because other than that, it would seem to me that you could use your job to pay for at least the early credit hours of the engineering degree, if not the entire thing. ( There must be components of the big engines that you could specialize in, also. ) Is there a "gotcha" clause that says you must stay with the current company ( or pay them back etc. ) if you leave for other employment after receiving their help with schooling for a while ? If not, you could help them with the big engines while staying employed and getting aid with engineering school. After your basic "meat and potatoes" requirements are done at engineering school you can think about specializing in some other area besides huge engines, and, hence re-locating your employment accordingly. ( You might start interviewing a couple of quarters before this point arrives. The new company might look askance at an unfinished degree but certainly less so than how they might look at no degree at all, assuming specific degrees were important to them.)

    Bear in mind that I am not an engineer and so I'm just speculating what seems to make sense to me.
    "The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them that they are being attacked and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."
    Reichsfuhrer Herman Goering at the Nuremburg trials.

  6. #6
    Senior Member ptgatsby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Not_Me View Post
    Engineering don't really require an apprenticeship. The P.eng designation doesn't make any difference to your pay.
    As far as I know, it is mandatory. That is, to call yourself an engineer and use p. engineer, you need four things - age, degree, certification and 4(5) years work. I think it depends slightly on which province you write the exam in.

    If you're thinking about mechanical engineering, you should realize that much of the time is spent doing CAD drawings and paperwork. The "design" part mostly involve designing pieces that fit together. It's not always creative.
    Due to the pay of mechanical engineers and job market, I'd probably take civil.

    Plus, I want to build things, and developments sounds like more fun, although most of my projects that I'd like to work on would be more EE or ME.

    I think it would be better to find a different outlet for your creativity, unless you absolutely hate your current profession.
    I tend to agree... but it's a matter of time. My job doesn't leave me much time for creativity I'm sure there is a 'grass is greener' playing out here, but mostly I want to learn the material. I could do that on my own, sure, but then I would have a very hard time with the practical material and never be able to practice.

    Quote Originally Posted by kuranes View Post
    you could use your job to pay for at least the early credit hours of the engineering degree, if not the entire thing.
    Just for clarification, I work for an oil shipping company. All of the engineers are on board, and I'm in the office. I work where we build new vessels, so my contact with engineers is when they review plans for new constructions. I've gathered a fair bit of knowledge, but to even get a job in the company as any engineer, you tend to need 1st officer to Captain ranks, which translates to a lot more than going to engineering school and getting a degree. What they would offer me is to go into serving on board, but that's not an acceptable life choice for my wife/etc (tends to be at least 6 weeks on at a time.)

    It's kind of like being a secretary and trying to learn to be an accountant - I'm a long ways removed from the group and the material, and it isn't likely they'll want to try to bring me into the fold since I can't contribute much...

    Bear in mind that I am not an engineer and so I'm just speculating what seems to make sense to me.
    From my understanding, but maybe I am putting up barriers for myself, is that the actual courses for engineering tend to be very narrow. It's unlikely they would give me practical work credit against, say, statics or the various calculuses. I haven't looked into it.


    ---

    Although I know I gave my story, I was mostly curious about the opportunity cost trap. This isn't going to happen any time soon - I have one degree to finish, and a MBA might follow. My wife will be in school for at least another three years. Until all of that is resolved, I'm going nowhere.

    However, I may rent out a workspace so I can fiberglass my submarine hull before then

  7. #7
    Lex Parsimoniae Xander's Avatar
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    Civil enginering? The guys I worked with one of them said that if his son mentioned becoming a civil engineer he'd break both his arms! Something to do with doing a job which required so much and yet drew so little grattitude from it's customers.

    Are there not opportunities for someone with experience within a different company where they offer on the job training? Perhaps get a job doing the low end stuff and take part time education and thereby offsetting the costs?

    Of course the core to this is that if you're not happy in your profession then all the money in the world won't make you happier.. well unless you're motivated by things outside of work and work is just a means to an end (though it don't sound like that's the case here).

    What is your thought's if you project yourself to like 60? Would you rather have the money or the career in engineering?
    Isn't it time for a colourful metaphor?

  8. #8
    Oberon
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    Pick up an associate's in drafting. That'll give you something nice to add to your resume, is doable in a fairly short time frame, and will enable to you hang out your own shingle one day as a computer-aided draftsman-for-hire.

  9. #9
    Senior Member ptgatsby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Xander View Post
    Civil enginering? The guys I worked with one of them said that if his son mentioned becoming a civil engineer he'd break both his arms! Something to do with doing a job which required so much and yet drew so little grattitude from it's customers.
    I think the appeal for me is learning about the stuff, then being able to do it... I have no illusions of the nature of the job itself, only the interest in the topic.

    Are there not opportunities for someone with experience within a different company where they offer on the job training? Perhaps get a job doing the low end stuff and take part time education and thereby offsetting the costs?
    Yup - but there is market saturation. Because all engineers need pratical work, engineering firms hire them and not lower entry level positions. Possible, but you'd get less exposure and less money than it would seem.

    Keep in mind this doesn't change the opportunity cost issue significantly - it's giving up my current job and career path that costs me a ridiculous amount (and is virtually impossible for me to make up for). I could even go to school and get a part time job, if I wanted - but it doesn't really change the situation. Granted, any degree has a huge opportunity cost, but normally you get it when you are young and don't have much existing earning potential.

    What is your thought's if you project yourself to like 60? Would you rather have the money or the career in engineering?
    I'd be retired either way, I think - that's why I measure opportunity costs. My current path probably sees me retiring ~45, depending on when my wife finishes her education/how she manages. I'm essentially giving that up, which is fine if it's something I'd like to do forever. Projecting to 60 tells me that I'd have, assuming average returns, given up well above the one million 'cash in the bank'. That's a lot of money for other things I like, even though I'd likely never save it to that point

    And as is being pointed out, the job wouldn't be *that* fulfilling. I'd love to be an engineer and have tons of money so that I could just sign off on my own projects, or even do what my uncle/cousin did, and do development... But that's not a likely outcome!

    I know what I should do, but I can't actually seem to get myself to accept it. There is something about estimating future costs that just doesn't carry the emotional impact.

    Quote Originally Posted by oberon View Post
    Pick up an associate's in drafting. That'll give you something nice to add to your resume, is doable in a fairly short time frame, and will enable to you hang out your own shingle one day as a computer-aided draftsman-for-hire.
    Drafting is a good idea, and I think I can do that part time. I can also do some narrow (but not in my interest area, but maybe I can figure something else through there) engineering diplomas. It might reduce the opportunity cost some... although it still comes back to the cost of changing professions

    ---

    I'm also thinking that diverting more money to my hobbies so I can scale them up is a good idea. It probably would break the 'give up this path' issue that I'm struggling with.

  10. #10
    Senior Membrane spirilis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ptgatsby View Post
    I'm also thinking that diverting more money to my hobbies so I can scale them up is a good idea. It probably would break the 'give up this path' issue that I'm struggling with.
    That's sort've what I'm doing. In my case the urge is to move to a more art/creative-oriented field, and I entertained the idea of doing a degree in web/interactive media, but struggled with the exact same problem you're facing. My solution, if you could call it that, has been to spend more money and time resources into photography (and more recently, trying to dabble in music).
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