should I report to someone with less education than me?

A reader writes:

I work for a major content creation company and the story of my professional life is that I have had to take jobs I was underqualified for to help out family and take care of some personal issues in the past. I have an MFA in digital media and an MBA in digital marketing, over five professional certifications, and I’ve had to take some hits in my career and in my field (living in areas where my job or field wasn’t needed for family and personal issues), taking remote or contract work to stay abreast of what’s changing in my field. I’ve been in my field now for over five years.

Previously, I always reported to someone with less education than me, which almost always ended with the company taking advantage of my skills and not paying me for it. I was excited to work for my current company because I would be reporting to someone with my same education level, who respects what my education brings to the team. I want to acknowledge that education isn’t everything, but I literally reported to high school drop-outs in the past, people who would laugh at me for my education (including HR reps) and then call me at 4 a.m. when the poop hit the propeller and I’d fix the problem, saving their butts and their company, only to be told education isn’t everything. It was really demoralizing.

Because my boss is being promoted, I just got notified that I’ll be reporting to someone with a bachelor’s degree, less time in the field, and less time with this company than I have. My employee reviews have been stellar for the last five years, but “Mary” already has me earmarked for an improvement plan. Mary is young, and I think she feels like she has to come in guns blazing. She has a history of being an error junkie and a tattle — any time she finds an error or thinks she may have found one, she runs to the boss. She confuses people by giving feedback on work she’s not included in — like emailing an entire project team with feedback about broken links that actually work, making suggestions that aren’t what the client wants, and saying “you should include a hyperlink to X” when one scroll down would show her that yes, X is linked at the bottom of the page. Some people call her a pistol and a go-getter but to a lot of us she’s a pain. She’s made snarky comments to me and some of the other team members that “grad school isn’t everything” and “people waste their time on education when X is an easy job to get.” I fought like hell to put myself through school and I’m not willing to have those sacrifices ignored or derided at work, especially when those people are benefiting from my expertise, energy, ideas, and talent.

Now that I’m not in a small town situation where I have to take what I can get, is it typical for larger companies to have graduate level employees report to managers with less education? For reference, Mary’s degree isn’t in management, business, or HR or anything you’d think of when it comes to management — it’s actually not relevant to our field. Is this normal and typical?

It is very, very normal to report to someone with less education than you have. In most fields — not all, but most — work achievements matter more than school.

That’s not to denigrate school in any way. School has value. Your degrees have value. But in most fields, degrees don’t indicate as much about expertise as work accomplishments do. Educational background isn’t usually a factor in deciding who should be managing who. (Again, there are exceptions to this norm.)

It’s also very, very normal for managers not to have degrees in management, business, or anything HR-related. (HR degrees aren’t really about management at all; they’re about HR, which is a different thing.) In fact, the vast majority of managers don’t have degrees in those fields; they don’t need them. People tend to end up in management positions because they were good at the type of work they’ll be overseeing, or good at something adjacent to it, or show an aptitude for the big-picture issues the leader of that team will need to manage. (Or, in dysfunctional companies, because they schmooze well or are the owner’s nephew’s friend. But I’m talking about reasonably functional companies.)

It sounds like you’ve had awful experiences in the past — having colleagues laugh at your education isn’t normal — and maybe that’s put you on the defensive or made you dig in on this issue in a way you otherwise wouldn’t. Although … any chance that people keep telling you education isn’t everything because, well, you’re coming across like you think it is everything? Some of the assumptions in your letter are pretty off-base and if those were coming out at work before people started responding to you that way, it’s possible that’s the cause. If I’m wrong, and their hostility came first, then you just worked with jerks and I’m sorry.

But the thing is, many, many fields — and content creation is one of them — don’t really lean on degrees that much. What you learn in getting the degree can be useful when you’re early in your career and particularly in helping you get your first post-school job, but as you progress through your field, you’re really using what you learn on the job most of all. That doesn’t mean your degrees didn’t give you a good foundation — I’m sure they did — but employers and colleagues will rightly put a ton more emphasis on the work you produce.

Of course, all that aside, it’s still possible to have a boss who just sucks. It sounds like that might be the case with your new boss, Mary. But I highly doubt that’s because Mary doesn’t have a graduate degree; it sounds like she’s just a bad manager and, believe me, there are bad managers at every educational level. It’s also possible that Mary has some annoying traits but is genuinely good at something else that your company’s leadership sees as important for your team, who knows.

It’s possible the improvement plan Mary put you on is crap and reveals her incompetence, but it’s also possible there’s substance in there that’s worth paying attention to. (For example, if the company has charged her with taking the team in X direction and you are much more comfortable with Y and have resisted X … well, this is where it could end up.) I’d really try to set aside your resentment and consider the feedback with an open mind. Maybe it’s really BS, I don’t know. But maybe it’s not, and if nothing else, it’ll help to know what Mary prioritizes.

I also want to talk about this sentence from your letter: “I fought like hell to put myself through school and I’m not willing to have those sacrifices ignored or derided at work.” The reality is, people at work aren’t going to care about the sacrifices you made to put yourself through school. They’re just not. That doesn’t mean those sacrifices weren’t important or valuable — it’s just not the kind of thing people think much about or put much weight on once you’re in the work world. They care about your work achievements now. They care about how good you are at your job, what you’re like as a colleague, and how easy and pleasant you are to work with. That’s about it.

You’re feeling a lot of defensiveness — understandably so from some of your experiences — but it’s not leading you anywhere good. It’s making you conclude things that are outright wrong (“managers should have more education than those they manage”) and not aligned with how work actually works. And that’s making you feel pretty self-righteous and resentful, and getting in the way of you seeing things as they actually are. (For example, is Mary really a bad manager? If so, that’s important to know! But right now, it’s clouded because of these other issues that you’re giving inappropriate weight to.) It’s also likely to come out in the way you deal with people at work, and that could keep you mired in the cycle you’ve been in.

So I strongly, strongly urge you to drop your investment in assessing what degrees people have. Look at their work achievements and look at how they approach work now. Look at what they’re contributing that might be valued. Maybe you’ll still conclude they’re not great, as might happen with Mary, but you’ll be assessing based on the right things.

You’ve also got to drop your investment in having other people value your degrees the way you do. You absolutely can and should value your education and the sacrifices you made to get it. Those are important things. But once you’re past the start of your career, they’ll mostly be valuable to you (again, some fields are exceptions). If you can make your peace with that, I think everything will get easier.

{ 641 comments… read them below }

  1. AllTheBirds*

    I have an associates degree and am almost at six figures in a field only tangentially related to my degree.

    There’s a great big world of people and their experiences. All of them are valuable.

    1. Spotted Kitty*

      My ex-spouse didn’t even finish a bachelor’s degree and makes six figures and has been a manager for probably 15 years at this point.

      1. many bells down*

        My spouse was hired out of college when programmers were in huge demand in the 90’s and he just never went back. 20 years of game development experience later, he’s a manager with no degree.

        1. still trying to figure it out...*

          Same here, put myself through 3+ years of college doing computer/programming work while I went for a degree in Classics. Hit my senior year and realized I didn’t want to be in academia, dropped out and got a programming job while I decided what to do with my life. 25 years later I’m still trying to figure out what to do with my life, while I make well into the six figures as a manager at a tech company, managing people, many of whom have advanced degrees. It’s the talent and ability that get you the job, not the degree.

          1. Veruca*

            I have an inlaw who never went to college but had amazing people skills and drive. He became comfortably wealthy, and it does make his brother with a graduate degree pretty salty. They are in their 60s and it STILL gets brought up.

          2. Det. Charles Boyle*

            I think it was easier to get a good job without a degree 20 or more years ago. These days, you really do need at least a B.A. to get hired for an entry-level position.

            1. Lisa*

              It’s been longer than that since it was easy to get an “entry-level” position without a degree, but some fields lend to gaining skilled experience in a no-one-has-a-degree jobs then using that experience to pivot into a most-people-have-degree job. I did it 21 years ago and my son did it in 2019 in a different field. Starting out as freelance, at certain startups or small businesses, or in some skilled trades is still an option for some career paths. It just doesn’t look like “working your way up from the mailroom” anymore.

              1. Quill*

                Yeah, it seems to be really field and location dependent. For a fairly generic office job, entry level is apparently a BA and three years experience in the field, according to the job ads I’ve been seeing for years.

                But with my degree, you can also be a Quality Assurance sampler for a “competitive” wage of 12 dollars an hour in my hometown, along with anyone else with a GED. We’re all being exploited regardless of how much we spent on education.

            2. Tidewater 4-1009*

              Employers use degrees as screening tools instead of doing a real evaluation. Many of the jobs they say need a degree don’t actually – in most jobs, skills and experience are more important.
              They think a degree guarantees competence, but we all know it doesn’t. They think it guarantees certain skills like communication, and again, it doesn’t.
              I noticed this trend in the early 2000’s and it has only gotten worse. It damaged the economy because so many people took on huge debt to get degrees, and then still couldn’t get good jobs.
              I suspect some of these employers are/were using degrees to screen out people who didn’t get a good start in life.
              Colleges took full advantage, taking everyone’s (borrowed) money and promising fabulous careers. They are just as much to blame as the employers.

              1. Simonthegreywarden*

                And since in a lot of ways college itself is a tool used to reinforce capitalist systems, it also ensures that people who can’t afford college remain stuck in the kind of jobs that don’t screen by degree, and those are often (not always!) lower paid and manual positions.

            3. Marketing director with a GED*

              It depends on the field. In digital marketing (ironically OP’s field) degrees don’t matter much at all compared to real experience.

              I hire marketers and I don’t even really look at applicants’ education. IMO marketing degrees don’t teach what you actually need to know.

              1. Meg*

                Exactly, I think that the fact that LW seems to lack the self-awareness to realize that their chosen field does not emphasize degrees makes me lean more towards them being the problem in this scenario rather than their manager/workplace. Like how can you work in the arts and digital media and be this hung up on advanced degrees? And I work in the fine arts, so I know how relatively meaningless my MFA is. People can, and often do, produce great work in creative fields without the requisite degree.

                1. Detritus*

                  Shoot, I put my art history degree to good work by becoming a global sales operations manager.

              2. Bob the Sheep*

                I’ve had managers where a degree really factored into their hiring decisions. And I’ve had managers where degrees were seen as a negative thing.

                I’ve also worked with people who had impressive degrees but couldn’t work and vice versa. And people with degrees who were great and people without who weren’t.

                The degree doesn’t matter in many fields. The ability to adapt to a working environment and get on with people usually is far more important.

      2. OhGee*

        My partner is a college dropout who hid this from everyone until he had a job offer rescinded as a result (state uni, very strict hiring requirements). 2-1/2 years later, he has worked his way up to a tech company role managing people – he was a good individual contributor but he and his team are thriving with him at the helm. I have a master’s and manage several people, and frankly, it doesn’t come naturally for me (I seek lots of advice, including on this site).

        OP has a crummy manager, but education has very little to do with that.

      3. Overeducated*

        And I have an MA and a PhD, don’t make six figures, and just became a first level manager yesterday. (I’ll be the first to tell you that these types of grad degrees don’t train someone for management, though!)

    2. starsaphire*

      I have a BA from a pretty high rated school. I also have a dinky little night-school AA, which is what qualified me to get the job I have now, and earn a respectable salary in tech. The BA doesn’t really do much for me except dictate what mascot is on my weekend sweatshirts. ;)

      I have zero idea what education my manager has, but I know she is hard-working and compassionate and goes to bat like Mickey Mantle for her team.

      Education is super important, but it’s also only one factor. I’m super happy for you that you have a good one! But keep in mind that lots of things make a good manager, and I hope that you eventually find a good one that you can respect and enjoy working under, regardless of their background.

      1. FrenchCusser*

        I have a bachelor’s degree that I also worked hard and sacrificed to earn. My manager has a HS degree and some college, and is also a decade younger than me.

        And I am totally fine with that. I don’t want to be a manager.

        1. another Hero*

          yeah, this is a thing tbh – op, do you *want* to be a manager, or do you simply want more strenuous gatekeeping of the people you have to listen to? if the former, figure out what you need to do in that direction. (that said, it sounds like what you want is actually for your degree to confer status, not position, and…well, Alison covered that.)

      2. emmelemm*

        I also have a BA from a very prestigious university, and an AA from a community college, which qualifies me to do the job I have now. I’m glad I have the BA because now I can forever check the box that says “Yes, I have a BA”, and also because I had really important life experiences at that school, but not much else.

        1. Chinookwind*

          I come from a place where higher education required you to be able to move away from hone at age 18. I lucked out and had a grandmother in a city next to a city with a university. Only 3 other classmates were that lucky. And then I had to work summers and evenings to pay for it all and was only able to pay for my last semester due to a longshot scholarship I earned.

          What I learned is a) succeeding in higher education requires a lot of luck and money to go with your smarts and b) nobody really cares unless there is a regulatory requirement. Proof of b is that there aee jobs in Canada that will take a certain number of years of active military service in lieu of an equivalent educational milestone.

          OP you have had some horribly mean bosses who are should be ignored and not let take space in your brain. You also risk being a mean employee who bullies those who earned their knowledge outside a classroom. I have worked with people like you who assumed I was uneducated based on my position at the time. Be better than them.

          1. Chip*

            Yes! Higher education is a privilige no matter how hard you work and sacrifice for it. The fact is that it is very out of reach for may people in the US. It doesn’t make them any less intellegent or capable.

            1. Alice's Rabbit*

              And with the entire knowledge base of the human race accessible via a device we can carry in our pockets, having a degree doesn’t even necessarily mean someone is more knowledgeable than anyone else, these days. I haven’t bothered with my master’s, but I still read up and stay abreast of new developments in my field, which has put me ahead of many with doctorates. A degree doesn’t really mean all that much anymore, other than that you paid to sit in a classroom. All the information is available for free (or at least for far less than the cost of tuition). If you’re the sort who can learn from reading or online instruction, there’s very little need for a university, except in a small handful of fields.
              And design just isn’t one of them that requires a degree. It can be helpful, sure. And some folks make the most of it and learn a lot. But it’s not the sort of field where a degree would be all that beneficial.

        2. Eeeeka*

          I finished my BA 5 years ago now. It only took my 20+ years. And I only finished for 2 reasons. One, it made me feel better about myself. Two, I can check the tickybox of “I have a degree, so stop asking if my 16 years of experience is enough for you.”

      3. TootsNYC*

        I have never known what kind of degree the people I work with have.
        Except for the Big Boss who didn’t have a degree and was sort of sensitive about it.

    3. Homebody*

      I think the sooner the OP values their education as a personal investment (heavy emphasis on personal) as opposed to a measurement of the respect they’re owed, the better off they’ll be. I wish them the best.

      1. OhBehave!*

        Agreed. I’m getting lots of condescension in this letter. I totally understand how hard OP worked for these degrees. If the jobs they’ve held have not enabled OP to move up the ladder, there may be more at play here. How many of us have worked for someone with scads of education only to find they were inept?

        1. Rachel in NYC*

          I wonder how much may stem from OP being mad that they didn’t have the opportunities their manager had or that their family obligations forced them to take jobs that they feel are demeaning. And that OP feels they should be at the same point in their career as their manager.

          But instead they are the report.

          And that anger- at their family, the situation, etc…- is getting redirected at their current manager, past bosses, etc…

          Or I’m reading too much into it. And OP just needs to get passed this.

          1. Educated Eddie who sweeps the floor*

            Yes!

            It’s likely an internal frustration with misplaced blame.

          2. A*

            Yes, this reads like my internal dialogue when I first had to swallow this tough pill. It sucks, but it also is the reality.

          3. TardyTardis*

            And there’s some resentment at being stuck in a small town and having to be grateful for being treated like crap, because the rest of the jobs in that town are fast-food with no health insurance. That’s a reasonable resentment, but that can only be cured by leaving some of the time.

        2. james*

          The condescension is very palpable. The OP needs to take a look at how they come off at work. People can pick up on vibes. Colleagues might be responding to the chip on OP’s shoulder. Soft skills, technical aptitude, interpersonal skills and experience are way more valuable than how many degrees a person has.

        3. tamarack and fireweed*

          I’m getting the feeling that if the OP had just reported on the sucky management experiences without tying it to disrespect of their higher level of formal education, the comments would have been much more sympathetic.

          Disrespect isn’t any more objectionable because it comes from a person with less education. That the OP is tying one to the other is I think the source of doubt that they’re able to clearly discern and act on valid criticism that there may be… or not! But we don’t know.

          (I think the first sentence is somewhat revealing – “I have had to take jobs I was underqualified for”. Did the OP mean overqualified, or really underqualified, in that their kind of education was atypical and therefore not a natural match? I’ve been in this situation through a lot of my career myself, and I can tell you that resentment re: lack of deference to one’s education level is not going to be helpful. We’re working inside the systems the way they are, and we need to demonstrate what we can bring to the job, in concrete terms. Sometimes management will fail to see the potential we have, sometimes they DO see it but making good use of it would require too many structural changes to be feasible. And this happens to employees and managers at *any* formal education level. Tying unpleasant experiences to educational hierarchies won’t help in getting to a good, sustainable place.)

          1. Sparkles McFadden*

            Yes, I thought about it for awhile before I made a comment because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t ignoring a different issue within the letter. Then I realized that LW was the one conflating “bad management” with “that person only has a Bachelors Degree” and had to focus on how that might be clouding perceptions.

            Then there’s this: “Previously, I always reported to someone with less education than me [sic], which almost always ended with the company taking advantage of my skills and not paying for it.” This, for me, means the LW thinks “Degree = How much you get paid” and that is just not how it goes. Every working person feels “I am worth more than I am being paid” from time to time, but that’s usually based on hours worked or effort put in…not the idea that “I should be paid more because I spent money on my education.”

            I did not understand the first sentence about being “underqualified” at all. I suspect the LW was attempting to say something else and just didn’t express the thought well…which is kind of a big deal in content creation.

            1. Willis*

              Yeah…if OP truly has been underpaid relative to the market value for their skills, or has had managers who don’t know what they’re doing and disproportionately rely on the OP or take credit for their work, those are issues that really have little to do with education levels.

              But I could also see a scenario where the OP resents bringing their expertise to bear on things when they would reasonably be expected to because the manager doesn’t have the same expertise and is “taking advantage.” That’s not really how things work though…if you’re being paid to do a job, then you should do it, pitch-in in occasional emergencies, etc. Not expect to sit on the sidelines thinking that maybe if others had the same degree as you they would know what to do.

              1. Instructional Designer*

                This is such a good point. OP might think that others are taking advantage of her expertise but if her expertise is why she was hired, that’s literally the reason she was hired. If her manager did have the expertise, what do they need her for?

      2. memyselfandi*

        Tell that to someone with an MD. I don’t think they think their education was a “personal investment” and most of them will be quick to demand respect simply based on their degree.

        1. Sleepless*

          In the case of an MD (or a DVM-my degree), asking for some amount of deference from the person without that degree is less “I went to school for longer than you” and more “I have the expert-level knowledge of this specific subject that you do not have, even if by nature of not having that degree you don’t understand this.”

        2. SweetTooth*

          Sure, some doctors can be entitled, or expect to have their opinions respected more than makes sense on things that are not related to their fields of study. MDs have a different kind of job track than those of us who work in more corporate office-type environments than the OP though. MDs are given a lot of authority/responsibility/expectations based on their degree and specialized studies, more than even the PAs/NPs/RNs, etc., who work with the MDs, really. MBAs in an office setting aren’t automatically expected to be doing different kinds/levels of work than non-MBAs, especially once you get past the initial postgraduate role.

        3. MK*

          One, the fact that pretentious jerks exist doesn’t mean the OP gets to be one too. Two, as a rule they don’t actually demand respect based on their degree, but on their actual job, a job that society tends to view as very valuable, no matter whether all members of the profession deserve this or not. Anx, three, a medical degree isn’t a personal investment because it is absolutely necessary to enter the profession: it’s not time and money you invest in yourself to become a better doctor, it’s a hoop you have to jump through to be a doctor in the first place.

        4. iliketoknit*

          But medicine is very different from the fields the LW is discussing. You can’t get a job as a doctor without an MD, no matter how many years of experience you have, I don’t know, treating your family members’ illnesses. If your comment is just a gratuitous jab at MDs being snobs, that’s fine (though seems kind of irrelevant), and I’m sure there are plenty of MDs who look down on other medical professionals, which is uncool, but I don’t think the comparison is really pertinent here, where the LW is talking about fields that don’t have hard and fast licensure requirements like medicine (or law or being a vet).

        5. Jay*

          I hope I earn the respect of my colleagues by my behavior and expertise even though I do have an MD. It’s not really a fair comparison, as people have already noted. Some of my colleagues are quick to swing the degree around where it really doesn’t matter (hotel and restaurant reservations, politics, a few other things I can think of) and others are ridiculously condescending to other professionals. None of that makes it right or justifies the attitude Allison points out in the letter.

          In addition to the MD, I have a bachelor’s degree from a Very Prestigious University in a field that most people see as utterly unrelated to medicine. Yes, I am living proof that English majors are employable. I don’t hide my background. I also don’t throw it at people as if it should mean something other than the fact that I get to wear outrageously colored clothing once a year.

        6. Observer*

          Tell that to someone with an MD. I don’t think they think their education was a “personal investment” and most of them will be quick to demand respect simply based on their degree.

          Yeah, there are some fields where specific credentials are required. But MFA is not one of those credentials. Even the MBA may not be all that valuable to an employer.

          And the fact that some doctors demand respect just based on degree does not make it a reasonable thing to do.

        7. Spero*

          I have previously worked with MDs and JDs in fields and roles where those degrees weren’t a requirement, and they didn’t get any more respect internally due to having them. Some clients were impressed and it made a difference to them, but it never made a difference to the supervisor or management when looking at job performance. By and large, the staff members never even brought it up – you just knew if you read the degree on their wall or their online bio. There was one MD who was working in a position where she was doing community education on mental health – NOT diagnosing or anything clinical, mostly raising awareness of the issue and giving stats on its prevalence – and one of the things cited in her termination was that she made detrimental changes to our education materials overruling me (BA, more experience in education and graphic design, 1 more year on job) and cited her professional background as justification. It just made our material uglier and more outdated, and our boss was really turned off by the irrelevant defense.
          Long story short – if you’re working in a field that doesn’t require an MD, then yes it was just a personal investment.

          1. anon translator*

            Yeah. I have a Master’s degree in business and economics (but not an MBA), but it was a graduate rather than postgraduate degree because I don’t have a Bachelor’s degree, the program was for a Master’s at that time. Now I work as a translator, without any formal education in that field, which would disqualify me from many other translator jobs. My degree would be completely irrelevant, if not for the fact that working for the government here requires either a Bachelor’s or a Master’s degree for the vast majority of jobs.

        8. Nic*

          There’s a big difference between a job which has very specific professional training and licencing requirements in order to legally perform that job, and…most other jobs.

        9. CocoB*

          Yes, but a smart MD will hire and take advice from someone with business experience to run their practice billing, accounting, IT and HR and respect & recognize that they provide practical or educational expertise the MD does not have even though being “more educated.”

        10. Former Employee*

          I think there’s a huge difference between having an MD and an MFA.

          For starters, no one will die if the MFA messes up an assignment.

        11. Reluctant Manager*

          Degree… But also passing an exam and getting a nationally recognized certification. I have met no MD or JD or DVM who failed their exam yet demands respect for the degree.

      3. LifeBeforeCorona*

        Yes, on a personal level the OP should be proud of her education. I was mid-40s before I finally got the diploma that I dreamt about as a kid. The one job I got based on my degree was mind-numbing boring. My current job has no relation to my area of study at all. However, my degree helped me focus on my personal goal of being a published writer, with a weekly column.

    4. AllTheBirds*

      …and I didn’t mean to make this all about salary. My point is that each of us has a different, singular career path. When I was younger, I didn’t get it. Now I do. Especially since I got hired based on experience, not a BA, in roles that “required” a bachelors’.

      1. Zephy*

        I have both a BA and a BS and the only things either of them are good for are (1) getting master’s degrees (minimum requirement for licensure/practice in either field) or (2) ticking the box on a job application asking if I have at least a bachelor’s degree, because they’re using higher education as a gatekeeping measure instead of an actual qualification. Absolutely nothing that I studied in undergrad has ever come up in a professional context, unless you count “chatting with coworkers about our respective college experiences.”

      2. A*

        yup, and it’s impossible to predict the ‘zig zag’ that many career paths take. My degree is not directly relevant, but is directly responsible for the types of advancements I’ve received – I never in a million years would have guessed I’d end up in my current line of work or how my degree would play into it.

        1. J.*

          I’m in journalism and I got a master’s degree at a prestigious university in that but it was mostly about networking – it got me into a role at a big-city newspaper far faster than with no connections. I’ve since worked with people who never went to college who are just as intelligent (though they are mostly a generation older than me – now a bachelor’s degree seems pretty mandatory). It isn’t about your degree. It is about your work quality, especially after you get your foot in the door at your first job.

    5. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Got my degrees et al in Virology.

      Work in IT.

      I’d say the only time post 2001 that I got any use out of my degree was….well, the last year.

      1. Loubelou*

        Yes, my immunology degree from 2009 has come in handy this year! But otherwise, I very rarely use it as a manager in international development.
        We have a problem in my sector that too many people have too many degrees and too little experience! I’m about to start a new intern who has two masters degrees. I hope she doesn’t mind being managed by someone with ‘less education’. My 10 years of experience have plenty to teach her.

        1. Tired of Covid-and People*

          To me, sometimes all multiple degrees tell me is that someone is relatively privileged.

          1. BubbleTea*

            Or that, like me, they took a weirdly circuitous route to their career (I have a BA and an MSc in two different fields, neither of which are required for my current role). It is a bit like the question of being “overqualified”. Sometimes that just means “qualified for a different job”. I’m not sure whether my manager has a degree or not. Certainly she doesn’t have a degree in our field because that doesn’t exist.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              That’s my situation. Yeah, on paper I’ve got specialist qualifications in virology and epidemiology. But my experience shows a real different story. Certainly I don’t expect any of my staff to give two figs about my degree(s), only that I know how to manage a severe system outage.

              (Well, with the exception of briefings to do with safety against a virus. Then I DO know what I’m talking about)

            2. MassMatt*

              I think the attitude in the letter illustrates why many employers are hesitant to hire someone with advanced degrees for entry level or mid-level positions. Some such people will be great, others will feel resentful that they are not getting promoted more quickly based on their education. It doesn’t really work this way even in academia, let alone in online content creation or other fields. Organizational flow charts do not consist of multiple PhD holders at the top, with lower and lower degree holders the further down you go.

              In technical fields especially, advanced degrees can take a backseat to on-the-job experience. Technical fields change rapidly, and someone who spent several years learning about a field… well, sometimes they learned about tech that is years out of date, or that what universities are teaching has little to do with what paying clients want.

              OP, it’s possible your new manager may be terrible, some of the things you cite (her suggesting changes clients don’t want, or adding links that she didn’t notice were already there) are certainly annoying, but I note you don’t mention the reason why she has you “targeted” for a PIP. Even if this is true, is it possible the PIP issue is merited? I would not be surprised if you have a chip on your shoulder about other work issues as you do about education.

            3. Chinookwind*

              Exactly. My B.Ed didn’t make me overqualified to be a receptionist or a secretary just because it isn’t required. All it does, outside of the Education field, is prove I can read and write in English and had the ability to stick with something for four years.

          2. Millennial*

            Or they are a millennial competing with others with a bachelors swimming in debt .

            1. Anonapots*

              I’m a Gen X also swimming in debt from higher education. I know Millenials have a shitty end of the stick, but your experience isn’t really that unique.

              1. Keymaster of Gozer*

                Gen X, graduated into a recession, paid off all my debts finally in my 30s. After a lot of sacrifice. I think the only people I know who can claim to not have had that struggle after graduating are my parents who got their degrees during a time of full grants.

        2. Waffle Cone*

          What’s up fellow immunologist! I’m in the same boat, but I sure do get a lot of pandemic/vaccine related questions from people lately. :)

    6. ElizabethJane*

      I have a BA in English Lit, focus on Shakespeare with a minor in history, focus on 20th century Germany and I’m the lead data scientist for a 3 billion dollar company.

      1. Just Another Zebra*

        Fellow Lit major here, with a concentration on creative writing, and a minor in technical writing.

        I work for a mechanical company and source all their parts and materials, as well as handle our fleet of trucks and equipment. My degree has helped me enormously, but only because of the soft skills I developed. (But I’m elated to be away from MLA formatting).

        1. IV*

          Ditto! BA English, focus on the works of William Blake.

          I’m a Senior Program Manager for an global program where I help formulate program strategy and handle client engagement for Fortune 50 companies. There are folks on my project teams who not only have more / more relevant education, but who are also way smarter and have important tech skills that I don’t.

          We all bring something different to the table and work together to meet our project goals. That’s how we are successful.

    7. Anonys*

      In my current, fairly large company, none of the four C-level executives has anything higher than an MBA. But on the management level below, probably about half have a phd.

      In my own department, almost every manager and some non-managerial staff have a phd. Most people have a masters. But one of the four C-executives “only” has a Bachelors which on top of that is completely unrelated to our field (think like a humanities bachelor in an engineering field).

      I think most of the people with phds have no regrets about getting them and I’m sure that level of education has benefitted them professionally. It’s just not everything that counts. Also I find that on the business/ trading side of things, phds matter less/ are emphasized less. Departments like Legal or Accounting seem to be more “traditional” and place a higher value on having masters/phds as (unspoken) requirements to move up.

      I don’t know too much about Digital Marketing which the OP is in, it’s probably among the fields that emphasises getting measureable results over having formal qualifications, given that it’s a (relatively) emerging field (relying heavily on new media and technology) which isn’t directly tied to a traiditonal academic discipline.

    8. Koalafied*

      I work in LW’s field – digital marketing – and I literally couldn’t even tell you whether anyone in my department has a graduate degree, undergraduate degree, or no degree at all, with the sole exception of one person. I know she got her MBA because she was getting it while we worked together and mentioned every now and then how she thought she could apply something she had just learned there to our work together. I’m actually only about 80% sure it’s an MBA and not some other kind of MA/MS degree.

      It just…doesn’t come up.

      1. A Person*

        This is a really interesting point, because now I’m pondering how the degrees are coming up at the workplace.

        While it’s supremely Not Okay for anyone to make fun of OP’s education, I’m wondering if they are falling back to using it to support their ideas or decisions? Like “well in my MBA classes they said X”? I could see where that might rub people the wrong way.

        1. TootsNYC*

          right? At my job, which is not all that far away from digital marketing, we never talk about what degree we’ve had. We don’t even often talk about the classes we took.
          We might talk about what we’ve learned in a class we’re taking right now, but few people know anything about degrees.

        2. Overripe Banana*

          I think you’ve nailed it.
          Plus, degrees in digital media are a tricky thing. It’s such a fast-paced industry right now that half the knowledge you get in your first year of a program is likely outdated by the time you graduate meaning that they look good on a resume, but they really don’t mean you’re bringing more knowledge or skill to a role. The benefit to programs like these is that, in theory at least, they teach you how to stay on top of trends and understand how to translate those into new content, strategies, psychographics etc. but bringing up best practices from years ago in the digital media industry is naive at best.

          1. Willis*

            I think this is the case for a lot of undergrad and graduate degrees. There’s no way you could distill the entirety of my field down into a 2-year curriculum to the point where someone coming out of grad school would be more knowledgeable about some subarea than someone with several years experience in it. But you get some ideas to a bunch of difference concepts, some idea of how to work in the field, etc. It’s more of an introduction to the field than conferring any expertise. You get that from actually doing the work!

        3. pancakes*

          It doesn’t seem likely that someone who behaves that way would be able to say, “My employee reviews have been stellar for the last five years…”

          I’m not in the same field as the letter writer and may be off base in this, but it could be that their coworkers’ degrees come up in their company bios, either on a public website or an internal one. Every firm I’ve worked for has brief profiles of people someplace or other.

        4. onco fonco*

          I wondered this. I knew about one colleague’s education level in my last job, because he had a doctorate in a subject I was studying at the time so we used to chat about it. But I had no idea what anyone else studied, where or to what extent. My BA is in languages and people only found that out because it turned out to be a happy coincidence and I was able to help get one of our products translated.

          Education is a wonderful, useful thing, but it’s not The Thing that defines you and your status. I’m very proud of my qualifications but that’s on a personal level. I’ll big them up as needed when *applying* to jobs. But once I’m in the job, I’m in. People might need to know what skills I have if they could be usefully deployed on a project, but otherwise it’s my performance they’re going to care about. I can’t really imagine bringing my education up in most situations.

      2. The Rules are Made Up*

        Yeah I absolutely could not tell you which of my coworkers has a degree or what degree they have except for a couple from some general “One time in college…” “Oh what school did you go to?” type conversations and even then they could’ve not graduated for all I know. I don’t know how OP even knows this information unless they literally looked up their managers to see if they have a degree and if so that is an odd thing to do…

      3. Lady Meyneth*

        Yeah, I kinda wonder how OP even knows everybody’s education. Either it’s a pretty weird company that’s placing too much value on discussing education while not valuing degrees themselves or OP is digging to find this stuff out, which is… not great.

        OP, once you have a couple jobs, your degree really becomes just a piece of paper or a checkbox on job applications. It’s the knowledge inside your head that count, and that comes both from classes and, more often, from day-to day experience.

    9. Hei Hei, the Chicken from Moana*

      my boss and my org’s second in command has a high school degree. She runs circles around all of us with bachelors and PhDs.

      1. Internet Person*

        Isn’t this the kind of attitude (“degrees don’t matter”) that maybe led to the letter writer disillusionment?

    10. BellaDiva*

      My husband dropped out of high school and got his GED shortly after we were married. He is now a senior software developer/support provided and has people reporting to him (he has been with the same company since 1981, and in the IT department since 1986). All without a degree, just night courses and a strong work ethic.

        1. Noblepower*

          25 years ago my friends and I all felt a ton of pressure to get a degree because otherwise we were told we would be forever doomed to a life of poorly paid jobs and no upward mobility. And we were also told that things were different for us than for previous generations. I get the sense that the details of the challenges for each generation are different, but life is no cakewalk for any of us.

    11. Katrinka*

      One of the secretaries who reported to me has an Associates degree but makes more than her peer with a Bachelor’s degree because she has decades more experience. She is also consulted on a lot of things because she knows the school and the system more than anyone else in Administration.

      I am currently looking for work that has nothing to do with my degree. I’ve taken some classes in the field, but it’s primarily the number of years of total experience I have, as well as the few years’ experience in the specific field that were part of my last couple of jobs.

    12. Dragon_dreamer*

      My managers at the bent fastener always, ALWAYS insisted my degree is in Computer Science. Otherwise, how could I be That Good at tech? Every time I brought it up, I’d have to remind them that 20 years of doing tech support/repair was why I’m That Good. :p My first degree is in Biology. (Current one is Geology!)

      1. Brownie*

        The sheer number of Geology BA/BS folks who work in IT in my sub-field is incredible. Most of the ones I’ve talked to about it have gotten into IT positions because geology is so computer-heavy nowadays (3D modeling is fun!) that we become good at tech support out of sheer necessity. Add in a familiarization with how to deal with (and analyze) large scientific data sets and that’s a good all-round beginning IT job base right there for anything from tech support to dba to data analyst. I’m 20+ years down the road from my degree now and all anyone cares is that it checks the “has college degree” box, they’re all far more interested in my actual job experience.

    13. be not*

      I have no degree at all and am at 6 figures – and have managed people that have degrees for almost 20 years – I got here by being the best at my job.

    14. Entry Level Limbo*

      I would love to work at an organization that emphasizes skills and experience over academic credentials. Seriously! In the decade since I graduated from college, I’ve held a series of entry level jobs in local government, philanthropy, and management consulting – can’t seem to get a position at a higher level. While I consistently receive favorable performance reviews in each position, my managers always held my lack of master’s degree against me. They all suggested that I should consider grad school if I want to seek opportunities for advancement. After hearing this for nearly a decade, I finally applied to grad school and graduated last year. No, I did not expect this to lead to a promotion (it hasn’t). And whether or not future employers place much weight on education, at least now I won’t have to hear about lacking it.

    15. Good Vibes Steve*

      The head of the creative agency where I used to work dropped out of high school and never got a single degree. He is also a super talented, intelligent, and compassionate. Qualifications come in all shapes and sizes.

    16. (insert name here)*

      My company’s CEO didn’t finish his degree. Flunked out because he was too busy starting the company I work for now.

      My grandfather was a high school drop out and a CEO. He also taught college level math.

      My mom’s best friend barely graduated high school and dropped out of college multiple times, but ended up as a bank president, executive director for a several non-profits, board member for multiple companies and non-profits, founder of non-profits, works as a successful management consultant.

      On the other hand, my mom had a BS, a masters and a doctorate, her mother got a masters in the 40s before she married that high school drop out CEO, etc.

      Education matters, but it also doesn’t matter. The person matters. Their skills and experience matter.

  2. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

    Traditionally valued forms of education have traditionally acted as gatekeeping measures for women and minorities.

    Absolutely report to someone with less education. They earned that position and have a ton to teach you.

    1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Traditional education also usually gives a pretty clear path for ‘success’ and rewards people who are good at interpreting and sticking to direction / working within a narrow framework…..but relatively few work enviornments operate that way. And in school you’re rewarded for every A+ assignment you turn in — but in work if you try to hit A+ on all your assignments you may do worse!

      I actually feel like many people who calibrated their ideas around success to do really well in school can struggle a lot with that adjustment.

      1. Sleepy*

        This is definitely true, but I think it cuts both ways. Obsessing over getting every task to 100% in work is counterproductive, but so can be checking off a task when it’s about 85-90% done. I’ve worked with a lot of interns, folks who are still in school, and I’ve seen this ‘90% done’ habit become a problem in people who probably developed a (sensible) mentality that in school things don’t need to be perfect, they just need to be ‘good enough’. A task that is 90% of the way there in work often times is *not* good enough.

        1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

          Oh, that’s an interesting thought. I can see that! With certain admin tasks in my work, there is no way to do them well, exactly — but if you do them sloppily or don’t complete them, that’s can be a significant problem.

          It’s really different to the sort of work people would complete in school, where the driving purpose underscoring most tasks is facilitating learning.

          1. Blarg*

            Yea, I’ve had to have this convo with my direct report, who newly finished grad school. She’s struggling with the work we do never being “done.” Like there’s very few milestones we’ll hit when we can look back on our work and pat ourselves on the back and say “look at this thing.” As soon as one thing moves, it is to a different phase of work. It is challenging, but since she’s closer to school than I am, I think she misses that sense of finality. I’ve tried to be a good manager in setting expectations, that our work will never be “done” and as such, she should not try — i.e. end her work days at appropriate times, no working on weekends.

            1. sacados*

              Oh yeah, I totally get that! Hopefully you can help her focus on the flipside of that–
              Cause in school, there’s always something you “could” be doing. When you’re cooking dinner, hanging out with friends, spending an evening/weekend bingeing bad TV … there’s always something you could be studying, or a paper you could be working on, or some reading you could be doing … Which for me always caused a lot of stress/guilt.
              That’s why going into the working world was actually super refreshing for me — even if I’m working longer hours and/or working more intensely than when I was a student, the clear division of on and off hours makes such a big difference! Being able to go into the weekend and not have it hanging in the back of my mind all the things I “should” be doing.

              1. TootsNYC*

                I remember that feeling! The “leaving at the end of the day” feeling. I had so much more time when I became an employee and not a student.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              Food service and sorting recycling are two jobs that are never done. These jobs that are never done can suck the life force right out of a person. It’s a bfd and if a person cannot get used to the pipeline’s constant flow, they end up in a baaaddd spot.

            3. Nom*

              When i first started working, this was definitely a hard adjustment for me! Glad to say i’m over it now – it would certainly be a weird feeling to go back to school and consider things done again

        2. Sweet Christmas*

          I see your point, but I encounter the former problem way, way more than the latter.

      2. Koalafied*

        I’m an academic refugee and one of the things I found most enjoyable and working outside of academia is that most things I do now are right/good enough the first time I do them.

        In academia even the most brilliant minds in their fields will go through multiple rounds of non-trivial revisions to get a paper published. Now I write something, send it up the chain for edits and approval, it comes back lightly edited, and it’s out the door. I am keenly aware now of the psychological benefits derived from completion of tasks vs endlessly working on one thing that is never really finished.

        1. Caterpie*

          I found this to be true as well! The mentor of my degree program would just re-write evvveryyything of mine completely (even personal statements and cover letters when I was job hunting). When I did an internship and would get documents back with maybe 3-5 lil specks of red on them, it was hard not to just sit there for an hour in disbelief.

          You’re spot on about the psychological benefits.

        2. anon translator*

          Yeah, this. I intensely dislike long projects. I also prefer translating non-fiction to fiction, because there’s much less need to consider the writing style of the original author, style is more dictated by the genre (e.g. an official decision vs. a press release). I prefer projects that I can complete in a few hours or days rather than weeks or months. I adore the fact that most of the time, when a task is done it’s done. There are a few exceptions, some of my internal clients insist on sending drafts for translation. Sometimes that can be good, if it means I have some input in the original text, when tweaking it just a bit makes it far easier to translate, at other times it’s simply annoying because I have to go back to working on a project that I thought or at least hoped was finished.

          I think I’d be really unhappy if my job was a never-ending pipeline of tasks with no end in sight. Sure, there’s always the next project to work on, but at least I get the momentary satisfaction of having completed something in my job.

        3. Sweet Christmas*

          I also left academia for industry and this is also one of my very favorite things about not being in academia anymore. One of the things that motivated me to leave was when I looked up and realized I had spent six months revising six pages of text for a grant.

    2. Zephy*

      +1000

      All I could hear reading this letter was the character Plankton from Spongebob Squarepants snarling “I WENT TO COLLEGE!!!”

      1. Bopper*

        Am also wondering if the OP has a bad string of bosses or are they effectively saying “I went to college you must respect me”

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Either is possible, but there comes a point where one asks what is the common element in all these relations?

      2. PT*

        I had a boss do this to me. He gave me a whole condescending lecture about how he went to COLLEGE and had a MASTER’S DEGREE.

        Both of his degrees were from diploma mills and my (female-my) bachelor’s was from a well-regarded university.

        I politely sat through my lecture and made a mental note about my boss’s character.

        1. pope suburban*

          I currently work with someone like this, and dealing with her is miserable. She’s alienated most everyone in our organization and has a reputation with our contract instructors as being condescending and abrasive. The attitude doesn’t stop at simple snottiness either; she insists on controlling information and cutting people off from projects in a way that is detrimental to our operations. One thing I appreciate about COVID is not having to be in the office with her every day. She’s still rude and still hell-bent on treating me like I’m slow, but the distance makes it a lot easier to bear. People like this are pretty invariably dealing with their own stuff, but they need to address that rather than taking it out on people who have nothing to do with whatever the problem is. I mean, I’m not thrilled to still be at the bottom of the heap after doing well in school and having a solid work history, but it’s not my coworkers’ faults, so why would I dump it all on them?

    3. HisotryLlama*

      I’d be very cautious here in saying that they earned that position and have a ton to teach you. My last boss didn’t earn her position at all, and in fact I had slightly more experience than she did (I came after she was already the boss). She did diddly-squat and didn’t teach me a thing, other than that she didn’t do anything.

      1. pancakes*

        Yes – this very much depends on the person and the setting. In my field (law) it is quite common for recent graduates to supervise teams of far more experienced lawyers working on contract projects (document review, etc.), and it is also quite common for them to be put in that position due to the prestige of their degree rather than their knowledge or experience, both of which tend to be minimal right out of school. The line in the letter about the supervisor “being an error junkie and a tattle” reminded me of a deeply unpleasant first-year associate who came on far too strong in supervising a project I worked on. I looked at his bio one day and noted he hadn’t even passed the bar exam yet – he was still awaiting results. I don’t doubt it’s awkward to be in that position and supervising people who’ve been practicing for 5, 10 years or more – on projects like these I’ve worked alongside retired securities law professors, for example – and it’s not infrequently handled badly. I can’t at all agree with Alison that people put in these situations in my field have been given supervisory roles due to their superior experience. They’re often the least-experienced people in the room.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          The legal profession, and biglaw in particular, is the most status-conscious profession I have ever encountered. The idea of putting a newly minted J.D. in charge of anything seems excessive, if not actual malpractice.

          1. pancakes*

            It really is. One firm I worked at would invariably have regular almonds in the catered lunch salads if it was just us but marcona almonds if opposing counsel was attending.

            New JDs are kept on a short leash but that doesn’t stop them pulling at it.

          2. iliketoknit*

            The problem is that often new associates are put in charge of this stuff not because of their shiny prestigious degrees, but because it’s seen as grunt work that doesn’t actually require a lot of legal expertise, while the partners and more senior associated need to contribute their brilliant minds to higher levels of strategy etc. Biglaw definitely hires for prestige and is ridiculously hierarchical. But once someone is hired, they’re not giving the new associate with a JD from UVA management of the doc review team because they went to UVA, but because that person doesn’t have other valuable legal skills yet.

            1. pancakes*

              Yes, it keeps them busy and is billable. Having a degree more prestigious than mine is why they have associate jobs while people like me have staff attorney jobs, though.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Work with a great number of very skilled techies. Not a single one has qualifications in IT, computer science etc. Including me. The general experience is that people such as myself were steered away from anything technical in school because ‘you won’t get it. Go do child development or something’.

    5. KHB*

      “Traditionally valued forms of education have traditionally acted as gatekeeping measures for women and minorities.”

      This is true, and I absolutely agree that years spent in school are not the sole determiner of one’s value in the workplace.

      However. These days, more than half of all bachelor’s degrees are going to women, and college enrollments among Black and (especially) Hispanic Americans are on the rise. It’s kind of a raw deal that the gatekeeper remains in place only until the “wrong” people start making it through the gate.

      1. Forrest*

        Right! Overcredentialling is a thing. College may have been a way of blocking out women and people from ethnic minorities in the past, but now it’s often the case that inderrepresented groups have higher qquaifications because that’s the only way they get to compete with traditionally privileged groups.

      2. a sound engineer*

        In my experience as someone who is both, and went to school for tech, I still found myself often dismissed or treated as less capable by employers when the time came to look for jobs.

      3. Going anon*

        Exactly! As a woman and the first in my family to go to college, I do have some bitterness about this new “degrees don’t matter” attitude. The moment people like me and similar groups (BIPOC) make it through the gate, they either say “eh, actually it never mattered”, or move the goalpost.

        1. TheAG*

          It really matters what the degrees are. I tried to reply upthread (I’m not sure it will post) but I’m a hiring manger for science-related degrees. I hire people with a (bs mostly but sometimes ba) who walked out of college with the knowledge of how to run an HPLC, GC, AA, or microbiology (as I did when I left college). I will specifically ask them if their coursework had this training (but during difficult times, don’t care).
          The jobs I hire for are potentially 6 figure jobs *right out of college* (if you’re willing to work off-shift and weekends. The hourly employees who work for me, still work less hours than I do, guarantee, also mgmt here are expected to work off-shift and on weekends. 24/7 business).
          The people who work for me and did this retire *very* comfortably at 55.
          I get that there are industries where it is more comfortable, but manufacturing is stable and profitable (currently, in the US)

    6. Joan Rivers*

      The headline is:
      “Should I report to someone w/less education than me?”

      and the reality is, it’s not about “should” — it’s about “is.”

      “Should” implies some injustice or illegality, but this is just the truth of the situation. It’s a short step to thinking, “I’m the one who should be promoted.” But if it doesn’t happen, that’s the reality too. “Should” leads to resentment and lack of confidence.

    7. Lacey*

      Yeah, but I think if the OP worked really hard to get her degrees because of this and then had her efforts laughed at or derided, that could be part of this reaction. I think the reaction is absolutely a problem, but I feel for the OP too.

      1. Millennial*

        I feel the same frustration as the op. Like why even try with the degree- why go into debt ?
        Especially when you have people in the comments saying they are making six figures and they didn’t take out enormous debt.

        1. Tidewater 4-1009*

          The enormous debt is a problem in itself. It has damaged the economy because all these people who got degrees because they thought (or were promised) it would get them good jobs can’t afford to buy homes, cars or other things because they’re paying the loans.
          Many of the people who are in this position have not been able to get good jobs.
          One factor is when everyone has a degree, it has little to no value in the job market.
          The other is employers requiring degrees for entry-level jobs that don’t objectively need them, as a screening tool and form of discrimination. So a person with a bachelors and sometimes a masters can’t get a job higher than entry-level, and struggles to pay their loans.

        2. Ace in the Hole*

          While I understand the frustration, I think it should be directed towards the social pressure to get a degree on the basis of job prospects without much of any critical discussion of the connection between a given degree and career field.

          I feel like many people are encouraged to get a degree to help their career, but depending on the field there may be little to no direct need for a degree. It may not actually enhance their job prospects, may not make them more eligible for advancement, or if it does it may not be in proportion to the cost (both time and money) of getting the degree. On the other hand, in some careers a degree is either necessary or nearly so – without one your opportunities will be severely limited.

          This isn’t to say that the only value in education is employment opportunities. There is intrinsic value in education – but if someone pursued it because they were told it was necessary for their career, it’s frustrating to discover that was incorrect!

    8. Xavier Desmond*

      I can’t agree with this fully. In my experience, there is much more of this sort of gate keeping in the world of work than in traditional education.

        1. LTL*

          I’m a brown woman and I agree with Xavier in some ways. I wouldn’t say that there’s much gatekeeping for women in higher education, women usually do better in school than men and there are normally more of us. However, certain minorities (those typically more affected by a lower socioeconomic status) are absolutely affected when it comes to accessing higher education.

          1. Katrinka*

            AND women and BIPOC are less likely to be respected for their academic achievements. And have a harder time getting others to use their proper titles. I have a friend who has a PhD, holds several patents and has received many grants and some of her colleagues still call her Miss X while her male colleagues are Dr. Y.

      1. Public Sector Manager*

        I agree with Xavier. My wife has 20 years experience with procurement for a Fortune 100 company working in two different European countries and the U.S. as well. She negotiated multi-billion dollar deals with just a high school diploma. She was insanely good at her job. She took time off when we had our son. When she goes to apply now, all the procurement jobs, even the entry level ones, have as a minimum qualification a Bachelor’s Degree.

        There are way too many jobs out there that require a Bachelor’s or higher when the degree is completely irrelevant to the job at hand. I’ve even pushed back on this in my own office because its systemic racism, and I was ignored.

    9. anone*

      Simultaneously, I know women and racialized people who fought extra hard to get academic credentials, and then STILL have those dismissed by people who are determined to see them as less capable. Basically, look at the larger context.

      1. LunaLena*

        Yeah, I’ve seen many minorities who were accepted into good schools or programs get labeled as “affirmative action hires.” It’s really a no-win situation for many – if you make it, it’s because of your minority status. If you don’t, it just proves that you were incapable to start with and you don’t deserve anything you have because you got them through “special privileges.”

    10. Green Tea for Me*

      This makes me think of the question that goes something like-

      You’re a baseball coach drafting players for your team. You have two potential pitchers and they both manage to strike out the batter the exact same amount of times. The only difference is one has better form than the other. You can only hire one. Which one do you take?

      And the answer is you take the one with worse form. Because you can teach him better form and then he’ll be better than the other guy.

      This is not to say that education and degrees don’t have value. They absolutely do. But they aren’t the only indicators of intelligence. Functional companies aren’t going to promote people for no reason, and if Mary is being promoted to manager without a degree and with less experience it’s because she had talent the company values and wants to see grow, even if possibly it’s a little raw and still needs to be polished.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Ironic; everything I know about sports would have pointed me to taking the one with better form, as being more technically sound would predict less injury susceptibility.

        I’ll take a programmer who composes competent pretty code over a genius any day, because we’ll be able to read the competent, pretty code in 6 months.

        1. Arvolin*

          Ideally, you get a genius programmer who writes readable code. I’m not calling myself a programming genius, but I made sure my code was clear and readable, and I got compliments on that. Software people, at least historically, have been very good at giving their employers what their employers really want. If you want readable code, reward it in some way.

        2. Katrinka*

          You almost always take the one who has room for improvement, as long as you have the resources to give them more experience/training/education. Either they are working harder or have more natural ability and both are good assets to build on.

          1. Sweet Christmas*

            This entirely depends on the job that you are hiring them to do and what your goals for the particular role are, as well as the magnitude of the gap between the two candidates.

      2. Owler*

        I agree with Sola, but for different reasons. I would have chosen the one with better form because I would be put off wondering why the other hasn’t picked up the form by now. Retraining bad habits is really hard.
        Also, the better form player can also hit the ground running and be productive from the start…and maybe even pick up something to improve from their starting point.

      3. Sweet Christmas*

        This is making a lot of assumptions: that the pitcher with good form doesn’t have other areas in which he can get better; that good form is easy to teach someone who has spent a lifetime pitching the wrong way; that you have time to train this particular pitcher to be good later rather than needing someone who is good now; that you WANT to spend the time training the pitcher to have better form…

    11. serenity*

      100% this.

      And as someone who works in higher ed, I think OP should immediately stop using advanced degrees as a yardstick measure to assess/compare people’s perceived worth. That’s not what higher ed is designed for, and it’s absolutely not what you’re supposed to get out of the experience of obtaining graduate degrees. It’s wrong.

    12. Ms_Meercat*

      I think often we only see one side of the coin, too. We see the things that are bad, and never make the effort to look for the competencies people do have. I currently report to someone who is 8 years younger than me, doesn’t have any degree and has no prior management experience. She got her role within a small startup that has grown, and needed to add expertise and experience (that’s where I came in).

      She can’t hold a candle to half the managers I had in my life who I learned heaps from. I have 2 degrees, 8 years of experience in 3 different countries and speak 3 languages fluently, and most of that gets used at my job (and some doesn’t, because there are tons of areas of what we could do in our work that nobody there but me actually knows anything about…).
      But none of that matters. A) I still owe her respect, and need to follow her leadership, as she is my manager, sets the direction my team goes, and is tasked to do that; and B) If the higher ups in the company (although granted, I do already work directly with the highest ups there are one level above her) want to do X, because they don’t know about Y or don’t even understand it, I can say “What about Y”, and then it’s their decision, because it’s not my company.
      It’s been hella frustrating at times. But I also remind myself of this every day, and I have actively made the effort to pay attention to the things she (my direct manager) does know and do well, and there are plenty. Do I think she’s a great manager? No, and I would argue if she were, it would make her a vertiable wunderkind. But thankfully she does also treat me with respect, doesn’t usually try to assert her authority with me, communicates well with me and tells me how I am valuable (coincidentally all things that make me believe she will actually become a good manager in the future.)

    13. LTL*

      I was hoping that someone would bring something like this up.

      Higher education has become a scam in a lot of ways. There are jobs for which degrees are absolutely valuable, but nowadays, the majority of white collar work requires at least a bachelors and there’s no good reason for that. And now, since everyone has a bachelors, I see so many people getting masters degrees to get ahead. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

      1. Anonapots*

        The inflation of higher degrees has been a problem since the 1990s and I think became more pronounced in the 2000s. I agree, a lot of white collar jobs ask for a BA/BS and there is absolutely nothing a degree will give you that experience or some combination of education and experience would not.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Bravo! Bull’s eye. About ten years ago, I started seeing articles that said, “Everyone has a bachelor’s. If you want to stand out, you have to have a Master’s.

        Yeah, stand out in the cold that is. Not many around here will hire a master’s degreed person for jobs. They can’t pay the person.

        My thought was, show me the pay off on a BA/BS and I will consider a Masters. In conversation with people I know on a casual level, I was surprised to repeatedly see the running joke around here is that, “Yeah, a Bachelor’s will get you 30k/yr.”

    14. cominghome*

      Yes, but arguable even more so in the work place than in schools. Workplaces have historically been (and continue to be) tremendously discriminatory towards women, people of color, and all sorts of minorities. Anyone disadvantaged by the systems they exist in (be it school or workplace), who has succeeded despite systems designed to devalue their skills and contributions has earned that position–be it a degree or a managerial position.

  3. EBStarr*

    This was such an excellent response! So much kindness, nuance, and constructive honesty. Hopefully the OP is in the headspace to find it helpful as well.

    1. 100%*

      Exactly what I came here to say. Allison showed such empathy and concern in her response. Incredibly generous and heartfelt feedback. I think this is how you get people to actually LISTEN to a tough, honest critique. Good luck, OP.

  4. yup yup*

    I have no idea what my manager’s education is. Nor can I recall how educated any of my previous managers were. It makes zero difference to me where they went to school or for what, and it would be weird if I started acting like it did.

    1. JustMe, the OG*

      I only know because she told me. We were talking about a coworker going back to school and she volunteered the information. I have more schooling than her but she has more experience. I don’t care, she’s a great person to work for and does her job well.

    2. Anononon*

      Yeah, I only know what degree my boss has because we’re both attorneys. But, I have zero clue about the degrees of the non-attorney exec/management team I work with daily because it really doesn’t matter.

      1. Casper Lives*

        Same. It can be interesting to know what attorneys got bachelors in as a getting to know your coworkers bit. I know what degree or not some of the staff have because they told me. I don’t ask. It doesn’t matter.

    3. Emma*

      I was thinking this – I don’t really know anything about the education of my co-workers, except what I can infer (e.g. my boss used to be a teacher, so in my country she must have a specific degree). It’s not something that ever really comes up.

    4. Zephy*

      I know what my colleagues’ respective levels of education are, but then, we work for a college. It comes up.

      1. Sparrow*

        Same, but I’ve honestly never thought much about it other than being pleased when I end up with a faculty member as a boss who has professional experience outside academia, enjoys administration, and cares about my professional development. Reporting to a faculty administrator can be pretty hit or miss in that regard.

    5. twocents*

      I can think of exactly one manager whose education level I’m aware of, and even then, it only came up during a general conversation of student loan debt. She dropped six figures to get a degree that has absolutely nothing to do with our work, and for which she has never held a related job. She knows some interesting factoids, but so do a lot of people with different backgrounds.

    6. ceiswyn*

      My manager PROBABLY has a Bachelor’s of some sort because most people on my field do. I don’t know for sure, though. Nor do I care what he might or might not have done twenty years ago. He’s excellent at his job right now.

    7. Momma Bear*

      We have several PhDs here and I only know who two of them are because I had to write something that referenced them as Dr. so and so. Most of our managers have less than that. I also have no idea what my manager’s level of education is. I do know they have more than 20 yrs experience in the field, many of those in management.

      RE: Mary…I think OP needs to figure out if the problem is their work or Mary. I had a job where for several years I was doing well – I got rewarded for my work and felt valued. Then we got the micromanager from hell and all of a sudden everything was terrible and I was almost written up. The problem wasn’t me but the manager. Since there was nowhere else to go but out, out is where I (and several teammates) went.

      It is valid, however, for the OP to think about why they put so much emphasis on everyone’s degrees and why they think that makes anyone more/less than another. OP seems to have a chip on their shoulder re: the effort they put into getting a degree. It’s commendable, but it’s also not unusual. I think OP is mixing up their personal accomplishment with on the job skills and professional value. It might be something to explore with a therapist or career coach, especially if it is now holding them back. OP might do better to have more sources of/alt. sources of praise and areas where they feel value.

    8. HoHumDrum*

      Same, I have no clue what exact background my boss has. Sometimes my coworkers’ schooling has come up in conversation so I have a vague idea for some of them. I actually think they all might know my background more because I think I do have a tendency to mention “When I was at [X Institution]” or whatever frequently, and I’ve actually been thinking I need to be better at catching myself do that because I’m sure it comes off as elitist and braggy and that’s not my intent (mostly I just tend to try to be specific when I’m explaining something, though I do not doubt there is probably some need for validation of my schooling in there I need to work on). But regardless, the point is it’s irrelevant information. Everything my coworkers & boss suggest to me are clearly borne from good judgment and capacity so who cares where/if they went to school?

      Listen OP, I really, really value my education. I worked very hard at school, and I let other aspects of my life suffer in order to excel. So I get the reluctance to let it go, but it really does need to be let go. Making a production out of your schooling background almost always comes off as bragging about your privilege, even when you worked hard to get it. There are so, so many smart, hardworking people who either drop out early or never get as far as applying because their life circumstances never allowed it. If Mary is a bad boss, she’s probably just a bad boss regardless of education level. And please do think about whether there’s any chance you are doing things that make people feel uncomfortable about their education, like my example above. I think this problem is going to plague you wherever you go unless you change your perspective.

    9. Cat Tree*

      In some industries it is standard to send an email summarizing education and experience when a new person joins or is promoted. It’s so everyone knows about the new person and it’s longer than just “new manager, Jane Jones, starts on Monday.”

    10. MsClaw*

      Yeah, this whole thing really clanged to me: “is it typical for larger companies to have graduate level employees report to managers with less education? For reference, Mary’s degree isn’t in management, business, or HR or anything you’d think of when it comes to management ”

      Is it typical? ABSOLUTELY. In fact, I’d be shocked if anyone cared who has what degrees when deciding to promote people. Being hung up on this seems frankly really out of touch. Employers care about your record of results, how well you get along with people, and like a dozen other things that go into the ‘who do we promote’ decision whereas degrees probably don’t come up at all. I have never seen those decisions hinge on education level — in fact, I’d bet you my boss couldn’t tell you the educational background of me or anyone on my team without looking it up.

      That second bit, about Mary’s degree, also makes it clear that OP is more than a little out of touch with norms. Managers are not typically….. people who studied to be managers (and certainly not people who studied HR??). Typically they are people who did a great job at whatever the work is and therefore were given increasing senior/leadership roles because of their results.

    11. Quinalla*

      I know that all my mangers have bachelors in engineering since they are PEs and that is (for the most part with rare exception) a requirement. I know one guy who has an MBA because he casually mentioned it once, but others may have MS or other degrees, dunno. It is important to have a BS because of legalities around getting a PE (professional engineer license which is actually relevant in my field – one of the few), but once you check that box and have been working a few years, no one cares about your degree(s), etc. except as an interesting point if they went to your school or it was really highly rated or something.

    12. JM60*

      I only sometimes know because managers often send out emails announcing new hires, with some information about their background included. One person on a different team that I frequently work with has a PhD, and I otherwise wouldn’t have known if not for the email announcing her hire.

      1. JM60*

        I forgot to add that I don’t think anyone I work with, aside from my grandboss (who saw my resume), knows that I have a master’s degree in a relevant field. While I certainly don’t hide my academic background, it’s just not something that I discuss with others at work.

    13. HS Teacher*

      I know my supervisors have degrees; I’m a teacher, and it’s a requirement. Beyond that, I don’t know or care where they want to school, their major(s), etc. This letter is very strange to me.

  5. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

    I think the way we’re taught about how education correlates to work success is often really misleading. Many people are lead to believe that if we’re adept at school, we’ll be adept in an office — but they’re very different enviornments and often have different skills needed for success.

    We’re also encouraged to work in fields related to what we like to study — but studying a topic for the sake of learning about it and working within a field tangientially related to that topic are often wildly different.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Yep yep. I studied communication (a very broad field) and specialized in media/journalism, and went off to work in newspapers. But that didn’t work out in the long run, and now I’m in marketing — and while my education matters to a degree (no pun intended), I’ve done most of my learning on the job and in the world. My 15 years of work experience honestly matters a lot more than my 4 years of college, and yes, I “only” have a Bachelor’s Degree…

      And one of the smartest people I know dropped out of high school, made a successful career in journalism, eventually fought her way to a degree just to say she had it, and is now a leading disinformation expert. I’d put her up against anyone’s fancy MBA any day.

      The OP should absolutely be proud of their accomplishments, but education doesn’t overrule work experience, life experience, innate intelligence or a drive to learn.

      1. Liz*

        This 100%. I was a liberal arts major, history, and i cannot tell you how many times i was asked “are you going to teach?” Um nope. Granted I graduated in the late 80’s when you could get a job with that type of degree a lot more easily than today.

        I also knew many who never went to college, yet were very succesful. And the types of jobs they held then, now a degree is an absolute. I worked with someone who’s husband worked for a bank, in IT, and was pretty high up. He started at the bottom and worked his way up. This was in the mid-90’s and his bank went through a merger, and he lost his job. And couldn’t find another because of his lack of degree. He ended up going back to school.

      2. Tired of Covid-and People*

        Oprah Winfrey only has a bachelors degree. Quite a few other very successful individuals did not bother amassing an impressive collection of degrees.

      3. Nessun*

        Agree 100%! I don’t even have “only” a bachelor’s – I left my program when I realized it wasn’t going to lead me down a path I wanted (and I didn’t know what path I DID want). 20 years later, I have a great career in a field I’ve learned as I went – started in an entry level position and worked my way up to management by being open to learning and feedback, and proving my value by what I do each day. My direct reports have more formal education than I do, and we all respect each other. They are wonderful at what they do, and they appreciate what I can teach them about their roles, because I’ve been there myself – and I appreciate (and tell them!) that they can improve on anything I’ve taught them because their experiences and education are different than mine.

        1. Millennial*

          That’s great but you entered the workforce 15 years ago when not everyone had a bachelors . as a millennial – we have to have at least a bachelors to get in the door and have to take out enormous debt to get one . We have to get masters to compete with one another so why wouldn’t you think a masters is worth something .

          1. Anon for Today*

            I’m a gen-Xer and this was an issue 20 years ago when I entered the workforce as well. I also got my MBA 10 years ago, but big deal, so does everyone else with at least 10 years of working experience. I feel for those who went into big time debt for college (I’m still paying mine off too),

          2. Ace in the Hole*

            I’m 29 years old and I could’ve written the same story as Nessun. While I was lucky in many ways early in my career, a degree doesn’t guarantee success nor does lacking a degree guarantee failure. Some of my friends went into debt to get their bachelors and are still struggling to find adequate employment 5-10 years after graduating. I dropped out of college and got an entry level manual labor job that required no education, and over the last 10 years I’ve advanced to a mid-level role with transferable technical skills based on experience and good performance. I’m in a well-respected position and am often consulted by people with and without advanced degrees based on my practical experience.

            Not “everyone” has a bachelor’s. Most people I work with don’t. In fact, less than 40% of americans age 25-29 have a bachelor’s degree, and only 2/3 have “some college.”

            Incidentally I’m now going back to college to finish a bachelor’s… I’ve discovered an interest and aptitude for a specific career path and I’m now reaching the point where I’ll actually need a degree to qualify for some legally-required licencing. But since I’m going part time and working at a decent job I won’t need to take out any loans to graduate, and I have a much clearer idea of what classes/program is best suited to my needs. Degrees are worth something, but they’re often promoted as being more valuable (or differently valuable) than they are in reality.

    2. Smithy*

      Man is this true…. I have an MA in Nonprofit Management, which while interesting in ways that sometimes afford cute anecdotes at work, has so very very very little direct correlation to my work life in nonprofits.

      What was the greatest education for me in this space was that during school, so many of us wanted ‘grant writing’ course work and our department head kept on saying “you don’t get a Master’s in nonprofits learning how to write grants’. At the time it was such a clear mismatch of students taking a program with a professional ambition, but a department designed around academic principles that were happy when it correlated with our professional ambitions, but not going to cater to them.

      That being said – the biggest worry in this letter is that by the OP focusing on education as correlating with bad management – it may not help the OP leave bad workplaces for better ones. Mary can only have an unrelated BA and Mary can be a bad manager. But this in no way means that everyone running around with an MBA are amazing managers.

      1. Alison*

        Oh I had a somewhat similar experience doing a “Professional Science” Masters Degree. It was supposed to teach job skills related to Environmental Science but was taught entirely by academics with PhD’s who had no clue what we would actually end up with for jobs! I still loved it (I’m a science nerd forever) but the skills I took with me to my first job in the field came mainly from my undergrad degree and internships I did during undergrad and grad. To this day, my liberal arts bachelors degree is still far more utilized day to day (because of my writing/communication/critical thinking skills) than my ability to use a micropipette or run a mass spectrometer!

        1. Smithy*

          Completely agree.

          A lot of my actual job/profession involves so much liberal arts active learning tools. Being able to research and summarize and present to audiences of varying comprehension – that’s my job today. Knowing that there are folks researching philanthropy is interesting to me professionally, but barely touches my daily work life.

        2. Richard Hershberger*

          It is pretty widespread that a degree–even a post-graduate degree–doesn’t actually prepare you to go to work. At best it gives you the tools you need to learn the job. This is why they make doctors do internships before letting them loose into the wild. In other professions it is understood that their first employer will have to break them in.

      2. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        It’s interesting to me that OP is focused on management, because I actually feel that’s an area where education matters especially little.

        The ‘knowledge base’ around management isn’t really that difficult, in the sense that most people can understand the theory and ideas about what makes a good manager. But the implimentation and skills of management can be incredibly difficult.

        Education tends to matter more when there’s a complex knowledge base that everyone needs to understand (like in surgery or architecture). But for jobs where soft skills are basically the whole job — education matters less, in my experience.

        1. Dewey Decibal*

          Yes! As someone who holds a masters and is working on a PhD in management, I can honesty say that 99% of how I manage came from on-the-job learning, not my academic background. Theory is great, but application is a whole other world.

        2. Shenandoah*

          Strongly agree – the best manager I’ve had didn’t complete college. But she did have close to a decade of experience managing teams when I worked for her. I truly doubt that a business management degree would have been more valuable than that decade of experience.

        3. Smithy*

          Completely agree with this. I will always feel badly for the first person I managed because it was just so clear that I needed the full year to embody what it meant to be a manager. And I don’t blame my direct report for not loving having to be along for the ride of that learning.

        4. NotAnotherManager!*

          Yep, my boss has a BA in an unrelated field, and she is freakin’ amazing. She has the right interpersonal skills to manage up and down, drive to get things done, willingness to invest in training and development for the the team, and an ability to be kind but clear in the delivery of feedback. The type of person you dream of having for your boss and why I stay with my current organization.

          I have four degrees. I am not better at my job than she is. Number of degrees is not an evaluation criteria on annual management performance reviews where I work.

          This does not mean that OP’s boss is right for the position, but looking at it from a number of degrees and number of years of experience is not the right lens. It should be skills-focused.

      3. Grits McGee*

        I definitely agree with your last point- the 2 problems (1. OP’s education is not resulting in better career progression and 2. Mary sounds like a bad manager) are not necessarily related to each other.

      4. jp in the heartland*

        Big YES to learning how to write grants. That skill (which I learned on the job, not in school) has not only helped fund the last 3 nonprofits I worked for, but got me the last 2 jobs including my current one as an Executive Director.

        1. Smithy*

          To add a little more context on that – we were actually successful in getting some grant writing assignments in class and having a special lecture on it.

          Compared to learning how to write grants while working for an actual nonprofit or for a specific donor (i.e. the EU/USAID) – it was almost entirely useless. When you have neither a clear donor nor a clear grant recipient in mind, it’s a really weird thought exercise.

          Those classes did make the concept of grant forms not see so foreign, but an entire semester devoted to Concept Note/Grant Writing……I now agree with the school that I can’t imagine it would have given us what we thought it would.

          1. Le Sigh*

            Early in this work, I took a continual learning course that actually paired us with a small nonprofit that needed volunteer help writing grants. It wasn’t a perfect 1:1 for working in the real-word but it was really useful in terms of getting specifics, since I had a project and direct applications to try my hand on.

      5. tamarack and fireweed*

        “Mary can only have an unrelated BA and Mary can be a bad manager. But this in no way means that everyone running around with an MBA are amazing managers.” … or that when the OP gets a new manager, or starts a job under a manager with only an unrelated BA or no degree, their expectation should be that the manager is sub-par.

      6. Lizzo*

        I’m sorry that this was your experience! I have a similar degree but all of the coursework has been highly relevant to my job. Sounds like a poorly designed program. :-(

      7. Sweet Christmas*

        Wait, what? An MA program in nonprofit management didn’t think it was important for you to learn how to write grants?!

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      There’s a really huge pervasive culture of ‘if you don’t want to work a low paying customer service job all your life you need to go get a degree’ which really isn’t backed up by fact anymore, unlike in my parents day.

      I left university in the 1990s convinced I was gonna get a massive pay and instantly pay off my debts. The reality was a slog. I’m constantly surprised that this attitude hasn’t gone away as the decades roll on.

      1. ThatGirl*

        I went to a semi-prestigious Small Midwest Liberal Arts University and they really, really love to push how successful their graduates are, with the implication that you’ll go on to make oodles of money. Of my college friends, some of us are clearly a bit more financially successful than others, but nobody’s raking in the big bucks in like, finance or BigLaw or whatever – the closest is one of my friends who went from a career in radio sales and marketing to an account manager for a small tech company that got bought out by Adobe. The rest of us are college professors, HR reps, copywriters, work for the Chamber of Commerce, teach music… sure, I can point to a classmate or two who’s “hit it big” but I feel like that had less to do with our college and more to do with luck and drive.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Very true. Of the 10 of us who graduated with that first virology degree only one has stayed in the field (on the Oxford project!). The rest of us have careers as varied as: senior IT management (me), voluntary service overseas, financial director, stay at home parent…etc.

          Barring the injury that made me disabled I might have stayed in virology but I actually doubt it. I’ve loved computers more than anything for a long time (no thanks to the school that told me women were ‘too thick’ to do computer science which is why I have no qualifications in that area).

          1. ThatGirl*

            Well and my most-educated friend has a PhD in cell biology and has done post-doc work in virology and CRISPR gene editing… and she’s a professor at our alma mater, where she’s probably paid decently but almost certainly not six figures.

        2. Sweet Christmas*

          Besides, there is a flip side to all that careerism. I went to a small liberal arts college for undergrad but attended a prestigious private university as a graduate student, the type of place with an acceptance rate of less than 10%. I honestly felt so bad for many of the undergrads I taught and supervised; it seemed like there was such a narrow range of ‘acceptable’ careers for them, and they expended a LOT of energy (and built up a lot of stress) trying to attain those competitive careers, often without having a lot of time to consider whether that’s what they really wanted.

          I see it when I do college counseling, as well; some of my paid counseling in the past has involved very wealthy families with some seriously messed up ideas about careers, college, and life success that were seriously freaking out their poor children.

    4. Cascadia*

      Yes, my husband is an engineer and a manager, who works for a large corporate global company with offices in every state and around the world. My husband has a degree in engineering. His manager, and his manager’s manager, and his manager’s manager’s manager also all have degrees in engineering. None of them has any degrees in management, business, etc. You have to get pretty high up in the company to find the MBA’s, etc.

      1. Antilles*

        Not only do you have to get very high to find the MBA’s (if any), I’ll bet that most of the engineers who *do* have an MBA/management/etc degree went back for them. Because that’s the way the career path works:
        The VP of engineering usually comes from the ranks of engineering department managers who come from lower-level engineers…and you’re not getting hired as a mid-level or junior engineer without an engineering degree; an MBA isn’t an acceptable substitute for technical know-how.

        1. Arvolin*

          I had a very successful director once who was put in as an interim and stayed for a long time. He didn’t know the field, but he knew he didn’t know the field, and trusted us to know what was important there.

    5. MicroManagered*

      Yep. I wondered about this and whether Mary’s dismissiveness toward degrees or certifications is in response to OP leaning on it so hard…

  6. el knife*

    How do you know what your manager’s degree is? Are you regularly asking people about this? Because that’s going to come off as weird, elitist, and make you seem like a big jerk (which could be a big reason why you don’t get promoted!)

    1. Sylvan*

      Possibly — but it’s also possible that new hires are introduced to the company with a bio or something. (My job does this.) It’s also possible that they saw it on LinkedIn, they saw it on other social media, or it came up in conversation with this manager who’s been at their company a while.

      1. el knife*

        the fact that they seem to know this about every single one of their previous managers as well has me a bit HMM though. Either this person is asking about this or going out of their way to figure it out, which seems like it’s causing them a lot of grief personally

        1. Jessica*

          Yeah, she might have seen people’s degrees on LinkedIn or something, but does LinkedIn have an “I’m a high school dropout!” field? I think not.

          1. I'm just here for the cats*

            From my experience, if someone is actively making fun of people with higher degrees they probably are also saying that they are a high school dropout. Like “Looky here, I dropped out of school and got a GED and I make 6 figures! People who go to grad school are stupid!”

        2. Sylvan*

          Yeah, that’s definitely possible. It’s also pretty normal (in my maybe not average experience?) to find out about your manager’s education one way or another, and somebody who already has a little bit of a chip on their shoulder might pay attention to that kind of thing.

        3. Esmeralda*

          I’d give the OP the benefit of the doubt. There are all sorts of ways to get this info that are not obsessive-sneaky. Let’s assume that’s how the OP learned it.

          Even back when I did not work in academia and before the internet, I knew the education levels of my bosses and coworkers. Because people do talk about it, especially when they’re new to that office — until you get to know people, you’re generally going to use things like schooling, where you’re from, etc etc as a way to grease the small talk.

          1. Insert Clever Name Here*

            Yeah, it’s randomly come up in conversation at most jobs I’ve worked at. And sometimes it’s an interesting conversation when you find out that Sue, the manager of the Accounting department, got her MA in Medieval English Literature and can speak fluent Old English!

    2. Anon 2.0*

      It sounds like the company is focused on it and OP’s team at least to the point that they make remarks that “grad school isn’t everything” and “people waste their time on education when X is an easy job to get.” It’s a chicken and the egg situation because I’m not sure if OP brings up her education constantly and then the team started making comments in response or did the team start making comments and now OP is on the defensive because she doesn’t understand why they dismiss her education but trust her to correct things.

    3. Alison*

      I know the educational history of everyone I work with (only 11 people) because it has come up in conversations? I’ve worked in the same place for 5 years, eventually you know this stuff, especially on a small team.

      Also more than half the staff have more advanced degrees than our executive director. But she’s been on the job for 30 years and is great at it so it doesn’t really matter!

    4. I should really pick a name*

      This was my first question as well.
      I know the education level of my immediate team members because it’s either come up in conversation, or because I know they were hired directly out of school, but outside of that, I have no idea what degrees (if any) anyone else does.

    5. exhausted frontline worker*

      I’ve known the degrees of most people I’ve worked with, and where many of those people went to school, because I’ve worked in environments where people are chatty and share things about their personal lives. Sometimes it comes up, especially when talking with colleagues that are new to the workforce. It’s weird how much OP is fixating on other people’s education, but I don’t think knowing about your colleagues’ educational backgrounds is unusual.

    6. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      LinkedIn, I bet. Yes, I look too. Especially if I’ve seen the person in action and start having questions like “how did someone as bad as Tangerina get as high up the ladder as she has?” you better believe I take a peek at Tangerina’s LinkedIn. If this is someone in a position to run my whole workplace into the ground, I’ll check to see if they have run any other place into the ground in the past, or if they have the educational credentials to know how not to run a place into the ground. Just so I know what to prepare myself for with Tangerina at the helm. But if Tangerina’s being a great manager/Director/VP/CEO, then I couldn’t care less if she ever went to school or not.

    7. SweetTooth*

      I love looking people up on LinkedIn! It’s so interesting to see the different pathways people have taken to get to their current positions, and I always get excited to see someone who attended the same school or knows random people in common with me. So even if I didn’t have a friendly relationship with my management where we all know where each other went to school so people can gently tease about sports outcomes, I would still be aware of their educational backgrounds.

    8. NotAnotherManager!*

      Our in-house directory has everyone’s degrees on it. You can opt out, but most don’t.

  7. Bend & Snap*

    I have a bachelor’s and, at the time, 7 years in the field. I hired an MBA for an entry-level role and she thought she was above the work and above listening to me. “But I have an MBA!”

    It was such a freaking relief when she quit. If you want your degree to be important, go into a field that requires it. That’s not marketing.

    1. haloolah*

      Even in a field where a degree is required, it’s not as simple as have degree–> success! I’m an academic librarian, which requires a specific kind if degree (there are a few flavors), and as a mid-level manager and now administrator, I get weird attitude about education from both job applicants and current employees in non-librarian roles. Faculty jobs are hella competitive, so just having the degree isn’t enough, and having a mighty PhD instead certainly isn’t–telling me your credentials are better than mine/my faculty’s isn’t a winning move. And since my uni is in a small town, a ton of our classified staff are educated beyond what their jobs require, and some are resentful that they don’t get moved into faculty roles because they also have master’s degrees (usually not in library and info science, but sometimes). That’s not how it works–we have to do national searches to hire faculty, and working as an ILL staffer doesn’t automatically give you the skills to be competitive in a tight job market.

    2. Artemesia*

      I consulted with a troubled division of a company and the biggest problem in the division turned out to be an employee who had a doctorate, never let anyone forget it and resisted cross training or change. He had built a complex data management system (this was early in computerization) and the operation was failing of its own weight. The system was cumbersome and had many unnecessary layers of duplicated paper back up. He was the only one who knew how anything worked, refused to train others and was outraged when someone with ‘less education, he had a doctorate’ was appointed division director. He actively sabotaged her. Nothing got better until he was finally, after many attempts to help him change his behavior, fired.

      In most workplaces people would have no idea who had a graduate degree and it certainly is not commonly discussed. The. new boss may be incompetent and a monster or she may have been specifically tasked with making sure the OP gets with the program. We can’t tell.

      If it isn’t a good fit for the OP’s education and skills then it is probably time for him to look elsewhere. And when he does lead with his skillfulness not his advanced degrees. Of course you can put those on the resume — but no one will be impressed with degrees when they are hiring for skill.

    3. BPT*

      Yeah, I’ve found that, especially in the past decade or so, a higher degree can be a foot in the door of an industry, but absolutely does not qualify you for a higher level position (in most industries). I have a Masters degree in Political Science (not particularly useful for anything, but whatever). When I first graduated and started looking for jobs in DC, I found that my degree made me just slightly more competitive for entry-level jobs (especially in a town where everyone has the same internships and at least Bachelor degrees and connections). Now that I’m several years into my career, it does help a bit more, because many Director and above positions prefer some sort of grad degree. But, #1, it doesn’t really matter what it’s in, and #2, again, it just makes you slightly more competitive for a particular job, but is not a boost to the level you come in at in the least.

    4. Kiko*

      I feel frustrated for OP because, somewhere in their life, someone convinced them/didn’t discourage them from getting a Masters for content creation. I work in the industry, and no one could care less about your education. I hope OP didn’t spend an arm and a leg to get those degrees.

      1. KayEss*

        Yeah, I cringed hard at that MFA. I got halfway through a similarly useless MFA program before I came to my senses, and I personally regard the whole experience as an embarrassment and a bullet dodged. (For certain values of “dodged”… I still walked out with like $15k in student loans for it. Expensive lesson.) There’s really no reason to get an MFA as a professional.

      2. em_eye*

        My main exposure to what writing MFAs are is the Guy In Your MFA Twitter, so I’m having a good laugh imagining a bunch of snooty hipsters sitting in a circle critiquing “The Weight-Loss Secret Doctors Don’t Want You To Know”.

        I don’t say this to denigrate content writers – god knows I’m one of their biggest consumers – but it just doesn’t strike me as a field where an advanced degree would add value. Entertaining and marketable writing skills, sure, but that seems more like a combination of talent and practice than something you learn in school.

        1. Sweet Christmas*

          Well, I don’t know about that. I don’t have a creative writing degree, but I do write professionally as part of my job, and I can definitely say that my advanced degree has improved my writing a lot – primarily because I was required to do so much of it on so many different topics and I was getting ongoing, frequent feedback by professionals in my field who also have to write a lot.

          I think a lot of people think writing (and other creative pursuits) is something that you are born with a talent for and the only thing that makes you better is practice, but that’s not entirely true – there’s a lot to be gained from focused, structured study of other writers and of language, writing, and literature itself. As part of a degree program focused on writing, you’d be learning about theory and craft as well as getting very frequent feedback on your writing by other accomplished writers who have studied the craft (professors and peers). I can easily see how that could add value.

      3. PipesAreCalling*

        My understanding of MFA degrees is that they’re really only useful if you have an idea for a book/symphony/manuscript/etc. and you want to work with specific faculty to improve your skills and help you make your final product the best it can be.

        Which is a very different thing than imparting job skills.

    5. Imakesigns*

      Second this as another marketer. Experience in the field is what matters in marketing as it is so ever-changing and you can’t possibly learn everything you need to know in school (this coming from someone who majored in English and journalism and took my first job in marketing because I just needed a paycheck!). Also, many MBA programs (not OP’s as it seems to be specific) hardly focus on marketing at all, so while you may get a lot of other skills out of it (financial management, etc.) you aren’t necessarily going to gain the skills you need to be a successful marketer.

    1. Julia*

      Agree. Having read AAM for several years now, I’ve noticed a trend of Alison’s advice toward people like this (who over-value education) becoming somewhat less harsh over the years. Actually that’s a trend I notice in a bunch of advice columns – maybe there’s something about being an advice columnist that over time exposes you to the breadth of human experience and causes you to soften your judgments. (Dan Savage is the most marked example of this; I also saw it in Daniel M. Lavery’s column.)

      In any case, I think this response strikes the perfect balance between validating the frustration that caused LW to write in and pointing her in the direction of more constructive ways to look at her situation. If you resent your manager for having less or different education, or for not knowing how to do the technical aspects of your own job, or for being “unlettered”, you’re kind of missing the point of what a manager is there to do.

      1. Tired of Covid-and People*

        I disagree that an elitist attitude about education needs validating. As a minority, this kind of attitude can and does keep us from advancing. It’s ugly.

        1. BubbleTea*

          I don’t think Julia was suggesting validating the underlying belief, simply acknowledging the frustration. People have emotions that are often irrational. If you dismiss the emotions because they’re not based on sound logic, people don’t pay attention to your logical advice.

        2. Snailing*

          I think it’s less about validating the attitude (which Alison’s response still clearly says she disagrees with) and more about validating someone’s personal feelings about a perceived issue. Especially as an advice columnist, but even in any kind of discussion, whos going to listen to your advice if you flat out say “no you’re wrong” vs “I hear your frustration and I understand where it’s coming from, but here if why you should let it go/look at it a different way/realize that your frustration is off-base.”

          I absolutely agree it’s ugly to to have an attitude of “I got x degree so I’m better than you” (even ignoring the implications on how not everyone has access to those degrees for class/race/gender/etc reason) but I don’t think Alison is validated that here.

      2. JobHunter*

        One of my professors told me that getting an advanced degree is like getting a merit badge in Scouts. Be proud of your accomplishments, but the important thing is to be able to do the work.

        1. HS Teacher*

          This varies based on field. I work in public education, and the pay scale is higher for advanced degrees and certain certifications. If there were no financial benefit or opportunity tied to it, I wouldn’t have the master’s I have or be pursuing the one I’m currently doing.

  8. Sylvan*

    It’s frustrating to feel unappreciated and taken for granted, but I don’t think your manager’s education level is a good indicator of whether you’ll necessarily feel that way. It might be helpful to try not to associate your treatment with your manager’s education. You could have a good manager with less education, and you don’t want an early judgment on your part to keep you from having a good relationship with them. You could also seek out a job with a highly educated manager and then find that they’re not easy to work with. (The worst manager I’ve ever had, had an MBA.)

    1. Zephy*

      To piggyback on your parenthetical: the worst people I’ve had to deal with professionally have had PhDs.

      1. AGD*

        Academic here. Basically everyone I work with has a Ph.D., and none of them have any training in management skills or interpersonal issues, and those things are very much not sought out in hiring decisions. Which means that how people handle these things comes down to mostly personality. It’s a huge range.

      2. MechE*

        I love when people in my field (non-academia engineering) insist people call them doctor because of their PhD. It’s an easy indicator that they take themselves way to seriously for our field. Those people just get ignored.

        1. MCL*

          I do think that there are some contexts where someone emphasizing a degree is important, though, and there is still a LOT of condescension/classism both in academia and other sectors. Case in point: the recent WSJ opinion piece about Dr. Jill Biden’s Ed.D not qualifying as “real PhD,” which of course is total sexist garbage. But some people use that Dr. title as a badge because they have to fight to be heard.

          1. MechE*

            I don’t know that I agree that it is sexist. There is a hierarchy of “doctors”. An MD is more of a doctor than a PhD. A PhD is more of a doctor than an Ed.D.
            I’ll roll my eyes at an Ed.D who is stuck on being called doctor regardless of gender (and I like Jill Biden) the same way I would at a Pharm.D. No one I know who is a pharmacist insists on being called doctor. Not all doctoral degrees are created equal.

            1. Commenter1*

              Why are MD’s more doctor than PhD? An MD is a grueling educational experience, and a PhD is a grueling educational experience. They’re both doctorate level degrees. They’re different, but I really disagree that they can or should be ranked.

              1. MechE*

                Because if you are on a plane and someone yells, “Is there a doctor on the plane?”, they aren’t looking for someone with a PhD in Chemical Engineering.

                Some doctoral level programs are more grueling than others. A JD is a Juris Doctorate, and therefore doctorate level, but surely we can all agree that an MD is more doctor-y.

                Whether they can or should, I guess that is personal, but I think that if you were forced to, you could come up with a hierarchy.

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  And I have to wonder why we do this.
                  Growing up medical doctors were on a level with God.
                  Everyone else was below that.
                  And I have to wonder why and how that happened.

                  It was only a few decades earlier (1940s) that my FIL could not get a bank loan for a house. He was a bad risk because he was a doctor.

        2. The New Wanderer*

          It’s definitely dependent on the norms. If the norm is no other (non M)-D is referred to as Doctor (or anyone by their title), it’s really out of place for one person to insist on it. My work is like this too – if a new hire came in introducing themselves to colleagues as “Doctor So-and-so” it would be very weird.

          But if the norm is everyone with a (non M)-D goes by “Doctor,” then it applies to everyone (thinking of environments when white male (non M)-Ds get “Doctor”ed right away and female/BIPOC (non M)-Ds don’t). Unfortunately, some people do have to insist on it in those environments. And if I’m in a situation where my male colleagues get Doctored and I don’t, you bet I’ll speak up.

          1. MechE*

            I work in non-biomedical engineering. Run of the mill defense work. We don’t have any real doctors, just PhDs.

      3. Susie Q*

        I agree with this. In my field, PhDs live in the theoretical and we need them to live in the practical.

    2. Kiki*

      Yes, it’s not unreasonable of the LW to feel unappreciated and taken for granted, but attributing that solely to their manager’s level of education is not the way to go and Alison made really great points supporting that.

      One thing Alison didn’t touch on is that LW’s current manager Mary has “a bachelor’s degree, less time in the field, and less time with this company than I have.” If folks with less education, less experience, and less seniority are being promoted above you, I think it’s worth trying to figure out why upper management didn’t feel you were right for that promotion. Your company could be taking advantage of you, but maybe there’s something holding you back that you’re not aware of, like some soft skill that needs polish or a specific skill you can hone. I would talk to your former boss who was promoted for input and feedback about how you can move up in this company and if there are things they’re aware of that are holding you back.

      1. Sparrow*

        I had this thought, as well. Sometimes that kind of hire/promotion does happen because TPTB like someone for some inexplicable reason, but I would definitely recommend that OP reflect on this seriously and with an open mind. Seeking feedback seems like a great idea, as long as OP’s prepared to hear it calmly and rationally and has a plan to address that feedback. It would be odd for the new boss to already have a performance plan in mind for OP unless there’s something else going on there, so OP should also take that seriously and try to understand what it’s about before assuming it’s personal.

      2. Glitsy Gus*

        This was my thought as well. OP doesn’t say whether or not they indicated they wanted the promotion, but if you did then I can see that feeling of being passed over magnifying your other feelings here too.

        I second the idea of talking to your former boss. Not only could she clue you in to what the company is looking for that you may need to work on a bit, she may also be able to give you some insight into why Mary was chosen. She may have skills you aren’t aware of, or are down playing because you find her personality a bit grating. Now, she can have these skills and still be a bad manager, the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but it may help to hear from someone above what she brings to the table.

    3. judyjudyjudy*

      Every professor I’ve ever worked for or with in an academic setting has been a disaster, management-wise.

  9. bribri*

    Is anyone else reading a lot of elitism in this post? It feels like OP is putting a lot more weight on their credentials than they should. Frankly, no one really cares what education you have in the workplace – like Allison said, they care if 1) you can do your job well and 2) you’re a nice person. That’s it! This resentment of “high school dropouts” feels pretty rude to me, as though your educational attainment is your sole worth in the workplace. That’s just not the case.

    1. el knife*

      my read was this person is really frustrated at their job and is displacing a lot of it into worrying about different levels of education, rather than focusing on themself

    2. Ryn*

      Yes, there’s an incredible amount of classism in any implication that high levels of education = better/more qualified, especially in a country where university costs as much as it does. I know incredibly smart and competent people who didn’t graduate college and MBAs who are totally clueless.

      1. bribri*

        Yep, totally agree! Getting a degree is so onerous in the US (where I assume OP is from) and looking down on people for not having a degree is really not okay. There are so many reasons people choose not to pursue higher education and it doesn’t mean they’re stupid or unworthy! It just means they took a different life path which is a great thing to have in a workplace.

        1. many bells down*

          I’ve been to college three different times now, and every time I’ve had to leave before completing a degree. Life got in the way one way or another. So I’ve got scads of formal education that just doesn’t “count”.

      2. Just @ me next time*

        In addition to classism, there’s ableism, particularly in the way the OP derides “high school dropouts.” I know some brilliant, capable, and creative folks who weren’t able to complete high school on a traditional timeline because they were living with mental illness or learning disabilities and most schools are designed around the needs of neurotypical students.
        I hope the OP is able to take some time to interrogate their own beliefs and assumptions around education as it relates to a person’s worth.

        1. Chip*

          Exactly! And those who grow up in generational poverty are some of the most resourceful people I’ve ever met but rarely get past high school.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Some of the most brilliant minds I know barely scraped through high school. They could not deal with the structure of the classes and they did not deal well with abstract concepts that didn’t have much to do with daily life. My father limped through high school with Cs and Ds. He went on to get over 50 US patents. In retirement he did layouts/designs for family and friends. But when people first met him, their reaction was, “Nice old guy” and nothing further. He did not come across as super smart or even super read.

          I have seen this with others also. Schooling just does not connect for them. But once they find their niche they become a “go-to” person.

    3. Mental Lentil*

      Yes. My hamster exploded over what I viewed as a high degree of elitism and entitlement. Alison’s response was far better than mine would have been.

      This is also why there is a prejudice against college educated people in some fields, such as manufacturing.

    4. ThatGirl*

      My first thought upon seeing the title was “wow, that’s kinda snobby”. After reading I see that the OP has possibly had some bad managers along the way too, but if they are constantly going on about how they have multiple masters’ degrees etc, I can see how that would be off-putting.

      1. Cat Tree*

        I had the same reaction. I somewhat sympathize with OP for their bad experiences. Education is a tangible thing to focus on, but it’s misplaced.

        The sad truth of the world is that many (most?) managers are bad at managing, and that happens at every education level.

    5. Frankie (ze/hir)*

      Definitely saw that– probably one of the most skilled people I have ever worked for barely graduated high school and never went to college. She started as a night-shift traffic coordinator (back in the days of paper project routes!) and has learned everything on the job. She’s one of the smartest and savviest people I have ever met in my decade of experience in this industry. Schooling has nothing to do with it.

      1. Millennial*

        But now you have to have a bachelors to even get the job in the first place . People don’t just work at the same company forever anymore

    6. MissGirl*

      I actually didn’t read elitism. I read someone who sacrificed a lot in hopes it would get them a better life and now they’re incredibly frustrated they haven’t got that better life. It looks like they live in an area and work in an industry that really doesn’t value upper degrees. It’s probably disheartening to feel like all their work was in vain. They definitely need to change their perspective, however, because now they’re only hurting themselves.

      1. Anonapots*

        I think as soon as you start comparing someone’s value in the job their doing based on their level of education, you’ve stepped into elitism. OP wrote in to express frustration at answering to a manager with less education, not to ask about being at peace with their education not getting them to a point in their career they expected when they pursued an advanced degree. The question’s premise is based in elitism.

        1. Ray Gillette*

          I’ve been reading advice columns since I was a kid (got started with Ann Landers and Dear Abby in the newspaper… I miss the newspaper) and I’ve learned one thing: a lot of the time, the question people think they need to ask isn’t the question they actually need answered.

      2. Frankie Bergstein*

        This! I wholeheartedly agree.

        I think that education was sold to a lot of us as, “if you can just get through this, you won’t have to struggle.” And then we graduated and realized we had to prove ourselves all over again. That was painful, of course, but thankfully temporary. I feel for OP and understand how their attitude may come across to some as elitist.

      3. Elbe*

        I 100% agree that disappointment is the likely root cause of the LW’s attitude, but I think the LW is dipping into elitism whether they mean to or not.

        Attributing someone’s poor management to a lack of degrees comes off as elitist because it’s just so misguided. Poor managers are everywhere. And it’s wrong to assume that someone with more education is going to be better at a job, particularly when they’re not entry-level anymore. Having an underlying attitude that people with high degrees are better than people without them is very solidly elitism.

    7. Smithy*

      As someone who got two MA’s – due to a combination of wonky advice and a less focused time in my 20’s – I’m inclined to have a lot of empathy for the OP. But more because of displaced frustration when your professional life isn’t going as you wanted it to.

      I wanted to break into a field that when I was young, I did not have a lot of great advice around how to do it. As such, degrees seemed like a way to get there, and it was only later where it was clear it wasn’t the best advice. I’m in a field with a lot of MA holders, so while that was never my personal complaint – there was certainly some time grumbling around reporting to people around my age. (As a note – plenty of folks out there with MA’s who are also terrible managers.)

      No different than education, age can be a marker of some professional maturity points – but as I’ve gotten older and wiser – it’s not the end all and be all. And learning how to ask better questions around management styles and department strategy have done more to land me jobs reporting to people I respect and want to work for.

      When you’re frustrated at work – these types of things can be easy to fixate on. The biggest risk is that they don’t help the OP focus on what they want in their next boss. Cause just seeking an advanced degree will not necessarily solve any issues.

    8. Only a BA Degree*

      I read elitism and misplaced resentment, since my guess is OP spent so much time and energy on education that is simply not needed.

      1. pancakes*

        Not needed for paying work doesn’t mean not needed more broadly. I very seldom have occasion to talk about Balzac, Turgenev, Cahiers du Cinéma, etc. at work but I’m happy to be able to discuss these things with other people on other occasions. I don’t want to live in a world where people only know or care about topics that can be monetized.

        1. atru*

          One can have education on a topic without having “formal” education on a topic. You don’t *need* a degree to discuss literature at a cocktail party.

          1. pancakes*

            I wasn’t trying to suggest it is necessary, just pushing back on the idea that education that can’t be monetized is “not needed.”

            1. pancakes*

              I should add, I wasn’t trying to suggest discussing these topics at a cocktail party, either! That wouldn’t be much of a party.

    9. BRR*

      Well…yes. The letter is all about how education isn’t being taken into account at a work which is a topic that is almost always going to include some tone of elitism. But to be fair to the LW, employers often care about education when hiring someone and the LW has worked with a few people who have been jerks about it.

      I do think that the LW needs to shift their focus on education in the workplace. But I think sometimes people focus on a solution to a problem and misidentify the actual problem and I wonder how much of that is in play here. So in this scenario, the LW is focused on education (what they have identified as the problem) but the actual problem is they’ve worked with awful people and have been underpaid/undervalued at work.

      1. Meg*

        I think that the problem is more that LW seems incredibly naive about how much their advanced degrees actually matter in their field of work. The reality is that basically nobody in digital marketing cares about whether you have an MBA in digital marketing, because these degrees are not actually necessary to do that work, and to do it effectively. Someone who has a masters in “digital marketing” doesn’t necessarily produce better marketing content than someone who had just been working with clients during that time, or who may have a certain knack for tracking trends and coming up with creative ideas, or a better sense of the company’s brand.

        OP got a highly unnecessary degree in their field of work and now seems resentful that this unnecessary degree does not confer the level of respect and payoff that they wish that it did. That’s not their coworker’s fault, and it does not make OP “undervalued” either if they are being evaluated based on their work and not their degrees.

    10. Decima Dewey*

      I wonder if the “high school dropouts” are really people who had to leave high school for one reason or another and went on to get a GED. Just Google “achievers with GEDs for a list”. The idea of a high school education without having to deal with all that goes with actual high school has its appeal.

    11. kittymommy*

      Ehh, maybe a little, but there also may be a lot of reaction if she’s consistently had colleagues and higher-ups deride her education and belittle it. I can see how that can get very defeating and upsetting. Coupled with bad managers I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt that she’s just frustrated.

      1. Sandangel*

        That’s my thought too. Everyone’s focused on OP’s views on education, and ignoring how they’ve been dealing with consistent bullying for a while now, and as a result is seeing every work encounter through that lens. If my bosses were consistently putting me down over my education compared to theirs, I’d be sensitive too.

    12. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      In OP’s defense, Mary sounds like someone who’d drive me to day drinking if I worked with, let alone under, her. But OP’s definitely looking at the wrong root cause. Mary is a terrible boss and teammate, not because she couldn’t afford grad school back in her 20s, but, well, that’s the kind of person Mary is. I bet she’d be just as terrible to work with/for if she had a PhD.

    13. Esmeralda*

      Actually, it felt to me more like someone who had really worked to get the degrees. Like, someone who had to work while going to school, maybe someone who used school to move out of the blue/pink collar work their family does. Maybe that’s just me projecting (ok, pretty sure it’s me projecting!). My family is very focused on educational achievement. My parents are working class, dad worked himself and the family solidly into the middle class through education. So it’s enormously important to all of us. Much more important than it is in most workplaces.

      Especially when all we have are words on the screen, I think we need to be careful about reading intention into an OP’s statements or hearing an not-so-nice subtext.

      1. GothicBee*

        I was thinking this too. Granted, I also come from a working class background and I feel like education was really oversold to me as a bigger benefit than it has ended up being. Also, I feel like the conversation around education and student loans right now doesn’t help. Maybe it’s where I’m located, but there are actually a lot of people who have the attitude right now that anyone who fell for the whole “You need a degree” thing deserves what they get (i.e., high student loans and no decent paying jobs). So I feel like it’s possible OP is coming across this way of thinking organically and without bringing up their degrees themselves. But maybe not.

        Either way, I think the OP is focusing on the wrong problem. It’s not the education that is the problem here, it’s the people/workplace. Even if the OP is part of the problem by being obnoxious about their educational level, I still think Mary sounds like a pretty awful type of boss.

    14. EventPlannerGal*

      It kinda strikes me as one of these letters where the LW is upset about one thing that they can’t do anything about so has transferred all their frustration into something else which is easier to deal with, which is what they write in about. But the weird thing is that it seems like this LW has taken their frustration about a series of bad workplaces and this manager specifically and transferred it onto something they literally cannot do anything about at all – I mean, they can’t avoid ever working for someone with less education than them, that’s impossible and a bit silly and elitist as you say.

      OP, you can absolutely look for workplaces with a good work-life balance that won’t call you in at 4am, or will give you work to do that will let you use your skills and qualifications. But you can’t base your job search on what level of education your colleagues have, and you will make yourself look pretty stupid if you try.

    15. MissDisplaced*

      I’m not reading this as elitism as much as frustration that new boss Mary ALSO has less experience AND less time at the company (in addition to less education) but was promoted over the LW.
      To be honest, I’d be kind of pissed too. It makes me wonder about things going on there.

  10. Silly Goose*

    I recently had a colleague say that a PhD should count as work experience. If they spend X years on a PhD, that should count as X years of experience.

    Leaving aside the fact that it would basically reward people who take forever to finish when in the work world, deadlines ar A Thing, it really misses the point that school and work are not the same. They both have value. But not equivalence.

    I feel like that’s part of what’s going on here as well.

    1. Blackcat*

      I’ve seen a STEM PhD essentially count as 3 years of work experience (regardless of time to PhD). That seems about right to me. The research portion of an American STEM PhD is often extremely similar to a regular workplace. I ordered supplies, managed end of year grant reports, trained and managed younger graduate students, in addition to doing my actual research. It’s very different than course-based time in graduate school, and felt a lot like the time both my husband and I have spent outside of the PhD. There’s a reason why most STEM PhDs are paid a reasonable stipend. Their labor, in both research and teaching, is real labor that is valuable to their instution.

      1. Cat Tree*

        I agree. I don’t have a PhD, but my understanding is that it’s very different than undergrad. It makes sense to count for a set amount of experience in some fields.

        1. Dewey Decibal*

          I agree that its very field specific. I’m working on a management PhD and would definitely not consider it work experience equivalent. I can’t speak for other fields though!

        2. A Genuine Scientician*

          STEM PhDs are far more like work than other graduate training are. It is exceptionally rare for most science PhD students to take any classes past their 2nd year of grad school; some engineers will take classes in their 3rd year. Typical time to finish is 6-7 years. For the rest of that time, you spend 50ish hours a week doing experiments, troubleshooting the equipment, analyzing data, writing papers, and often managing undergraduate researchers.

          I’m still in academia, and I honestly don’t mind when I’m working under someone with less education but more experience in the role. But I do balk when people make sweeping statements about how school is nothing like work, when they’re assuming that a PhD is just like more years of more difficult undergrad classes. There are some graduate degrees like that: medicine, law, etc. But research degrees are a rather different beast.

          1. Blackcat*

            “It is exceptionally rare for most science PhD students to take any classes past their 2nd year of grad school”
            I was that rare one! I picked up an extra sub-specialty that was faaarrrr from my initial plans. It did eventually come into play in my work. But I was totes that PhD student who took one class a semester for YEARS. But it was never more than one class after the second year (and no more than 2 in my second. I still finished in 6 years, despite having a baby mid-PhD (partly due to no maternity leave grumble grumble).

            I also think the “research PhD is something else” is also super field dependent. I think lots of STEM and some social science PhDs pick up a lot of directly transferable skills (learning FORTRAN in this century was not super helpful, but Python is!). Humanities folks often teach for funding, rather than the mix that’s common in STEM (I had 2.5 years teaching funding, 3.5 on research funding). The teaching is real important work, but it’s not as transferable outside of academia.

            1. A Genuine Scientician*

              I also took a course after my 2nd year, as a new research center opened at my university that was specifically doing cross disciplinary stuff merging together a field I was in and a field I found interesting. Because of the funding structure, I ended up technically auditing the course rather than enrolling in it, but my advisor agreed it was a valuable use of my time even in my 4th year.

              Granted, in the sciences, it’s pretty easy to sell something along the lines of “Computational Approaches to X” as a useful course to take when you’re studying X. We had a couple of faculty members audit the course too.

      2. Lora*

        Which is sort of its own issue, though off-topic – when universities are using grad students in lieu of professional labor (lab techs, tenure-track teachers), promising jobs that will pay $$$ (when in fact the chances of becoming tenure-track are very slim and most fields even in STEM are so competitive that many leave for other better-paying quantitative jobs) isn’t really a responsible, thoughtful or long-term strategic management of the labor force, nor the best way to make creative scientific discoveries, but…that is a discussion for another day.

      3. biobotb*

        Yeah, I think it should depend on the field and what the PhD was in. PhDs aren’t just more coursework; STEM PhDs require hands-on application of knowledge and skills.

      4. consultinerd*

        This is pretty well in line with how PhDs are treated in my corner of engineering and engineering adjacent work, with some adjustment for how directly relevant their graduate research is to our work.

    2. Bean Counter Extraordinaire*

      I see a lot of job postings (I’m in accounting, for reference) where the requirements are “Bachelors Degree or equivalent experience”, so I can see how people would think if work experience counts in place of education, then education should count in place of work experience.

      Personally I think the two should be separate, but I’m slightly bitter that apparently I didn’t actually NEED to go to college to get in my field. A rant for another time lol.

      1. Ray Gillette*

        To be perfectly honest, this seems like a way of filtering out younger candidates with less life experience and critical thinking skills. A 22 year old who’s fresh out of undergrad is going to have different skills than a 22 year old who didn’t go to college and has been working for four years, but both of them bring something to the table that an 18 year old who’s fresh out of high school and has neither work nor college experience simply doesn’t have yet.

        1. Bean Counter Extraordinaire*

          Oh sorry, I left out the other example! In my original example of Bachelors or 4 years experience, yeah that counts. What I meant to add is that I see how someone applying for a post requiring 4 years experience, with 0 experience and 4 years education would think that logic should work in THEIR favor. (I hope that was clearer?)

    3. cat lady*

      you’re often doing relevant work while writing your dissertation, though– serving as an office admin in a GA position, or tutoring, or being a research assistant, etc. All of those things are also teaching job skills and professional conduct.

    4. Rivikah*

      Depends on the work. A PhD is usually not much like an undergraduate degree. Usually, you’re actually doing real work (not just the kind of artificial make-work you might find on a class assignment). Whether or not that experience is relevant for a given non-academic job is another question entirely.

      1. Elliott*

        Yeah, I would agree with this. PhDs are often very related to a person’s career. Obviously, if you get your PhD in history that probably won’t be relevant work experience for a career in IT or something, but you’ll probably be doing research that would be relevant career experience as an academic or historian. And some fields, like counseling, involve clinical practice or externship as part of the program.

        I would say the main difference is that while some jobs require a bachelor degree (or sometimes a master’s) as a general requirement, a lot of jobs that seek PhD holders are looking for certain types of experience and knowledge that earning a PhD in that field will give you.

    5. Phony Genius*

      In my field, you need a certain amount of experience to get licensed. My state counts a Masters degree as one year of experience, no matter how long it takes you to get it. I don’t think a PhD counts for anything, though.

    6. IEanon*

      I’ve recently been seeing a number of postings in a field I want to jump to that list PhD as equivalent to 6 years experience. For example, “12 years experience in [field]” or “relevant PhD + 6 years experience in [field].”

      That, of course, doesn’t address the fact that your colleague thinks taking longer to finish the degree somehow means they have more experience than someone who finished within the expected timeframe?? That’s weird.

      I have known all of my managers’ education levels (including if their degree was received online or not), but I work in higher ed, so it’s to be expected.

    7. Who Am I*

      It’s likely they’re working in their university as an instructor of some sort or in a lab (if a STEM degree) while working on that PhD, in addition to basically researching and writing a book. Why would that work as an academic instructor or in a lab not count as some sort of work experience?

    8. Rock Prof*

      Adding to the voices of other STEM phds, but I’ve applied to plenty of non-academic jobs where it was explicitly stated PhD research and teaching experience would count as experience. I don’t think this is that weird. I probably wouldn’t count my first year of my PhD as professional experience, since it was mostly course-based and getting up to speed in geology (my bachelors was in a different field), but the rest of the time I spent teaching and running my own research projects were definitely real work.

    9. Feral Academic*

      A PhD is different from other degrees. PhDs who are teaching or working in a lab or doing clinical work (which is most of them!) are essentially employees of the university. They are not compensated or treated as employees for bizarre reasons related to the degree’s origins in the guild apprenticeship model, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t working and accruing experience.

    10. B.*

      I think the thing about “x years of experience” is that it’s usually a proxy for “has done this kind of work long enough to be skilled and confident” or “has encountered some challenging situations / clients” or things like that. When I’m hiring, I want to know that someone can do the job, or that they’ll be able to get it quickly. I’m not actually concerned with the number of years, it’s just that this is a good way to express the level of experience you’re looking for.
      So unless doing a phd involves the same skills needed in the job, there’s no point to making it “count”.

      1. B.*

        And if it does involve the same skills, like for many STEM roles, then yes, it should count.

    11. biobotb*

      How would that reward people who “take forever to finish”? Do you think PhDs take years because the people pursuing them just dawdle a lot and can’t accomplish anything?

    12. STEMprof*

      Another STEM PhD here. I count all my years of PhD as experience. I had finished all the PhD coursework during my masters, so my PhD was basically all research with a few elective classes. I was running a large study (which I used for my diss), and after I graduated I continued doing very similar work, but with a much better salary. My husband is a social science PhD who spent most of his degree in the field, designing and implementing his own study. It’s experience.

      1. Silly Goose*

        Obviously, this can be area and job specific. I know a person who got their PhD studying a very specific protein and then wanted to go into a more general position where the masters work was more applicable than the dissertation.

        In the particular case I my comment, it was closer to this protein example. Obviously, if you are going to be running clinical trials and you do that for your dissertation, that is much closer to job experience!

    13. Silly Goose*

      Clarification: they wanted it counted in addition to experience teaching, grading, lab oversight, etc. So also double counting time in many cases

  11. Quickbeam*

    I have 3 degrees including a graduate one in my field. My manager is a high school graduate. She’s great at what she does and I could not do her job. She could not do mine either. I think she would have been more able had she gone to college but She’s very comeptent as is.

  12. Laura Kerby*

    Am I reading the letter wrong, or did the OP mean that she’s taken jobs she’s OVERQUALFIED, not underqualified for?

    1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      Do you mean qualification because of experience or qualification due to certifications?

      1. Laura Kerby*

        Based on her statements about education and certifications, I’m reading that she’s had to take lower level positions (than she feels she deserves) to make ends meet. Not a big deal, but I read that as she thought she was overqualified for those roles, not underqualified.

    2. PJS*

      I noticed that too. I think she meant OVERqualified. Otherwise, it doesn’t really make sense.

    3. Lucious*

      “I was excited to work for my current company because I would be reporting to someone with my same education level, who respects what my education brings to the team. I want to acknowledge that education isn’t everything, but I literally reported to high school drop-outs in the past, people who would laugh at me for my education (including HR reps) and then call me at 4 a.m. when the poop hit the propeller and I’d fix the problem, saving their butts and their company, only to be told education isn’t everything. It was really demoralizing.”

      I get the sense there’s two elements at work. If her previous employer had a toxic culture- as the mocking of her education & the 4:00am phone calls suggest- they may have a maladjusted sense of how valuable their education is perceived.

      They spend months or years being mocked by jerks at a toxic workplace for their education, then they work someplace relatively normal that considers education, but not as the only criteria . Suddenly that resentment from Old Toxic Job comes back , and here’s the letter.

  13. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    It is clear that OP is feeling super unappreciated, particularly for those middle-of-the-night saves. But the route to feeling better doesn’t come by comparison, unfortunately.

    My MBA has netted me very little thus far in my career, and the same goes for my brother with three masters. What HAS helped us is finally letting go of that feeling of entitlement, (and that’s what it is), to certain jobs, certain lifestyles, certain milestones. What did I get out of my degree, specifically, that makes me better qualified to handle a situation than someone who has actually handled the situation? Just focus on gaining experience, OP! You might find that others’ attitudes change toward you when you stop giving off vibes of superiority and consternation at what is a normal situation. Best of luck.

    1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Yeah. It can be incredibly disheartening to spent a lot of time, money and effort on something that everyone assures you is going to make a huge difference — and then come out on the other side and realise that it was oversold.

    2. I'm just here for the cats*

      Yes education is important but in the real world experience will trump education. However there are times when education is looked at as more important.
      When I was growing up my mom worked with disabled adults with various mental handicaps. Because she had 25+ years of experience she knew the ins and outs of everything. How to complete certain paperwork, how to file X with the state, how to complete training for new staff, HIPPA regulations, etc. She could DO the agency’s owner’s job. He and some of the others would routinely come to her to ask questions on how to do something because they had little to no practical experience. The head at another agency that my mom knew flat out said “If you had X degree you could do my job.” However, in the state’s eyes, my mom would never qualify for a higher position because she didn’t have the degree.
      I’ve known CNA’s and LPN’s that have worked 30 years that know more than the new Registered Nurses straight out of school. But unless they go back and complete all of the education again they cannot get promoted. It sucks, they should be able to test or schools should be allowed to take into account years of work experience as credits.

      1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

        This. I wish there were more industry specific tests that people could pass for qualifications without the classroom theory that they have already practically learned.

    3. Alice*

      I mean — I’m not sure that OP is giving off vibes of superiority and entitlement at work. She’s got five years of stellar reviews — the kind of company where you could get five years of stellar reviews while being a raging jerk about degrees is not the kind of company that would promote Mary. So I think that OP is probably a reasonably pleasant colleague who has some internal hangups about education and worth.

      1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

        I really like this read! I take back my assessment because I think you’re right!

        1. Alice*

          Well, your original comments about focusing on experience are definitely good advice in pretty much every situation :)

    4. Reluctant Manager*

      I have an employee with an MBA and one with an MFA, and honestly… The degrees are curiosities. They have nothing at all to do with the value they bring to their jobs.

  14. roll-bringer*

    I understand that it’s frustrating to spend time and money on education for it to not actually be the Way In And Up you’ve been told. I have a number of friends who worked towards a masters in publishing only to realize that internships served them just as well, and often better. That sucks! But your resentment about spending money and time and not having it propel you above people who didn’t is no one’s problem but you’re own. Shake that chip off your shoulder.

    1. Sleepy*

      I don’t blame kids for getting sucked into the competition to get into a “Good College”…but when it comes to graduate degrees…by that time, folks are adults and should do their research on the value and outcomes associated with the degree.

      1. Elbe*

        I get what you’re saying and I agree, but I also think that the information that grad programs put out can be REALLY misleading.
        For people going right from undergrad to grad school, it’s really hard to get an idea of how the workplace actually functions. They can (and should!) research their prospects, but ultimately it’s really hard to find any accurate information on what, exactly, gets someone promoted in the real world. Just because X% of managers have a masters doesn’t mean that it’s the masters that got them promoted. There’s no way of knowing how many of those would have gleaned the same skills from work experience and gotten promoted without it.

        It’s why I’d advise people to get some work experience in their field prior to going to a grad program.

        1. consultinerd*

          I agree with this sentiment completely, but at times that’s easier said than done. I graduated from undergrad during the great recession right around when unemployment was peaking. What drew me to doing a master’s right away wasn’t exaggerated promises from grad schools, but hearing how competitive entry level roles were at that time!

          If I had graduated a few years earlier or later, I probably would have tried harder to get into my field with a bachelor’s and might have done just fine. But there are plenty of fields where its not possible to test the waters in the way you describe without getting the degree first. In those situations, having a “look before you leap (into a pile of non-dischargable debt)” attitude is necessary.

      2. pancakes*

        I was 23 or 24 when I was applying to law schools. I absolutely should have done more research, yes, but the people who were willing to advance me hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans certainly didn’t require it, and it was years before I knew how common it is for law schools to juice their postgraduate employment stats in all sorts of ways – hiring recent grads to work at the school itself, for example.

      3. pancakes*

        I want to add, the economics of higher education in the US have changed a lot very recently, and I don’t think it’s necessarily wise or desirable to charge young people just out of college with understanding this in addition to their likelihood of success in their chosen field. I’m not sure the two can be disentangled, either. The number of admin and non-faculty staff has doubled over the past 25 years, for example – there are far more people who make a living from higher education than there used to be, and powerful incentives for them to continue making a living from it, without much regard for the job market their graduates will face. And the cost of tuition has not kept pace with wages. According to US News & World Report, over the past 20 years,

        “The average tuition and fees at private National Universities have jumped 144%.

        Out-of-state tuition and fees at public National Universities have risen 165%.

        In-state tuition and fees at public National Universities have grown the most, increasing 212%.”

        The idea that this system serves people well so long as undergrads do their research seems a bit off to me.

    2. Elbe*

      Agreed. It’s my feeling that this is the root cause of this, too.

      It sounds like because the LW struggled so much to get the advanced degree, they’re struggling to acknowledge that it didn’t help as much as they’d hoped. They’re trying to bend reality to meet their expectations, because it’s too painful to admit that their expectations were misguided. I have a lot of sympathy for the LW, but I’m worried that they’re being jerks to their colleagues because of this.

    3. Shirley Keeldar*

      When I was a starry-eyed college senior attending a seminar on careers in publishing, I asked if I should get a master’s. I am forever grateful to the editor who promptly replied, “No, you’ll be overqualified.” I wish more people got that kind out guidance rather than hearing that The Degree is always The Best Thing!

      (22 years later, still working in publishing with the B.A.)

  15. Not A Manager*

    OP, you describe a lot of things that sound pretty awful and dysfunctional, and then you seem to jump to “and that’s because Education.” I would encourage you to re-evaluate those things and try to remove education as an explanation at all.

    Bosses who mock you. Consistently being assigned advanced work that you’re not paid for. A manager who isn’t clear on her expectations and is erratic about feedback. All of those can be really problematic. They would be problematic if you didn’t have a degree, and they would be problematic if all of your bosses had doctorates.

    If you can step back from thinking that everything would be solved if your bosses had more advanced degrees, maybe you can re-consider (1) are all of these things happening in exactly the way I’ve been narrating them to myself, (2) education aside, is there some other reason these things might be happening (maybe having to do with your own attitude or performance, or maybe because your workplace is dysfunctional, or a little of both), and (3) what could address these issues other than your bosses all going back to school?

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Yes, most of this sounded like every other terrible workplace we’ve encountered on this site, so I’m confused about the leap to “… and it’s because of my multiple advanced degrees / their lack of education!” as the reason.

    2. Myrin*

      A big “Yes!” to your first paragraph, that’s exactly what I’d say is the essence of this letter. It sounds like early on, OP had problems with people who had a chip on their shoulder around education in the other direction, people who derided and mocked OP because of it, and now she’s kind of carrying that baggage around and views everything through that specific lens without it having much meaning for the situation at hand.

    3. Smithy*

      To point #2 – I personally find that when I’m in a dysfunction workplace and receiving contradicting directions, my personal attitude nose dives. And a mix of coping mechanisms such as RBF, passive aggression, and sarcasm do not help when there’s someone out there happy to find small errors as evidence of “bad attitude plus lacks attention to detail.”

      In those moments it can be very easy to say rationalize why all of that happens and why this does not mean that I’m an irredeemable contributor. What I’ve found most helpful in those moments is to recognize that whether it’s me/workplace – the situation is no longer working. And I’m in such a place where I do better finding a new job with a current one. So the attitude shift I need is one where I focus all that angry energy into finding a new job and try to pollyanna myself in my current job.

      I’m getting the third request to rewrite a document where the goalposts keep wildly shifting? – Thank you so much for the thoughtful feedback! When do you want to see the next draft capturing your new directions?

      It doesn’t make the bad managers fun, but I’ve found it prevents me on focusing on the 101 reasons why this manager/organization is bad. Because I already know it’s bad. Now I just need to leave.

    4. Sara without an H*

      All of those can be really problematic. They would be problematic if you didn’t have a degree, and they would be problematic if all of your bosses had doctorates.

      It sounds as though the OP had to take some crappy jobs early in her career and maybe acquired some bad habits/defensive thinking as a result. “They’re contemptuous of my hard-earned education, but when I finally report to a well-educated manager, everything will be different.”

      More education does not always result in greater competence or better character. (I work with Ph.Ds. Trust me on this.)

      It sounds as though the OP had to take some crappy jobs early in her career and maybe acquired some bad habits/defensive thinking as a result. “They’re contemptuous of my hard-earned education, but when I finally report to a well-educated manager, everything will be different.” What OP needs to do now is drop her focus on age and education, and get aligned with the new manager about goals and expectations.

        1. Sara without an H*

          Also sorry for the redundant paragraph. That’ll teach me not to cut and paste.

    5. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yes, I have worked for people with doctorates who were, and trust me when I say this, among the most toxic dysfunctional humans to work for you can imagine- made employees cry while screaming curses at them and also bad at their jobs. I’ve worked for people with doctorates who were lovely. I’ve worked for high school dropouts who were delightful, kind, and extremely good at what they do. However, and I think this is important, there is a cultural narrative that if you do X and you do Y then you get Z. That narrative is not untrue (there are positions you can not get with your X and Y), but the idea the Z automatically comes is really damaging to people.

      1. serenity*

        This is an excellent comment and I completely agree. The perception that advanced or terminal degrees confer extra competence on people is just false. I think others have touched on the other areas that OP is facing some challenges in. Those may be legitimate. But the idea that degrees correlate with professional competence or advancement is a myth.

    6. STEMprof*

      This. I have a PhD and work in academia with many other PhDs. We have big grants and stuff to manage. Many, MANY PhDs are excellent researchers but terrible managers. It’s not about education.

  16. NYC Taxi*

    Ugh. This letter reminds me of years ago when I had a direct report who graduated with a masters from one of the elite universities that begins with an H and wouldn’t let anyone forget it. Her work was average at best, and because she had a chip on her shoulder working with people she clearly considered “less than” her work ethic was atrocious.

    One day after a contentious conversation with her I said “Look around this floor. We all came from different schools and experiences, yet here we all are together, your education doesn’t matter.”

    1. EH*

      This! I have an MA from a fancy west coast university, and it mostly has served as proof that I can do a really hard thing (it was a one-year program, which is clear from my graduation dates). It doesn’t do much for my main career (tech writing) but it was a HUGE boon when I was moonlighting as a private tutor. Putting “MA Stanford 2001” on my tutoring business cards let me charge a lot and still have a waiting list. I’m a lot happier being full time as a tech writer, but that tutoring saved my butt when I couldn’t find a full time job doing pretty much anything.

      There are a few gigs where yes, having a degree really matters. But most jobs? Not so much. My tech writing mentor dropped out of college, but he’s written over 30 books and makes six figures. Tech in particular cares more about experience than degrees.

    2. Reluctant Manager*

      There’s a very very funny Last Week Tonight video recently compiling clips of people “dropping the H-bomb” (apologies for the non-academic implications; that’s what it’s commonly called…). Taken one after the other, the effect is pretty comical.

  17. surprisedcanuk*

    I feel like degrees can be overrated. I have a masters degree and work with people with graduate degrees and feel like most of what is useful could be learned online. I’m sure there are some fields where that is not true. I feel like content creation is not one of them. The real question is why weren’t you promoted when your boss got promoted.

    1. AVP*

      “Content creation” is a very vague and amorphous term, so I think it’s very hard to give any real advice or commiseration in that direction without any more specifics about the OP’s job. That said, I’ve worked in film production, tv, advertising, PR, and live events in my career and very, very few people have advanced degrees in most of these fields. Frankly, the starting salaries don’t support loan repayment, so it’s a questionable strategy unless you’re changing careers or have a specific plan in mind. No idea what the certifications are but these are just generally not things I would put a particular emphasis on when hiring unless I had a personal connection to the program or knew a professor or something.

  18. Frankie (ze/hir)*

    This is an incredible response, Alison!

    I “only” have a BS in a completely unrelated field (Theatre!) and I work as a digital strategist in healthcare. I started as a temp receptionist, and worked my way up (with a lot of lucky breaks and benefitting from white privilege along the way).

    I have managed people who are both older than I am and have more degrees– MBAs, MPHs, PharmDs– and I value their degrees, but not as much as I value their experience, judgment, and track record of doing good work.

    1. Anon For This, Just In Case...*

      Oh, you’re a scientist! How nice! If you’re confused, I’m sorry! My sister in law has a BS degree and has been letting everyone know she is a scientist. It’s…..well, it is what it is. While her degree is somewhat science-related, that’s not actually how a BS degree works. Because then you’d be a……theatre scientist? And I just…..don’t know if that’s a real thing?

      Sorry for the tangent, thanks for indulging me!

      1. Frankie (ze/hir)*

        I am extremely not a scientist– my degree is a BS because of the way my college categorized courses with a heavy practical component as “labs,” which meant that the acting classes I spent a lot of time in were… labs.

        BA vs BS is really just a clerical distinction.

        1. Anon For This, Just In Case...*

          oh yeah, I get that! That’s why I just….have nothing to say to my sister in law about this. I just can’t. Because by her definition, I’d then be an artist, since I have a BA. But I’m SO not! I just shake my head at her, b/c she is someone who, despite the education she has completed, really just doesn’t get it. And isn’t interested in learning, honestly, so I just leave it alone. It helps that that’s a massive age gap between us, so I don’t know her well and likely never will, so it doesn’t really come up, and if/when it does, I am old enough and experienced enough to be able to ignore it or change the subject. But higher education is weird!

          1. kitryan*

            Sorry if this is stuff you know, but the BA isn’t an arts degree, despite the name. It’s usually for degrees from the liberal arts college of a university (or just a liberal arts college), and usually contains departments like english, classics, languages, history, and so forth – but of course, different universities have different, somewhat arbitrary categorizations (as Frankie pointed out).
            The ‘arts’ degree is more the BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) – usually for visual arts, music, architecture, that sort of thing.
            Like Frankie, I have a theater degree for undergraduate (costume design focus), but due to how my university divided things up, it’s a BA. The theater department is in the main college.
            Then I got a grad degree- same exact field: theater, specialty in costume design, but because in my grad school, the theater department is in the college of FINE arts, along with the visual arts and so forth, my masters is a MFA! As a very broad rule, schools with a more conservatory approach to theater education tend to put it in the school of fine arts.
            But it’s definitely pretty funny that a degree in theater can be a BA, BS, or BFA, depending on which school you’re at. Which is a great example of why your sister in law is being pretty silly if she thinks that a BS specifically makes her a scientist.

      2. SweetTooth*

        Yeah, somehow my sister has a BA in chemistry. So weird how degrees are classified sometimes!

        1. Elsajeni*

          At my alma mater, a lot of math and science degrees can be taken as either a BS or a BA — as far as I can tell the main difference is whether you would rather spend your electives on a foreign language or a programming language.

          1. A Genuine Scientician*

            For most of what we traditionally consider the sciences — biology, chemistry, physics, math, etc — it comes down to how many math and/or lab courses were required. At every university I’ve been affiliated with (whether as a student or faculty), you could get a BA in Biology by not taking any calculus, a BA in Math by not taking any lab courses, etc.

            My brother got a BA in Math specifically because he didn’t want to take any lab sciences, so he filled his science credit with a quantum physics class instead. He could handle the equations just fine, but he was absent-minded and clumsy, so he didn’t want to take any classes where injuring himself or others seemed likely.

      3. JJ*

        I have a BS in design and I personally find it very amusing to tell people I’m “technically a scientist” (while also pointing out I had to take exactly 0 science courses to get my “science” degree. :P

        1. OyHiOh*

          At the university in my home town the difference between a B.S and a B.A, in the same field, comes down to foreign language vs math. If you take math courses anywhere in a degree program where you have a choice, you are awarded a B.S. degree. If you take foreign language credits rather than maths, you get a B.A, which is how a woman I knew then, who was not very good at “math” but absolutely a brilliant wanna be scientist, came to have a B.A. in biology, for which she logged many an hour with the on campus tutors to get through the math courses that were required, and took as many foreign language credits as she could cram into her schedule. I lost track of her but I she was getting ready to do a Masters in the EU somewhere last we spoke.

  19. Mockingdragon*

    I agree with Alison, it sounds like education is really a red herring, as important as it feels to you. You don’t respect Mary, and your question really boils down to “Should I have to work under someone I don’t respect?” If Mary had the same level of education as you (which is unusually high!), would you feel better? I doubt it. Do your best to untangle these. Honestly, a session or two with a talk therapist or career coach may help just to get you some more specific advice and assistance in clearing out your thinking.

  20. Lucious*

    At the risk of being far too long winded, here’s three topics to unpack.

    One- how orgs select managers. I don’t have any data to objectively quantify how many firms get this wrong. Judging from the posts here and elsewhere, it’s often enough to be a problem. Often politics, cronyism, cliques, and basic human biases to socialize with people like ourselves weigh in a lot more then they should when it’s time to nominate a new manager. When these are the selection criteria, education and even practical experience takes a backseat. In this scenario, employees -especially better qualified or experienced ones – have a right to feel slighted.

    Two- an org selecting managers based on the pragmatic job needs can still flub the communication step. If Jane Smith is the most qualified person for the job yet their direct reports have no idea why , that’s a communication problem. Ideally the organization should read in the direct reports so it’s clear why Jane Smith got the role. If the criteria is clear and objective, they’ll understand. If it’s not understandable because Smith got the job due to elements from Point One, hello problems.

    Three- education is a positive thing , but as an MBA holder I know firsthand it’s hard to process that no degree conveys automatic increases in job status or hierarchical position. We graduates work hard to get our degrees, and it’s only natural to get recognition for that hard work. It’s important to note that a degree does not entitle its holder to advancement, and indeed an org that advances someone solely because of an academic degree is just as much in error as the elements from Point One. A whole person approach should be considered in relation to the job responsibilities, and this means sometimes the high school or technical degree holder will beat the Master’s holding candidate. If the selection criteria is objective , this shouldn’t be a point of contention.

    1. em_eye*

      What does it mean for hiring criteria to be “objective”, though? The best hiring processes make use of interviews, communication style, references, and even a fair amount of randomness when the choice comes down to a handful of highly qualified candidates. All of these things introduce some subjectivity.

      At one company, the fastest widget builder might get passed over in favor of someone with a management degree on the belief that knowing how to make widgets doesn’t make you any better at hiring and developing staff. At another, that academic qualification might be dismissed and an easy-going, well-loved high performer gets the manager job on the basis that they know what they’re doing and have good relationships with the other staff. Either of these could be the objective “best” choice.

  21. staceyizme*

    Honestly, OP? You sound tired. You’ve been through some difficulties that have left you feeling like you haven’t been hear or seen. The thing is that work ISN”T going to recalibrate that existential equation for you- they simply can’t/ won’t pay you back for the investments that you’ve made or for the difficulties that you’ve encountered. In your shoes, I’d deal with the current situation long enough to start over somewhere fresh. Maybe that means a move. Maybe that means playing the long game in your current small town until something else comes along. In the meanwhile, you can do some self-care. Focus on recovering from what’s haunting you and pushing you to this defensive posture. There’s no way that you’re going to have the life that you want by approaching it from this angle. Only you can decide if that means coaching, therapy, networking, a robust transition plan or all of the above. See what you can do about your current context, sure. In addition to that, however, figure out what Rome is for you and build it.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I love this. The OP does sound absolutely knackered, and self care really does go a long way to dealing with that. Save yourself, then try and see if you can fix the world around you.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I totally agree that OP sounds very tired.
      I only have one degree. I was tired just getting that.
      Then life stuff happened, and when I thought I could not get more tired, I DID!

      What they don’t tell you, is that once out in the work world you get to START ALL OVER AGAIN. You get to be at square one and construct yet another track record.
      Self-care is critical due to the enormous amount of energy that goes into this.

      You are not where you think you should be, that is what I see running through your letter. Figure out why not, and figure out what it takes to get yourself where you think you should be.
      Exhausting, yeah, I know.

  22. Chilipepper*

    OP, can your boss who is being promoted give you any feedback/advice about how to succeed with Mary? She might have helpful advice as she knows you both?

    I am also thinking of Alison’s advice to recognize that past toxic workspaces tend to warp your sense of normal. She covered that in her answer but I wanted to emphasize that it sounds like earlier jobs gave the OP some skewed sense of things. I still find myself rooting out coping behaviors learned in poor/toxic situations, they can really be hidden!

    In a side note, I want to say that I appreciate how willing Alison is to write full answers. This is in such contrast to advice columns that give short and punchy answers that feel more like a, well, punch, and don’t have enough detail to be helpful.

    1. Code Monkey, the SQL*

      I think that’s an excellent idea – OldBoss might have some really good insight, especially since they’ve probably worked with OP + Mary both and might have ideas for how to reduce friction during the transition.

      And OP? I hear you. I graduated with honors, summa cum laude from a mid-tier university… straight into the big 07 bubble crash. My next three jobs, I worked for minimum wage and was managed by people who got mean with me when they found out I had gone to college at all. It’s not a fun feeling, especially when I worked so hard to do it. I had a customer flat-out act SHOCKED when she asked where I was from and I told her I had moved there from a different state for school. She had apparently assumed I was a HS washout.

      But taking that anger out on your new manager, or assuming that Mary is out to screw you because you’re more educated than she is — that’s going to do your skills a disservice. Mary might very well be a nitpickery pain, but I don’t think that would be easier to deal with if she had a phD.

    2. Not sure of what to call myself*

      If you are under appreciated its very easy to start looking for reasons why when often the real cause is the company is cr*p. Its easy to grasp at straws, blame everyone else and get bitter. But although that allows you to wallow in your own pity party, it gradually warps your perspective.

      It took me about 18 months from leaving a previous emote to finally free myself from the “everyone is out to get me”/”it’s all X’s fault” and general “life’s not fair” mindset. And once I did I was able to recognise other false beliefs I’d managed to pick up at previous employer.

  23. SBH*

    LW comes across bizarrely entitled and naive in this and I’d be thinking about how they’re carrying this into their day to day. Why work for a place that belittles education or calls them at 4am to bail out the ship? If they have the experience, skills and education, then go shopping for a better role. If they’re not shopping around for whatever reason, I’d invite them to take the chip off their shoulder and get back to doing their job – and draw some firm lines about what that entails – if the concern is they’re getting something from you that they’re not paying for, then simply put – stop giving it away.

    1. Chilipepper*

      Maybe it is naive and entitled but I think something else is going on here. The OP was clear they took and stuck with not great jobs due to family circumstances. And now that they have a better jobs and it is taking a turn for the worse so they wrote for advice about that. I think the old jobs warped the OP’s sense of things and since their education was mocked before, that has got wrapped up in it all. Let’s be kind.

      1. AnotherLibrarian*

        Yes, this. Sometimes we make choices, because we have things other than our career to consider. Location is a factor in all this and sometimes location isn’t under someone’s direct control.

  24. Caramel & Cheddar*

    This is a really great answer from Alison, but I think this is particularly important: “it’s just not the kind of thing people think much about or put much weight on once you’re in the work world.”

    I think you also have to consider whether or not multiple advanced degrees are important *in your field/position*. You have them, and that’s good, but it seems like a big ask to want everyone else to care about them as much if normally they’re not a requirement for your position.

  25. PJS*

    I am not at all discounting the hard work you put into your degrees when I say this (I have multiple degrees and certifications myself), but once you’re in the work world for a few years, degrees don’t mean much. I know plenty of people with advanced degrees who are grossly incompetent. I know one person who is technically a high school drop out (got his GED the next day) and did not finish college due to several family and economic factors. He works with people who do have degrees and guess who the other departments prefer to work with because he knows what he’s talking about? Not the ones with the degrees. At my current job, one person got a promotion over someone else because that someone else did not have a degree. It didn’t work out and guess who now has that promotion?

    My point is, while you may have worked hard and the degrees may have been useful to get your foot in the door, they often don’t mean much after that and they certainly are not an indicator of someone’s ability to do a particular job.

    1. Elbe*

      Exactly. The whole reason that degrees are useful to a lot of fields is because they’re supposed to get you ramped up on relevant knowledge faster than on-the-job experience would. The ideal is that someone entering a field with a degree would have a head start on someone entering without one.

      But, once people have been in the field for a few years, degrees matter a lot less. Someone who is a quick learner could have easily caught up to or surpassed someone who took classes. Ultimately, the company needs to get X work done and they’re going to pick the person who is best able to do that, regardless of what path led them to there.

      The LW should start seeing her degrees as practical accomplishments, not as indicators of competence or worth. It’s unfair to her colleagues who have struggled in other, different ways to gain the knowledge and capabilities that they have today.

  26. Cat Tree*

    I was really expecting this to take a different path based on the title. I was thinking more like the question from someone who completely looked down on decades-old degrees, which is linked at the bottom of this post.

    Instead, it sounds like OP truly has had some genuinely terrible experiences and it seems like the education thing is misplaced frustration because it’s a concrete thing to point to.

    1. Paris Geller*

      This is how I read it too. It’s possible the OP is being overly self-important based on their education, but the concrete examples in the post do show some really horrible patterns of behavior that would be the same whether OP had a high level of education or not. I think OP is just looking at the wrong reasoning.

  27. Oof*

    Hi OP! I can see your frustration. It’s not the educational levels that are an issue, so let that drop. It’s nice to have a boss who understands your work, but that won’t always happen. (My boss does have a higher degree than I do, and still knows nothing of what I do) Focus on the problems and actions that are presented – you’ve given some good examples of legitimate screw-ups. How often are they? If they are sent to the group, I would try to just let it roll off your back. There are so many other letters on this site for dealing with difficult coworkers, and I would browse about for those strategies. Generally, it’s stay objective, be straightforward, clarify issues, and document. You may find solace in knowing how common this is, across industries, education/experience levels, and so forth. Hang in there!

  28. OakElmAsh*

    I’ve seen this in other countries (like France) where people who are 15 years into their career are still spouting what a prestigous school they went to in interviews, and struggle to “get” that in UK/US culture, it doesn’t matter that much once you get to more senior levels.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      Yes, the longer you are out in the world working, the less relatable education becomes because your experience overshadows anything you learned in a classroom. Outside of the sciences, what we learn in school is just a foundation to give us a head start in our career. We are expected to keep learning through our own observations.
      I’d be wary of anyone that was touting their degree 10-15 years after receiving it. Lots of that book education would be outdated by now, and I’d expect my employees to rely on their decision making skills more than the textbooks they read a decade ago.

  29. Marie*

    My boss is a high school dropout who built the company from nothing to earning $40 mil in revenue. I have my BBA. While our education obviously widely differs, it’s not the be-all-end-all, and it would be short-sighted of me to not report to someone with less education than I do because they bring their own unique experience to the role and I can learn something from them.

  30. NYWeasel*

    OP: I’m curious what your perception of the succession plan was prior to finding out your new manager. IME, when I’ve been consistently overdelivering, I usually have a lot of discussions with my manager about potential career growth. It strikes me from your letter that if this new manager is already making clear her intention to put you on PIP, that there’s some dynamics in the situation that we aren’t seeing. I would assume a highly qualified team member with advanced degrees would be in consideration for stepping up to take over for the current boss. So I’m wondering if you’ve gotten any feedback from your current manager that might also be in play?

  31. The Great Catsby*

    I’m a senior manager in digital marketing at my company and considered the go to person for a specific area of that business – I majored in theatre. It’s only ever come up as a fun fact in my 7 years in the working world. Degrees are not everything!

    1. AndersonDarling*

      Yep, marketing is a field like technology where individuals can be drawn to it and just fall into roles without formal education. If your employer sees that you are good at it, they may guide you into an available position and you grow your experience and career from there. These fields are just as much talent as they are book learning.

  32. icedcoffee*

    The thing with education is, it’s relevant to a point, but it doesn’t define your work life. If you were a new grad, absolutely you want to lean on your education, as well as any prior work experience, because that’s what you’ve got in your work history to show you’re qualified. But as you go on in your career, the importance of that degree lessens over time because your work qualifications and work history become more important. As Alison mentions, most people don’t start out being managers – you work in the field for a while, get good at what you do, and transition into management because your company recognizes you have the skill for it.

    It doesn’t sound like you’ve worked at some great places – but workplace bullying, overworking and underpaying – those are endemic problems that affect people no matter what their education level is. It’s not like it would suddenly be ok to bully you at work if you had no degree, or only a bachelor’s degree – your degrees don’t make you somehow fundamentally different from everyone else.

    Unfortunately, just because you work really hard at something doesn’t mean that everyone will reward you for that hard work. At work, you’re judged on what you can do for the company, not on what education you’ve received in the past. I wonder if part of your feelings of frustration are coming from feeling like you should be rewarded for getting two master’s degrees and five certifications, because when you were working towards them, they were the most important things in your professional life. And they are important, I’m sure, but they’re not the most important thing to focus on any more for your career- your work performance is.

  33. SlightlyStressed*

    I think we put too much pressure on going to a “good school” and getting a “useful degree” for our kids/teens, when the reality is that the working world doesn’t care quite as much. I busted my A$$ for my whole childhood to get into my college and get a degree, and it’s a really upsetting wakeup call to be back on a level playing field after graduating. I missed out on so much of my childhood and for what?

    1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

      Yes, this is a big issue. We pump kids up to spend $$ and tons of effort in school and then all the jobs are like ‘do you have five years experience?”

    2. IEanon*

      Agreed. That’s one of the reasons it kills me to see people commenting on articles on FB with nonsense like “should have gotten a more sensible degree!” or “English majors are just setting themselves up to fail!”

      Like, no, a large number of employees are in a field unrelated to their degree. And people struggling to get a job are often the ones who couldn’t get an internship/work for free while supported by family. It’s much more of an experience issue, now that we’ve pushed college education as the key to a “good” job.

    3. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yeah, this is a pretty problematic cultural narrative; however, I actually work in a field where my lack of an Ivy League undergrad means I won’t get certain sorts of jobs. But listen, most fields aren’t as elitist and snobby as parts of mine, so I don’t let it bother me.

    4. mreasy*

      I agree so wholeheartedly. Going to college is by no means necessary for many occupations, and in a lot of cases it’s a detriment given the debt burden. I am a six figure exec in a business field and my degree is in an unrelated language arts field. My 15 years experience far outweigh my 20 year old degree. Many of the folks at my company who reveal they don’t yet understand what we do, have degrees in our specific field. I dream of a day we can stop with this ludicrous idea that everyone should go to college.

  34. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    There was probably a period throughout the 90s and aughts where a lot of administrative support staff had a BA of some sort…and their managers/directors did not. I know that was often the case for me, because finding work related to my BA was next to nil but dang, I was good at office work and enjoyed being administrative support. And it paid the bills.

    The skills I learned working on that BA served me well on my job (researching, writing skills, understanding two languages and the nuances between them). But that’s me. Having a BA is no indicator of success on the job.

    A person I worked with in the late 90s only barely got her high school and was the same administrative support staff as me. I know she’s now a VP somewhere and I doubt she went back for a degree to get that far. We’ve lost touch so I know don’t how she’s done so well but I’m guessing it’s a question of skill, luck, timing and her charm.

    I used to get, in the 90s, “You have a BA, why are you applying?” but no one laughed about it. And no one should have laughed at you or say snide comments like “Education isn’t everything.” It’s an unhealthy work environment if you have coworkers like that.

    It’s not Mary’s education the issue here or yours, but her management skills and how you’re already reacting negatively to a situation that’s barely begun.

    1. Malarkey01*

      This was definitely a thing where I was in the 90s/00s because we started requiring BAs for entry level jobs. Everyone coming into the company had at least a BA. The management and leadership structure were people who had entered the workforce in the 70s and early 80s where military service or some form of technical school was the general entry level and then they worked up. A lot of us were young, running around with MBAs, but reporting to people with no or little college. For all our degrees, we really knew nothing at the time compared to those running the place. That really helped clarify things for me when I was in that newly minted MBA self satisfaction stage.

    2. RC Rascal*

      This has continued to be a thing into the 2000s, until the generation that could move up that way retired.

      My friend’s dad was a big muckety-muck at one of the major automakers. He was a mechanic. No college. He repaired cars in a dealership in a small town, and was good at it. The automaker recruited him to work for them auditing warranty claims and work. From there he worked at several plants, worked in dealer distribution, then on to Detroit and eventually into the big role. I”m sure whoever has his last job today has advanced degrees.

    3. OyHiOh*

      Another late 90’s/early 00’s college grad

      I (and my parents) bought the “get a humanities degrees, because an employer will teach you *how* to do the job” line hard. I’ve had reason to wonder if a more technical degree would have done me better in the long run but my English credentials, soft skills, and some luck have done ok so far.

  35. Ground Control*

    I have two masters degrees, which I think is more education than any of my bosses have ever had. But I don’t know that for sure because it’s completely irrelevant and has never come up! I don’t list my degrees in my email signature so people only know this about me if the look on Linkedin or I tell them, which I usually only do when I’m making fun of myself for being a “delicate genius” (a la Seinfeld).

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I also have two masters degrees (and two bachelor degrees), which I know is more than literally everybody in the line of management between me and the president of our 30,000-employee organization, including said president. (I know this because the end closer to me all has certifications that are directly linked to education level, and the end above them all have bios published that talk about their educational backgrounds.) My direct manager has an associates degree. HER direct manager has a bachelor degree.

      You know what that means? It means I apparently like going to school more than most of those people do, so I choose to keep doing it. (I’m currently working on a second associates degree too, because taking classes is literally one of my hobbies and the local community college is inexpensive. :P )

  36. Database Developer Dude*

    Both education AND experience are valuable. I’m glad I don’t worry about the education….if I worried about reporting to someone with less education than me, I’d never work at all. I earned six associate degrees, two bachelor’s degrees, one master’s, and am seriously considering going for another.

    A degree is not the be-all, end-all, it’s what you make of it. Having a degree doesn’t make the person, it’s the person that makes the degree.

  37. Mockingdragon*

    It definitely sounds like education is a red herring. The problem you’re having is that you don’t respect Mary, or many of your colleagues. And your real question is “Should I report to someone I don’t respect?” If Mary had the same education level that you do, would you feel better about the things you don’t like? I doubt it.

    Do your best to uncouple the question of education from the actual work issues that you’re having. If you can talk to Mary about it without sounding like you hate her, that’ll only help.

    1. Khatul Madame*

      This.
      Education seems to be the OP’s yardstick for determining whether the individual is worthy of their respect. Does this extend to non-work life?

  38. cat lady*

    Two important things to consider:
    1) Education does not confer personal worth. Someone with a graduate degree is not better than someone who did not complete high school. The OP seems to be suffering from this delusion.
    2) Graduate degrees are not useless, though, on either the job market or in the job world itself. The work I did as a GA during my PhD prepared me for my first job, which prepared me for my current job. While, no, my PhD (degree or subject matter) isn’t relevant to my work, the skills I learned while doing it directly enable me to succeed professionally.

  39. Mannheim Steamroller*

    In an industry that looks down on higher education, would it make sense to omit the Master’s degree(s) from one’s resume?

  40. BRR*

    First, it sounds like you’ve worked with jerks. But you…well you don’t come off great in this letter. It sounds like you have a lot of professional achievements though and that’s what I would focus on if I were you. I know for me, some of my achievements were only doable because of my education. But it’s better to focus on them from a work context than an education context.

    And “is it typical for larger companies to have graduate level employees report to managers with less education?” I’ve literally never had education factor into an org chart. Education can set you up for success in many different ways, but for many industries education is not a day-to-day thing that comes up.

    1. Works in IT*

      Even companies that do technically have education requirements to become part of leadership will make exceptions for particularly highly qualified people. My manager (whose qualifications I was praising in a post down below) technically doesn’t have the degrees for his position, but no one cares because he is extremely highly qualified.

  41. Ben Marcus Consulting*

    The reality is, most people feel like they sacrificed and fought like hell to get through school. Even if, by outward appearances, it was handed to them. I’m assuming this is a US based question, but this plays doubly true when you gauge ease of access based on student loans. Recent leadership comments made it clear that many feel that high student loans mean the student had privileged access, when the opposite is far more likely.

    School is a great tool for learning new skills…and having someone that can verify them for you! That doesn’t make it more important than work experience and achievements; and it very much sounds like you may be conveying this message to your colleagues. I know I would very much not want to work with someone on my team that was doing this.

    I’m highly concerned about your base question, ‘should I report to someone with less education than me’? I’m not sure what you could expect your employer to do with a question like that, would you expect your supervisor to be demoted in favor of you? In my experience, most employers would terminate an employee on the spot for such a quibbling.

    I delayed finishing my education so that I could help ensure that my sibling made it through. She’ll graduate with her doctorate in a year. In the meantime, I set up a successful business and used that to coach dozens of practices in restoring their viability. The degree I was initially after had nothing to do with my field and I was still fruitful without it.

    I would encourage you to take a step back and think about what experiences and insight these people can offer you. Even with their supposed stunted career development.

  42. Works in IT*

    I have more degrees than my manager. I would LOVE to be in a position someday where I have the sheer level of knowledge about this job/field that my manager has. My manager does not mock me for having degrees, and actually stops me from downplaying them because nothing I learned from getting my degrees is relevant for my job (if you’re reading this, manager, I maintain, nothing I learned from getting my degrees is relevant for my job).

    What Alison says is spot on. Unless you’re forcing your degree on other people, saying you’re better than them because you have a degree, your coworkers and management should not be mocking you for having a degree, and if you are, then the appropriate response still isn’t mocking, it’s talking to you and asking you to stop putting down other members of the team. Is the PIP centered around how you interact with your coworkers? If so, this could be valid feedback, and a sign that you need to stop doing that.

  43. PolarVortex*

    There are so many reasons that people do not have degrees or even drop out of high school – I know several who did so to take care of their family/work to support their family through bad times. I know some who never got a college degree because of money, learning disabilities, or it just wasn’t what they wanted in life – they liked to work with their hands.

    Education does not equal experience, talent, or skill.

    Also, although Alison said this much more nicely, review your thoughts before you alienate your friends/coworkers/general population. Those who are so hung up on degrees and education levels to the point they disparage or write off those who do not have their same education often come off as elitist bucket heads (and who I find often lack basic manners and common sense). They tend to be known as the ones who leave clothes unfolded as they dig through piles, disparage tradespeople, or tell their children the reason why I was waiting tables was because I didn’t try hard enough in school. And I worked 3 jobs while getting one of my degrees. So I do think education is something everyone should have the opportunity for if it is the right fit for them.

    But all it is, ultimately, is a piece of paper that proves I can commit to something for 4 years without giving up. Plenty of people do that day in and day out to put food on the table for their families without earning an overpriced piece of paper that proves it.

  44. SherBear*

    I once had a lively conversation with coworkers about who had the most ‘useless’ degree in relation to our current job (which is in the insurance/financial realm) – the winner was Art History followed by Spanish, I was one of the most related with Marketing as it was at least in the business school. After the laughs we went back to our meeting as no one really cares about degrees – we care more about what football team you’ll be rooting for on Saturdays!

    1. cncx*

      yes, i have a useless degree BUT it is from a SEC school so football discussions are always welcome at work

    2. cncx*

      yes, i have a useless degree for my field BUT it is from a SEC school so football discussions are always welcome at work

  45. Pearls and Tech*

    I am forever grateful to my freshman-year professor who told me “undergrad matters until you’re in grad school, and grad school matters until you’re in the workforce. After that, it’s what you do at your job.” Having that mindset throughout college helped me to give school an appropriate weight. The best decision I ever made was to drop to part-time college and graduate a bit late so that I could start working full-time (now I work in a position that typically requires a Masters degree, which I don’t yet have).
    All that being said, I too made many sacrifices and worked very hard in college. I think it might be helpful to recognize that you created your own value through your hard work, regardless of how much weight your field gives it now. Hard work in education is never wasted; there is inherent value in learning. It’s also important, at the same time, to recognize that college education is far from the only way to create value. The paths your managers/colleagues took also likely required hard work and sacrifice, albeit in different ways.

    1. Smithy*

      If you happen to be in a field where “everyone” has a Masters, I would enthusiastically encourage finding the most accessible/affordable but reputable professional Masters program you can find.

      I work in a sector where “everyone” has a Masters. It does barely matter when it truly comes to being professionally competitive – but it’s also a sector where we certainly have those snobs and in cases where it comes down to two candidates, the Masters can certainly nudge people ahead of others.

      That being said, in one Masters I have – I felt the degree would open doors to me professionally to the career I wanted. As such, I made the most of the degree in the way I wanted, but also really didn’t worry about grades. It helped me think more about relevant internships/volunteer positions that really did help me get hired less than a month after I graduated than worry about what was happening on an specific paper/group project.

  46. Name (Required)*

    Sadly I see this attitude a lot in my industry now that colleges have started making more arts-related masters degrees in an industry that is frankly all about previous experience. Very often find new grads struggling to understand they still start at entry level roles and pay, even with their masters.

    And that usually doesn’t even get to the point that their bosses, my bosses, the entire hierarchy doesn’t have masters degrees and they’re working for people with decades of experience in an industry created by tradespeople, some of which didn’t have higher education at all.

  47. Jessica*

    The whole “don’t ignore my sacrifices” vibe reminds me a little of people who think raises should be based on how much the employee needs more money, rather than the value of their work to the company. OP, you had classmates who got the same degrees as you with a lesser amount of sacrifice and struggle, correct? And I imagine there are also others who had it even harder. All of you got to the same place–holding this degree–but your paths were different because you didn’t start in the same place. That may not have been very fair, but what’s valued now is that you all have the degree.

    And the people who don’t have that degree? Maybe they just had less gumption than you. Or maybe they faced even greater obstacles. Or they just chose a different path or had other types of opportunities. 90% of the time you won’t know your coworkers’ lives that intimately.

    Thought experiment: Imagine a hypothetical coworker who has your exact same education, work history, achievements, and skills. But she experienced even more hardship and had to sacrifice even more to get there. Maybe she got those degrees while raising young children as a single mom. Maybe she grew up in foster care, had no family support, and put herself through college working five jobs on the side. Maybe she has done all these professional accomplishments despite living with a chronic illness. Whatever, she has everything you have but she did it all backwards and in high heels, even more so than you. What would you like to see happen now? Should Hypothetical Coworker be promoted before you? Get paid more? Have a gold star on her desk? What actions would you take in the workplace, how would you interact with her differently, to indicate that you are not ignoring her sacrifices?

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Have had the ‘I’ve got more financial commitments than you so I need more money than you’ conversation from a former member of staff whose performance was….middling. Not great.

      (No, she didn’t get any extra money. I pointed out that I struggle every day with a body that is actively trying to kill me and don’t get a pay rise for that)

  48. Nonny*

    Chiming in since I have a few things in common with OP: I work in content creation and digital media. I have a bachelor’s in new media content production and I’ve just finished my MBA in marketing. I have four years of experience in my role and have also undergone trainings and a few lower-tier certifications to help round out my skills and resume. I also have more “formal” education than my boss (and creative director) currently does, yet that doesn’t make me better or more knowledgable than them.

    But more importantly, and I cannot stress this enough: I’ve learned more from my time in my job than I ever did in any of my academic or training programs.

    The advice above is spot on, and I agree that there seems to be a lot of underlying resentment from the OP and their previous experiences. It’s definitely not fair or okay that they’ve been ridiculed for their education, but I think that this has definitely caused some not so great habits to form. This is a field where education is highly helpful, but it’s not the end-all-be-all of qualifications, nor does it automatically make someone better at their job. There’s so much more that goes into being a good manager (and content creator!) that doesn’t have anything to do with a degree, and I would personally advise OP to stop comparing themselves and start thinking about why they feel this way/if their coworkers or managers are actually producing good quality work with or without those special pieces of paper.

  49. Girl Alex PR*

    The level of entitlement I see seeping off this letter is really astounding and if any of this is coming through in your workplace, as a manager OP, I’d be very concerned about your suitability for the role you’re in. Getting along with your colleagues, supervisors, other media teams and clients is incredibly important, and this type of attitude could hamper that ability.

    I work in the media field, for a government agency. I did not have a degree when I entered government service, but did have over 5 years experience doing the job while on active-duty. I now have two degrees in the field, but they have not gotten me a single promotion- and I have had several and am now a GS-14. What did? My attitude, willingness to learn new skills, and dedication to quality.

    I manage people at all education levels, and while both traditional education and on-the-job experience have value, I find that most people with OJT or a combination of it and education, require less training and oversight initially because they already understand professional workplace norms, etc. Now, that’s not to say I don’t hire both types. I absolutely do. But that’s to say to you that education alone is not going to be what makes me offer someone a job, and it absolutely shouldn’t be the thing you value most in your supervisors and colleagues, because you’d be alone in that sentiment in our field and will continue to appear out of touch.

  50. Des*

    OP, I feel like you need to stop focusing on the titles (Masters, PhD, whatever) and start focusing on the skills. For example, not “Mary doesn’t have an MFA” but “Mary cannot do X which is a skill I gained during my MFA that helps me provide Y value to the job”. Once you restructure it in your head as skills-based, you can more easily evaluate your experience in relation to Mary (or whoever). As Alison points out, you’re hampering your own progress by getting stuck on something that 2-years out of university just does not matter as much to the employers as job experience and how you present yourself/communicate. I can tell from a single letter that you’re angry and defensive, and I’m sure so can people who are around you, please be aware of the effect it can have on your career.

  51. Sleepy*

    Urgh, this mentality is why I dropped out of my MA program. I had been working in the field for several years, while my professors had Ph. D.’s, but hadn’t actually worked outside of academia. Plenty of what they lectured me on would not have been applicable in a real work situation.

    1. AGD*

      This is why I, an academic, read AAM. I cannot believe how distorted my view of the work world was getting (based on a small handful of bad/strange experiences, an underinformed college career office, and family advice relevant only to the 1980s).

      1. IEanon*

        I’m grateful for AAM, too. I see so many of my colleagues detached from the private sector struggle to pivot away from higher ed because their norms have warped or because they just don’t know what job searching is like outside the field.

        I was told by a colleague the other day that Student Affairs is the only field that ever requires cover letters anymore, so they just don’t write them, even if the posting specifies it as a requirement. No, friend, that is not how it works!

      2. PT*

        My all time favorite experience ever was when my husband was on the faculty job market and had to go through the university’s job applicant portal just like any other job.

        He was so frustrated! “There’s no field for my teaching statement! The page keeps crashing! It won’t let me upload my document! This is taking forever! I have to do a different one for 80 different schools! This is ridiculous! I am busy! I submitted my CV now I have to copy-paste the whole thing? This is so stupid!”

        I laughed so hard at him. Now you see why I hate it!!

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Hard agree on reading AAM, OP.
        I have learned more here than I ever did in college.
        The advice I got in college about work was totally useless. Fortunately, I did not spend a lot of time on it, because even the college employees acknowledged that their employment help did not do much.

        I suggest reading daily until you identify action steps to change your circumstances in some manner.

  52. Former call centre worker*

    Managers often need quite a different skillset to the people below them. My manager isn’t as skilled at me at the skills needed to do my job. But that’s fine, because he doesn’t do my job! His job description is very different to mine even if the subject area is the same.

    The tone of this letter is a little odd and comes across as quite naive. I think the LW hasn’t really thought through how it would work if managers had to have a higher level of education than those below them. How would a new graduate get on the career ladder with no work experience if they couldn’t work under someone less qualified? I had a colleague who got a PhD while working part time in a fairly entry level role, which is probably a higher level of qualification than anyone above her in the hierarchy – should she have been parachuted into the CEO’s job? Imagine being turned down for a job not because you were overqualified, but because you’d be reporting into someone less qualified than you. Or working the same job for 45 years because you don’t have a degree and therefore can never be promoted above your peers who do.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      This is a great logic test, love it.

      In my grandfather’s era it was expected that one would stagnate for decades in a given position. But company loyalty and all that good stuff would some how work out in the long run.

      I think my father’s era was a tad more forgiving. You might have one or two jobs before you found your life-time job. People would try to overlook that.

      Now we have a whole different scene out there, OP.

      Try to reflect for a moment where you got your ideas on how work places “should be”. How do they differ from what you are seeing IRL?

  53. JohannaCabal*

    Alison had a great response. I have a master’s degree from what many consider highly ranked university, yet it’s been my experience and industry connections that have gotten me jobs, not the master’s (in fact, I think my undergrad opened more doors for me).

    Actually, in ’09 when I was laid off, I took the master’s off my resume to avoid the “over-qualified” label. Two jobs hired me with this pared down resume and one even promoted me two years later not knowing or caring I had a master’s.

    I doubt my current manager has a master’s and I really don’t care. She’s good at what she does and she has the requisite knowledge. If you’re concerned about your manager’s style and the work, maybe consider moving on. Strategically research the companies in your industry you want to work for and peruse the LinkedIn pages for staff. That should give you an indication if they value education. Twitter can help too. Does the company Twitter page follow any schools or congratulate staff for getting degrees?

    Also, I sometimes think the proliferation of master’s degrees and certificates has created a generation gap as these exploded after 2005ish it seems. There’s a certification and master’s for everything and I worry this will leave behind those who learned on the job.

    1. PT*

      I agree with 2005. A lot of my friends graduated in 2005, couldn’t get a living-wage job with their BA,entered a Master’s program to get out of retail/food service, graduated into the recession, couldn’t get a living wage job with their Master’s, entered a second Master’s program to get out of retail/food service/temping, finally got an entry-level living wage job but now had six-figure debt to pay off while making $40K a year.

  54. a clockwork lemon*

    OP, it sounds like you’re confusing the foundational knowledge provided by formal education as a substitute for practical knowledge and skill–perhaps to your detriment. I’m struggling off the top of my head to think of a particular field where an MBA and an MFA would both be seen as equally valuable and relevant. At the end of the day, your colleagues and bosses are doing just fine in your industry without those degrees, which means that for better or worse they’re probably not necessary. If it’s coming through to your peers and managers that you think you’re “better than” them because of your educational credentials, that’s going to be a problem. You might not like Mary (maybe she totally sucks!), but she’s right that grad school actually isn’t everything.

    1. Girl Alex PR*

      “you’re confusing the foundational knowledge provided by formal education as a substitute for practical knowledge and skill–perhaps to your detriment.” PERFECTLY said.

  55. HarvestKaleSlaw*

    American society has been more and more hostile, year over year, towards “knowing things” and “thinking about things” and towards people who know things and think things.

    Because of that hostility, states have defunded education and within educational institutions, the cash flows everywhere except the primary mission of education (deans and deans and more deans, fancy gym, gourmet dining, oversight committees – and classes taught by an adjunct making $2000, no benefits).

    Because of that de-funding, the cost of education to families and individuals is crushing. I don’t just mean college debt, but also the lengths people go through to secure adequate primary and secondary education for their kids.

    Because the costs are so crushing and anti-intellectualism is so powerful, educators have responded by saying that the value of an education is not in thinking and knowing (heavens no!) but in the ability to make back more money than you spend – that it is a net return on investment and will get you a high salary, a management position, job security….

    Because this is not necessarily true, as Allison points out, people with crushing debt and years of lost opportunity arrive in the workplace only to be devastated by how little their degree is worth.

    So much is broken. I’ve barely scratched the surface.

    1. JohannaCabal*

      The other thing I’m seeing, at least in my area (I’m in a major city), is the proliferation of professional master’s degrees and certificates aimed at people who are working. And these are not for-profit, shady schools, thing big-name institutions. All the ads are the same “Advance in Your Field,” “Build on Your Experience,” “Make an Impact,” etc. These are clearly marketed as gaining a competitive advantage in the workplace, not building knowledge. I’ve noticed that the stock images in all of these show mostly young people. This is one of the reasons I’m worried that this growth in professional degrees and certificates will start to leave behind the stalwarts with years of experience who are unable to partake in these extra courses.

      (Caveat, I have a professional master’s and my firm is paying me to get a certificate. I say this to not be hypocritical; I just see where things are heading.)

  56. DG*

    This post makes me think OP was exposed to a lot of the common wisdom around education espoused by people in certain communities (working class folks, immigrants, etc.). They’re realizing that, despite what their parents and teachers taught them, an education does NOT necessarily command respect, open doors that would never be open otherwise, guarantee personal and financial success, etc. But they’re finding it easier to lash out at their colleagues and managers than to question the narrative they’ve been fed for decades.

    1. anon right now*

      That’s also not my experience. Working class raising here, and I couldn’t do what I do without my degree.

      1. yokozbornak*

        Same here. I wouldn’t have had an “in” without my degree. My degree got me in the door, but my hard work, dedication, and ingenuity is what has propelled me forward in my career. Soft skills and emoional intelligence are important skills that schools do not teach.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      It does occasionally open doors though. I graduated eons ago in a different country, and even I was able to use my school’s network a couple of times. And it is WAY too soon to talk about OP’s having or not having personal and financial success, five years into a career, in a wildly dysfunctional economy.

  57. Littorally*

    I think you’re using education as a stand-in for a lot of qualities that don’t necessarily tie to education, OP. Mary sounds like a legitimate pain in the rear — but a lot of highly educated people are also pains in the rear!

    What you want, above all else, is a good manager — someone who can be a resource for you, who has a keen sense of workplace politics and how to get the results your team needs without running afoul of those politics, who provides you the tools you need to do your job well and then gets out of your way so you can do it. These are not skills people generally learn in school.

  58. Allypopx*

    I’m getting a graduate degree now, at 30, but I worked my way up in my career with a high school diploma and absolutely managed people more educated than myself. And got crap for it. So OP, to be clear, this happens on both ends of the table and I feel the same defensiveness you feel in the other direction. People who overemphasize their degrees put me on edge based on my experiences.

    Which is to say, this is a cloudy lens you’re looking through. It sounds like you have a chance for a fresh start here – please take all these comments and Alison’s very compassionate advice to heart and use this as an opportunity to leave your bad experiences behind you. I know when you have a bad time it’s normal to look for the common cause and extrapolate based on the pattern, brains do that, but be very conscious to judge future coworkers based on their merit and not their education…and also not to flaunt your education like it makes you better than those around you.

  59. NovaGirl*

    Oh jeez. I have worked with people like OP and, man, is it rough to work with people who look down their nose at you. I think the advice here is spot on. I mean, imagine being Mary and getting charged with managing someone who so obviously thinks you are less-than because you have fewer degrees than them! Phew.

    I work in a similar field. I don’t have a college degree; I have some college, but no degree, I have certifications and a resume full of experience and achievements. Digital media is actually a great example of a field you ABSOLUTELY 100% DO NOT need a degree to enter and do well in, much less an MBA! And the time that was spent getting an MBA robs people of time that could have been used getting experience, building a reputation, making connections, and achieving notable things in the workplace. I actually know people who decided to go back for their MBA and ended up many thousands of dollars in the hole and unable to find a job that was any better than what they left, and fewer prospects because they were (you guessed it) overqualified and looking for a bigger salary than most companies offered.

    OP seems to be lacking in basic empathy. Many people sacrifice and work hard to get where they are and have difficult personal circumstances to overcome even if they didn’t do it for a grad degree. Making the decision to get those degrees doesn’t make OP a better person or better employee. It doesn’t even necessarily make them worthy of a higher salary. The entitlement so many people come of out college with never fails to astound me; I’ve encountered it many times in the field and it’s so off-putting. Soft skills are more important than degrees, OP, and it seems like you need to work on those. And eat a big ol’ piece of humble pie, because no one wants to work with or promote someone who thinks they’re too good for the job they have. Even if you think you hide it well, you don’t.

  60. Bookworm*

    Some of my best managers were jobs and states apart but neither had a college degree. One couldn’t afford it and I can’t quite remember what it was the other. Both were in jobs that ultimately suited them and I liked working with them.

    Some of the worst experiences I had were with people who had multiple degrees (think lawyers and PhDs). It was less about education but rather…they were DREADFUL managers.

    I have multiple degrees but wouldn’t hold the “formal” education (or lack of it) against them.

    Unless you’re in a field where it really is necessary (I would not want someone who didn’t go to medical school operating on me, for example!), it sounds like this is something you (and TBF, many others) need to work on. Lots of people have educations that no school or degree that comes on a piece of paper in the world could give you.

  61. Texas Librarian*

    I work in a library, where a librarian is defined by having a Masters degree. However, I learned long ago (when I was a newly minted librarian) that the degree just meant a specific title. There are people without the degree who have years of experience who know as much if not more than me. On of my good friends had a high school diploma and knew more than most degreed librarians. Education is not everything.

    1. Dewey Decibal*

      This is so true of libraries- I barely use what I learned in my MLIS and some of my staff who are not degreed have years more valuable experience than me.

  62. Oh, just COMMUNITY college?*

    Having cut short my education due to family and personal issues, I have worked my tail off over the years to get to a place in the company of those with far more letters after their name. I’ve had my education level laughed at and been the person called at 4a to fix mistakes made by those same people.
    It works both ways and if it makes you feel any better, OP, much of the difference in my world has been reflected in a lower starting salary, a decision made by those with more education who didn’t value experience as much as those degrees. I have had to work harder and prove myself to get promotions and the salary I deserved to go with it.

  63. anonymously overeducation*

    OP doesn’t mention where they went to school so I don’t want this to be misconstrued as projecting this onto them, but wanted to point out I’ve also seen a similar attitude among people who went to Ivy League or other “elite” universities thinking they deserve higher positions than people who went to a state school or lesser known private school. It makes my blood boil. I say this as someone who went to an “elite” undergrad and later got my master’s, but most people I work with (boss included) just have a bachelor’s from public schools. My coworkers are all competent and capable for the work they do sans graduate degree, and coworkers respect me for the work I do, not my education. School is not at all the same as work, and barring fields that require a specific licensure, functional employers care more about your previous work experience than your education, because prior work experience is a better indicator of how you’ll perform in the future. Focus on doing a good job in the role you’re in now and using the skills learned in grad school when you can, not fixating on everyone else’s level of education.

    1. anon for this*

      I have a BA from one of those institutions. I loved my time there, to be clear. But afterward, my feeling has been that a ton of student debt bought me the right to be insufferable in a way that doesn’t help anyone, including me.

      1. anonymously overeducation*

        Same! Loved my time at my alma mater for the most part, but I wonder if I would have thrived more at a less competitive school. Fortunately my financial aid was decent and the debt wasn’t too overwhelming. But I could have gone to state school and graduated debt-free, and that haunts me.

        Also clearly going to a highly-ranked undergrad and grad school clearly did not make me immune to ungrammatical typos in my username–whoops!

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      One of my all time favorite at-work exchanges…
      ———
      My coworker to a new hire for an entry level position: OK, you log the materials in here and then make a copy of this for the other department.

      New hire to coworker: I went to Brown. I don’t make copies!

      Coworker to new hire: Wow. An expensive school like that and they don’t teach you enough to understand how to make copies? Don’t worry. We will help you overcome your educational shortcomings.
      ———
      Everyone in the department had some version of that conversation. She made so many mistakes and would get agitated when anyone corrected her, saying she did a sloppy job because the work was beneath her.

      Don’t be this person LW!

      1. allathian*

        I’m curious, just how long did she last in that job? I hope long enough to understand that we all have to start somewhere and that attitude won’t get her anywhere…

  64. ArtK*

    Please don’t be a degree-snob. As Alison and others have said, the degree really doesn’t ever outweigh experience. In my own case, I’m a tech leader (not a manager) who for most of my career has had a BS; my colleagues with PhDs respect me for my experience, not for my degree.

    One of the best managers I ever worked for had a HS diploma, but was managing a highly technical software team. He had spent time in the Army and had gained a ton of experience, both technical and managerial, from that.

    Sadly, there are places that discriminate. My wife has an AA nursing degree and can’t find a job; they all require BSN or higher now. This despite 17 years of experience in the OR. My stepson got a 2 year nursing degree and had to move from CA to IN to find a place that would hire him and help him get his BSN. Yet they keep saying that there’s a “nursing shortage.”

    1. Tired of Covid-and People*

      BSNs are not required for most nursing home positions, they don’t want to pay for them. Generally, on the Director of Nursing will have one. Hospitsl nursingis another story.

  65. BS*

    I have no idea what degrees, if any, my coworkers and bosses have. When I’ve been involved in hiring/promotion decisions, we look at job performance over the last few years. Anything further back–including education–matters not at all.

    (I semi-hid my education when I applied for my current job. I have a bachelor’s degree in physics, which is not required for my position, so on my resume I simply put “Smith College, B.S.” I’m pretty sure the west-coast people who hired me don’t know where or what Smith College is. To most people here it sounds like some generic community college.)

  66. Tired of Covid-and People*

    Wow. Elitist much? I have a bachelors degree from an exclusive private university, would reporting to me be more acceptable than reporting to someone with an advanced degree from a run-of-the mill institution? The whole concept is ludicrous. I have worked with and for folks with all manner of education, and it has had no bearing on their effectiveness. Or my respect for them.

    Education has long been a method of social engineering. Currently, degrees are required for jobs where they add no value whatsoever. This keeps out people who could do the job perfectly fine except they don’t have the paper. It’s often useless credentialing. I think the pursuit of higher education now is now a sucker game unless you are wealthy, the return on investment is often not there but many years of future debt repayment are.

    OP, please reflect on your over-valuation of degrees, snobbishness is not a good look on anyone. Unless a position has a positive educational requirement for licensing or certification purposes, there is no reason educational levels should be considered in determining who gets to manage who. You are sniping at Mary without giving her a fair chance, because you do not respect her as you are seeing her as beneath your level. This attitude will get you nowhere.

  67. Lifelong student*

    Only the fact that we are supposed to be kind prevents me from expressing my true feelings about the level of elitism and snobbery expressed by the OP.

    Seems like the OP got degrees but not much of an education in life.

    How about focusing resentment on herself for poor decisions.

    1. Alice*

      If this is being kind I wouldn’t want to see what the first draft was!
      Look, OP, I hope you don’t take the commentariat too much to heart. You’re in a tough situation, and there is some really good advice here, to pay less attention to your colleagues’ educational histories and to make sure you are not coming across as elitist. Clearly you have great skills if people are calling you in the middle of the night to fix emergencies! Lean on those skills, and maybe ask your departing boss to give you some outside perspective on whether you have been coming across at work in the way that Lifelong Student is perceiving based on this letter.

    2. IEanon*

      Stating that you were prevented from posting your original comment by the “be kind” rule sort of works as an end run around it, doesn’t it? Especially because you leave the OP to speculate about what you really would have said, given the chance.

      I don’t think suggesting that she resent herself is particularly useful advice or at all warranted.

  68. Almost Empty Nester*

    College dropout here. I work for a blue chip company that is widely recognized, in an executive position, managing a global team of 30 – 40 individuals, making six figures. Not one of them has ever asked for my educational qualifications, and many of them (probably most of them) have advanced degrees. I’m good at what I do, and I have yet to have a manager in my 30 years with this company say anything remotely like “let me check your education levels to see if we can promote you to this role”.

    You sound pretty young, early in your career. That chip on your shoulder is going to get increasingly difficult to carry if you don’t figure out a way to get rid of it soon.

  69. Nikki*

    I work in IT. The highest performing person on my team, the person who knows the system inside and out and is the go to for any questions: was a musician for 10 years after college, then taught himself to code and has worked his way up the ranks without getting any formal education in the field. The lowest performing team member, the person who does the bare minimum in every situation and needs a lot of hand holding: has a masters degree in Software Engineering. Level of education doesn’t dictate how good someone is at their job or how valuable they are to the company.

  70. Lacey*

    OP, I feel for you because I’ve had a little of the same experience. At my old job my coworkers and I were treated as if our specialized skill set were something literally anyone could do and it made us really defensive about the value of our education and experience.

    But, it won’t help you to focus on the degree. That’s not actually the problem. The problem is that Mary is difficult to work with and communicates in a really unpleasant way. That probably wouldn’t change if she got her masters or her phd.

    1. Hare under the moon with a silver spoon*

      +1 to this.

      OP I hear your frustration as while digital media is an open field actually creating content does take practical skills that generalists don’t have – that your MFA in digital media would have equipped you with these. And yes it also gives you deeper subject knowledge even when you aren’t actually making content than those who don’t have the practical nuts and bolts experience. I get this!

      Unfortunately being a subject matter expert and actually being perceived as one are two separate things and these soft skills or work real politicks are valuable in themselves – some of the comments are unnecc harsh (and ignore your practical MFA digital skills) but don’t pass up on this learning opportunity – learning in life never actually stops. Best of luck.

  71. ChiR*

    Agreed that education is not the right measure for whether someone should manage others and/or why they should report to someone. This is such a myth that modern higher education has fed people – get more degrees and you will be more successful. This is just not always the case and in very few industries is it a reason for why someone does or does not report to someone or get promoted, etc. I have advanced degrees and certifications and have almost never reported to someone who was at the same or higher educational attainment. In fact, literally no one ever asks me about my educational background (which is relevant to the field I am in) and I have only thought to ask others on very rare occasion. I suggest OP let this one go as a qualifier for their advancement or who they report to. What you achieve in the working world is way more important than the degrees you got which are mostly a ticket in the door for you to then prove yourself through your achievements. I wish you the best of luck, it’s a tough mental framework to let go of when you have been fed the line of how much it matters for so long.

  72. boop the first*

    People keep telling you education isn’t everything and that’s annoying but… you just took your general personal discomfort with People in Management and blamed it on the educational system. Maybe you’re a little young and feel like you have to come in guns blazing?

    I kid, I kid. But we do see the irony here, though, right? This letter makes it sound like you just don’t like being told what to do and need an excuse to resist, but you don’t need to find one. You can just not like it. Maybe self-employment could be a worthwhile venture for you.

  73. cactus lady*

    Thank you for publishing this letter! This is something I regularly encounter as an executive with a BA, working in public health (especially right now!). I kind of fell into my career path during the recession and have just kept at it and have ended up being pretty successful. I always meant to go back and get an MPH, but honestly? I’ve never had time between work and having hobbies outside of work – and not having one hasn’t held me back at all in my career. Yeah, there are some jobs I can’t ever hold without one, but I’m happy enough with what I do and feel like there will be opportunities for me once I leave this role.

    I actually have a former friend who has an MPH and another master’s degree, who is not my friend any longer because she got really resentful of the work opportunities I kept being offered. However, she had very little relevant work experience (she bartended her way through school and made good money at it, and didn’t want to leave for a lesser-paying entry-level job), while I spent 10 years in the field starting at the very bottom. She refused to consider any job that was “beneath her” education level. It was really sad to see someone’s ego holding them back from success. I absolutely think education is valuable and important, but it’s not EVERYTHING, and real world experience means a lot.

  74. anon right now*

    I have to say that it’s possible that it’s not completely on the OP. I have an advanced degree, and I’ve reported to people with less education and people with the same education. Some managers with advanced degrees have been terrific and some have been terrible. Some managers with less education than I have been terrific and some (like, 2, but a non-zero number) have had a chip on their shoulders, thinking they need to take me down a notch because “she thinks she’s something because she has a doc.” All I care about is doing my job and doing it well. It’ll probably be useful for the OP to separate in her mind the quality of a manager with the level of education.

    1. irene adler*

      That’s interesting that at least one person felt a need to take you down a notch. Jealousy? Need to show their superiority perhaps?
      I agree with you- I just want to do my job to the best of my ability. Not interested in ‘besting’ anyone either.

      I interviewed with someone who picked at every certification/degree I had on the resume. They were all relevant as background to the job I’d applied for (like earning regulatory affairs certs for a QA position). Yet, she read off each cert and asked me why I didn’t want to work in that area (reg affairs) instead of QA. Then she asked why I’d gone to the trouble to earn these certs.

      I like learning and feel that this helps me to do my job better as it provides background to what I am doing on the job. I could tell she was intimidated.

      Didn’t get the job. Probably for the best.

      1. PT*

        More likely it’s the “she” part. Can’t have a woman thinking she’s competent *eyeroll*

    2. Amanda6*

      Thanks for sharing this. It’s still generally true that most people in the average office don’t care about the education level of their colleagues, but all it takes is one or two people making something of it (in either a positive or negative fashion) to implant the idea in one’s mind that it is important, at least to some people. Quality of management shouldn’t be conflated with level of education, but OP certainly isn’t the first person to take away some warped thinking from legitimately bad experiences.

  75. Escapee from Corporate Management*

    My best boss ever had “only” a BA from a “lowly” state school. My worst boss ever had two Ivy League degrees.

    It’s not the education. It’s the person.

  76. Trust Life*

    I worked at a Comm College years ago, in the President’s office no less. I had a college degree. The other staff of four woman had no college (some worked in Community Relations/PR). They had all worked for the college for years but, as time passed, more and more staff doing equivalent jobs at the Chancellor’s office level had master’s degrees. Community Relations/PR at my particular campus was well-known for not working well with others. None in that office had college degrees, much less a master’s. Low and behold, HR did a restructure. The bitchiest one of all with no degree had to take the lowest-level secretarial position because she didn’t have the degree to back up having her position. That was karma and it was beautiful. (And I’m not generally a hateful person.)

  77. Elbe*

    It varies by field how much an advanced degree will help your career. That’s part of the research everyone should do before joining a masters program. It’s not at all uncommon for people to find that their masters degree wasn’t “worth it” in the end.

    A lot of people sacrifice time and effort and money for an advanced degree because they think it’s going to allow them to easily bypass coworkers without a degree. And, to be fair, that’s how a lot of programs are marketed, even when it’s not true for that field.

    It’s disappointing to struggle toward a goal only to find, after achieving the goal, that it’s not what you had hoped. But it’s not the LW’s colleague’s fault. It’s not their job to give her the advantage she thought she’d get. If they value professional accomplishments more than a degree, they’re within their rights to act on that.

  78. VermiciousKnid*

    I graduated from a well-respected J-school 10 years ago with a bachelors. The profs actively discouraged us from pursuing advanced degrees—they always said the actual work experience was more valuable if we wanted a career in media. In my experience, they were 100% right. Any time I was looking for a new job, my clips were WAY more important than my degree or certifications.

    Granted, Mary sounds like a nitpicky nightmare, but the OP might want to reframe her mindset around what can be done to bolster their own career. Focusing on degrees rather than their most recent work is so limiting, especially in media. I work on things now that didn’t exist when I was in school—and I’m really good at them because I’ve been actively working on them for years. You need to show you’re willing to do the work and evolve with the times.

  79. Sparkles McFadden*

    I worked for the same corporation for three decades and I cannot tell you who had a degree in what from wherever. It just does not matter. Yes, we’d look at education information when hiring people with a short work history, but no one was ever going to say “You have a graduate degree? OK you’re in charge of this department over here.” It just doesn’t work that way…and it shouldn’t.

    I have always believed education is a good way to become the person you want to be. A good education is a way to learn how to learn. There are, however, many other paths to the same place. I was fortunate enough to work with people from various backgrounds and I learned so much from all of those people.

    Try to look at your workplace through a different lens, LW. You could learn a lot.

  80. Bob*

    “Or, in dysfunctional companies, because they schmooze well or are the owner’s nephew’s friend. “
    Helmet: I am your father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate.
    Lone Star: What does that make you?
    Helmet: Management material!

    (may not be an exact quote)

  81. g-man*

    I’ll come at this from the opposite perspective. I’m a person with a trades school diploma working in a tech company. I’m in a leadership position at said company, despite being “less educated” than a lot of the front-line staff – many of whom are fully certified engineers.

    OP, I understand you are frustrated about your education not being recognized as much as you would like – but in our world, there are plenty of skilled people who are passed up because they don’t have the ‘necessary education’ for leadership positions. I and many others know that first hand. Despite managing an entire department for years, I only got a promotion to management a few months ago. Education was always a factor.

    You have an asset that other people don’t have – that piece of paper from a university that says you have a minimum amount of skill. You will always have a leg up on people who don’t have that. It may not be the huge advantage you expected it to be, but it’s an advantage nonetheless. Please cherish and appreciate that formative experience for what it is – an educational experience, not a ‘ticket’ to a good job. And university shouldn’t be a ‘ticket to a good job’ because many people can’t afford university or are going through life-changing events that make going to university impossible.

  82. Dust Bunny*

    “Less education than I have “, if we’re going to be high and mighty about it.

    I don’t recommend that, though, and I think you need to step back and recognize that the inflated sense of worth you’re complaining about in your coworkers and supervisors might also apply to you.

    I’ve said this before on here: When I graduated from Fancy College, my first job was cleaning kennels in a vet’s office alongside a guy who couldn’t spell his own name consistently. Everyone there who wasn’t a veterinarian had less education than I did, and you better believe I took orders from all of them. One, my more-education wasn’t in that field and, two, I had less experience. (I now work in my field but nobody has ever asked about my educational background nor gives a hoot that I went to Fancy College. It’s simply not relevant. What is relevant is that I am an absolutely wicked fact-finder, and I didn’t learn that in school.)

    I also feel like you’re conflating some annoying personality traits (calling her a tattle and a pain) with less-worthiness of their positions, and that’s neither mature nor professional of you.

  83. Thursdaysgeek*

    This is similar to what I had to learn about grades: good grades can help you at the beginning of your education, but after you are finished, the only person who cares is yourself and your mother. And the sooner you learn that they were not important, the faster you’ll learn what is.

    I worked very hard for good grades, and got them. But I don’t talk about them – it just makes me sound like I’m bragging, and bragging isn’t a good foundation for work relationships (or any others). What I do now is what matters, not what I did way back then.

  84. Gray Lady*

    I once had a(n internal) person apply for a role on my team who my manager did not want me to hire, because they had a reputation for being difficult. They’d had a good first interview, however, and were in my top five. I was weighing whether to use some political capital to go to bat for them with my manager … until the second interview, where they told me they were aware they had more educational accomplishments than me (note: we were both in late 30s/early 40s, so nearly 20 years post-schooling) and therefore really ought to be the one considering whether to hire me.

    I decided NOT to go to bat for them.

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      I had this exact thing happen with an outside candidate applying for a job reporting to me. That candidate called HR and said “I should be in her job. Give me her job and have her fill the other position.” HR actually approached my boss with that! The Boss went berserk. It was sort of wonderful.

    2. WoolAnon*

      Reminds me of a situation my dad saw – he’s an engineer at a place where he ‘only’ has a Masters degree. They brought in a guest lecturer. The room was filled with engineers and scientists, mostly with PhD’s, and this guy starts off his talk with, ‘I have a PhD from [prestigious excellent engineering school]’. Everyone just stared at him for a minute before one person finally said, ‘That’s nice. So do the rest of us. You’ve got anything else?’

  85. NinaBee*

    Sounds like there is a bit of a boundary issue happening too. With your home and work life. You don’t have to be available at 4am to fix things, OP. Taking back some control in small ways like that might make some of the frustrations of a bad manager a little less. Sounds like you’re frustrated at a general lack of control of your own life.

  86. Temperance*

    LW, I get where you’re coming from, but I think that the issue isn’t that your education doesn’t matter. It’s that you’re either not working in a field where those degrees are useful and needed OR that the career hits you took for family or personal reasons had a significant impact on your upward mobility.

  87. Welder*

    Wow. I guess my not having a college degree would upset this OP. I was a welder for 20 years and now I work in the top level of management of a welding company.

    I was really put off by this letter.
    Just. Wow.

  88. JSPA*

    Education is a mix of many things, including,

    Broadly-guesstimated training for the needs of the job market, overall.

    Personal edification.

    Personal entertainment.

    Low-level masochism.

    Certification of some minimal level of attention, follow-through, and mastery.

    Reinforcement of one’s own self-confidence / a hedge against imposter syndrome.

    A place and time to make contacts with others who are similarly motivated.

    What it isn’t, is a tick-box for “I am excellently qualified for the needs of a specific job.” Even less so, “I am a person of great value.” It’s also not a job-training program for the specific workplace you end up in.

    OP, if education has made you into a person of greater skill and insight, the payoff isn’t that the degree directly buys status or jobs! It’s that the learning which went into the degree serves you well as a foundation for your working life. If you have a great deal of training, but less insight–especially if you’re determinedly wrong about how esteem works, how the world works, and how people interact–no level of “having skill boxes ticked off by an educational degree” will make people see you as management material–even compared to people who don’t have any of those boxes ticked, officially.

    As for insight, and lack thereof, that may be something that’s true by nature, nurture, or both. Some of us are intrinsically less aware of certain aspects of human interaction. (Worth checking.) Some of us have gone through hell and high water by clinging to a view of the world that we treat as a citadel, when in fact, it’s a hay-rick. We’re not bad people, as a result, either way! But we are at risk of being difficult coworkers, or even problem employees, as a result. Especially if we continue to publically, loudly and intentionally reinforce any such tendency or belief. It can and it does make us far less employable (and far less promotable) than we otherwise would be.

    You know what you have, that the others lack. You’ve put all your energies into building those bona fides.

    But at some point, if others are continually promoted over you, despite not having those bona fides, constructing increasingly elaborate explanations about how your bosses are repeatedly “doing it wrong,” isn’t the best use of your time, attention, and insight.

    Put your time, attention and insight into some sort of self-analysis program that will let you build a more functional understanding of how the world works, and how you best work, in it. Then, if that’s not enough to make your star rise at your current workplace, take your new-and-improved attitude and your already-skilled self to a new place, by finding a position where your hard-won skills (Skills! Not degrees!) are better appreciated.

    OP, I’ve heard tell of a chemistry Ph.D. fired from a cook job at Wendy’s because she was loudly dismissive and mocking over how not only the boss but the actual training materials were (in some way) wrong about potato browning and the Maillard reaction, vis-a-vis the french fry frier.

    I heard about this from the dropped-out-of-high-school, functional alcoholic with some unspecified processing and concentration disorder (or three)…who nevertheless knew that Wendy’s was not a place for parading one’s degree, for slagging one’s coworkers, for mocking the training materials, nor above all, for arguing with the boss over fryer theory while customers were waiting. He–with all his issues–was the better employee.

    When she was called in for what might otherwise have been a PIP or an unofficial “shape up or ship out,” she didn’t bend; she insisted that they should actually promote her. And [finger snap], she was fired.

  89. RC Rascal*

    I’d like to address the Mary aspect of this, since no one else has.

    OP, there is a reason management promoted Mary into the role. You need to sit back and figure out what they see in her. That will give you information on how to move forward from here.

    For example, at my last job I worked with a Mary. She was young, seen as a go getter, didn’t pay a lot of attention to details, and generally drove people nuts as you described. When I started, no one could understand Mary’s success. She was getting promoted consistently, every year or two. Indeed, she was immature and had been promoted beyond her maturity.

    The organization was very established, lots of long time employees. Employees and managers who said things like “That’s they way they have always been done therefore that’s how they should be done.” There was a lot of “can’t and won’t” in the organization. But Mary–she always said “Yes!”. She was open to new ideas. Mary would try things. She was a doer. And there weren’t many of those in the company. Senior management saw her as a ray of light compared to the Nope crowd they had.

  90. Instructional Designer*

    I’m an Instructional Designer so I am very experienced in the content creation industry. I have worked for managers both with more and less education than me, but for the ones with more, almost all of them have degrees for things entirely different than what I do. So it never mattered whether they had the same amount of education. Our education is different and no degree other than one in Instructional Design is going to give my managers perspective on my job. I’m the expert. They’re the managers. We have different roles and responsibilities. Honestly, it’s two totally different things.

    I also am in somewhat of a similar, yet opposite position than you. My direct manager has more education than I do, but her manager, has no college degree. Neither my manager or I think it’s an issue. But HE thinks it’s an issue. He let’s it intimidate him and he does make snide remarks about education now and then. Mostly jokingly, but somewhat snide all the same.

    The thing is, he’s wrong! And so are you. You don’t need the degree to be qualified. And a degree doesn’t make you “better.” People are capable of self-development and growth without formal schooling. If that weren’t possible, what we come away from college with would be all that we ever have. But it’s just not. College gets you in the door. Experience and growth moves you up.

    I’d also like to say that your perspective is quite elitist. Not everyone is able to go to college, let alone grad school. What’s important is that they can do the job. Try spending more time focusing on that and not judging them for their education level.

    1. Instructional Designer*

      I forgot one thing. You’re not the only one who has made sacrifices. So get that out of your head. In fact, some people sacrifice going to college for various reasons that it doesn’t sound like you’re even attempting to understand. You’re not the only hard worker. You’re not the only person to give things up and make adjustments and work around difficult situations in order to accomplish a goal. You’re not the only person with achievements that are important to you. You’re not the most important person in the room. And Frankly, college degrees are abundant, so it doesn’t make you special either.

      Sorry if that is harsh, but I think it is an important lesson to learn.

      1. Adult Learner*

        Well said! Many people who are higher up on the ladder than OP, and got there from years and years of experience (without a degree), made huge sacrifices when they would have loved to be able to earn a degree early on instead. I had twins at 18. My husband and I worked when we should have been going to college. We lived paycheck to paycheck up until they graduated and moved out. They’re now 25, one college graduate who already outearns me and one in the Navy, both way better off at their age than we were. We sacrificed our college experience for their well-being. Now that they are established, I’m taking community college classes while I continue working. I’ll move on to get a bachelor’s after that. I’m doing it simply to check off a box when I try to move on to bigger and better jobs at companies that need that box checked. I had someone reporting to me that had 2 bachelor’s degrees from decent colleges and was working on a master’s. She couldn’t even address an envelope and absolutely couldn’t draw logical conclusions from very basic information.
        The main point though, is now I can afford to put myself through college, albeit at night, and I won’t have debt. If someone wanted to get all high and mighty that their degree and 5 years of experience was more worthwhile than my 20 years of experience, and their sacrifice was greater (because they didn’t think through the ROI of their degree), I would probably mock them too.

        1. Instructional Designer*

          I think your story is so similar to so many others. My father does not have a college degree and my mother didn’t get her college degree until she was in her late 50s.

          That’s what makes OPs viewpoint so bothersome. I also find this a lot in my industry. I did go to college and attended grad school, but for a different field than I am currently in. I am self-taught as an Instructional Designer. I get dismissed by a lot of Instructional Designers who have formal education and through conversation and observation over many years, I’ve recognized that it comes out of bitterness. People get angry that they spent the money on a college degree just to have someone self-taught come along and compete with them. They’re wrong to do that, because in the real world, those formal models taught in school are abandoned to meet fast deadlines. Employers don’t care whether I follow specific methodology. I don’t because it’s not usually necessary, though I am fully capable. They just care that I deliver.

          The point is, in an ideal world you have a combination of both education and experience. That can come from the same person or multiple people with different backgrounds. And we can all learn from each other regardless of what we bring to the table.

          P.S. That’s amazing that you are taking classes and planning to get your degree. You rock!

        2. allathian*

          My MIL was a nurse and became a teacher at a nursing school later. Late in her career they changed the formal requirements for the post, which meant that nursing teachers needed at least a Bachelor’s degree in the field. She had more than 20 years’ experience so she was grandfathered in and they allowed her to continue teaching without the degree. She did go to college to get the degree. Unfortunately she developed asthma from exposure to mildew at her workplace and had to retire early, but she’s a determined person and completed her degree following her retirement.

  91. Empress Matilda*

    I have questions about the timing of all this. OP, it sounds like you’re not even reporting to Mary yet, is that right? If so, how do you know she intends to put you on a PIP? Did she tell you that specifically?

    I believe you when you say she’s a bad manager, and I absolutely get why you would be feeling unsettled by all this. But at the same time, I can’t quite picture a situation where that’s the first conversation you have. “Hi, I’m your new manager starting next week, and I’m putting you on a PIP.” It’s unlikely that she has enough firsthand knowledge of your work to put you on a PIP on Day 1 – to do that, she would have to rely on your work under the previous manager, which you say is stellar.

    I’m guessing one of two things has happened. Either your previous manager did intend to put you on a PIP for whatever reason, and you didn’t know about it; OR, Mary doesn’t actually intend to put you on a PIP (or at least not right away.)

    Again, I’m not saying you’re wrong – obviously you know more about this situation than I do! But I am saying it might be worth slowing down a bit. Take some time to figure out what are actual facts, versus what is likely rumour or speculation. I don’t think everything will necessarily come up sunshine and roses after you’ve done this exercise, but it should help you identify your next steps to move forward (or out.) Good luck.

    1. sunny-dee*

      And there could be a lot of reasons for a PIP apart from the hard skills. OP may have trouble interacting with her coworkers – if Mary is making “snarky” comments about graduate degrees not being required for the job … it’s probably because the OP has been harping on that and this is part of the pushback. Or maybe they want to change the direction of the department, so it’s not really a PIP, it’s more of a notice that they are going to change strategy or tasks.

  92. Peaceandtennis*

    I graduated law school and passed the bar, so in every single job I’ve had (which is not a traditional legal field), I’ve reported to someone with less education. In most cases, I’ve learned far more from them than I did in my legal career. I find work experience is a lot different than education. I definitely agree with Alison that an education is valuable, but it’s not everything.

    1. Empress Matilda*

      Further anecdata: I have an advanced degree in my field, and I’ve had 12 direct bosses over the course of my career. About half of them had advanced degrees of some sort, but only 3 were in my field. So 3/4 of the people I’ve reported to have either less education or different education than mine.

      Also, I have someone reporting to me now who has the exact same degree as I have, and a similar amount of time in the field. On paper, we’re the same. But he’s not qualified for the work that I do. He’s a subject matter expert, and a terrific one, but his depth of knowledge comes at the expense of breadth. He knows a lot about one thing, but my job requires knowing a little bit about a lot of things. Same degrees, similar career paths, but completely different skill sets – and therefore, different outcomes.

  93. Anon for this here post*

    What if it’s the opposite? I have more education than most of my coworkers, yet they talk to me like I’m not very smart. My coworker will tell me things that I already know. Then, when I answer back, she looks shocked that I actually know what I’m doing. I play along sometimes and let her explain tech things to me, but sometimes the snarky side comes out and I just ramble on about technical things…. Man, the look on her face is priceless. One day she actually said to me, “You’re smart- for real.” I just laughed, but it does sting when they are condescending and treat you more like an intern than an actual colleague/employee.

  94. Bethie*

    I get where the OP is coming from, but Allison is totally right here.

    I worked in law as a Paralegal and hated it. The minute the firm found out I was enrolled and getting my masters to be something other than a Paralegal was the moment (2.5 years in) I started getting written up for everything.

    But, experience accounts for a lot. For awhile I had a pretty masters and no experience. Even now, 5 years into a job that I love both my AD and Director have fewer degrees than I do. Actually, now that I am thinking on it, there may be only 2 of us in the office with Masters degrees. Out of 25.

    Someday you will hit a sweet spot where your edeuction and experience will land you where you are respected and well thought of – but no one outside of yourself, family, and maybe person hiring you, if the job requires a Masters, will care.

    1. Bethie*

      And I want to add I was in school while working full time and pregnant – and finished my thesis while breastfeeding. I totally get how much hard work it is and how proud you are of your accomplishment!

  95. Catabodua*

    I can’t believe he was able to contain himself from mentioning how he went to college in Boston….

    1. pleaset cheap rolls*

      Hahahaha.

      I went to college in Boston and have a graduate degree from a school in Connecticut.

  96. Lora*

    Yikes. I am the first person to say that management without the proper background and certifications should NOT be making decisions overriding SMEs (for example the CFO should never be telling Professional Engineers to go ahead and construct that building that will collapse, hospital administrators should never tell the surgeon how to remove a brain tumor, etc.) but in real life when you are hired as an SME you will be working for people who do not have the expertise you do. That’s why they hired you, if they knew how to do it they wouldn’t need you. You can think about this more as “if they ever want to lay me off, I’m not easily replaced” or “they don’t have anyone else who can do what I do, therefore I am worth $$$ because they can get another Mary tomorrow.”

    Is it frustrating? Sure. I’ve had plenty of arbitrary budget cuts where someone who didn’t have the appropriate background to understand the consequences of their decision, made a decision anyway and it turned out badly. But, that’s just basically how companies are organized in a hierarchy. There exist companies that aren’t organized this way (Zappos used to be, Valve is I think, I can think of a handful of co-op type organizations too), and they have their own issues.

    Companies can definitely go too far the other direction, where people with strong track records but no PhDs are not valued: I’ve worked places where people who had discovered multi-billion dollar revenue drugs were not promoted or rewarded for their work because they only had a MS. They lost those people to other companies who got the benefits of the strong track record, and then struggled to come up with solid market-tested products because new PhDs have the same learning curve for industry work that freshly-minted Bachelors’ degrees do. And then there’s the question of equivalency of degrees, where you have companies that only accept degrees at all if they’re from elite programs (thinking here of Bose who ONLY hires from MIT, there are others), and the diploma-mill degrees that aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on…

    1. Elle by the sea*

      Since I’m in a field (probably adjacent to yours), I sort of agree with you. Although I think that practical experience and self-learning can get you further than being a mediocre and not particularly intellectually curious advanced degree holder, I do believe that working your way through a rigorous academic programme gives you such a level of analytical skills, worldview, attitude, grit and resilience that clearly sets you apart from colleagues with less formal education. And you are right – having a PhD from MIT versus a dubious diploma mill shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same context. However, you can go to a not to highly rated but decent university and get the most of it if you are talented and driven and get nothing out of an elite degree if you just do it to get a piece of paper or because your parents told you so.

      1. Lora*

        Agreed! All my degrees, graduate and undergrad, are actually from “the university who offered me the biggest financial aid package/stipend” and “universities that my workplace was willing to pay for” as opposed to the very fanciest ones I got into. Also on the intellectual curiosity, but I would also add how much of your education you retain after many years – I work with an awful lot of people whose undergrads were ostensibly in chemistry and biology who still struggle hard with simple stuff because they just don’t remember it.

  97. DanielCanueto*

    While I was reading, I was thinking “there is so much resentment that I can’t trust his/her side of the story”.

    I have a PhD, but I know that anyway I gotta forget my sunk costs and move on. My Biotechnology knowledge, my PhD expertise, my German B2 level. It does not matter more than as proof of capability to succeed and nothing else.

    He/she wants to be a manager, but he/she shows can’t be a manager with such attitude.

    I feel from the letter that part of the resentment is about having had to give up on professional progress for family reasons. But he/she needs to accept it. Living is about making decisions and sacrifices.

    1. llamaswithouthats*

      Yeah. I also think sometimes people forget that degrees help you get started on certain career paths, but their relevance decreases as time goes on. That’s because your work experience is supposed to build on the degree. If you don’t learn anything beyond the degree you earned 10 years ago, that is kind of sad. I would never assume I shouldn’t report to someone who didn’t have an MA even when they have 30+ more years of experience than I do. That’s insane.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I think the resentment is skewing a lot.

      I used to work with a guy who had a Ph.D. in some obscure kind of literature. Then he discovered he couldn’t get a job in that field so he got an MLIS and catalogued stuff at our library for years. He only mentioned the Ph.D. if it were directly relevant in a conversation and definitely didn’t hold it over our heads.

      I mean, really, if this LW is so smart, why hasn’t s/he figured out how to get the position s/he thinks s/he deserves?

      1. Dust Bunny*

        If it was directly relevant. Sorry, I changed direction mid-sentence and my typing didn’t catch up.

      2. Alice*

        Hey, hang on, resentment can skew both ways.
        OP specifically said “I have had to take jobs I was underqualified for to help out family and take care of some personal issues in the past.”
        As I’m sure you will agree, being smart isn’t the only factor that goes in getting a position you “deserve” and can thrive in.

      3. pancakes*

        I don’t see much reason to believe being deserving or undeserving plays a reliable role in who gets well-paying or even merely comfortable positions.

  98. llamaswithouthats*

    Ok this LW sounds kind of obnoxious, but I also wonder if this is a generational issue. There is a lot of degree inflation among millennials, as many of them entered grad programs to help them through the recession, in hopes it would make them more competitive. There is also the gender/race issue. White people/men get away with having less accolades than minorities because they tend to have more connections and also “potential”.

    1. AnonComment*

      Actually, this read to me like someone older than a millennial because of the focus on how “young” Mary is.

      1. generational nonsense*

        Millennials can be as old as 40. I don’t think this is “generational” so much as the same cycle of resentment that always occurs when people in their 30s with more experience see people in their 20s being promoted without “paying their dues”. It’s short-sighted to think someone younger or with a different educational background can’t lead.

        1. AnonComment*

          Absolutely they are as old as 40. But I most often hear this kind of talk from much older employees. And anyway, think drawing broad conclusions about arbitrary “generations” is not particularly worthwhile.

  99. Butterfly Counter*

    I received my PhD in 2010 at a time when most universities had hiring freezes because of the collapsing economy. Any tenure-track opening had probably 20 or so qualified candidates applying and I could not get hired in the typical way at that point in time.

    So I started temping. I was at an organization that was filled with something like 75% temporary workers. I probably had more time in college than my entire department combined as most of my coworkers were high school graduates who had MAYBE taken a community college course or two.

    If you had stacked my work against everyone else’s in my department, you would not have seen one lick of difference between the output of our work. In this office environment, education didn’t do a lot to give me a leg up over others. It wasn’t a detriment either; I was solidly a middling employee with a decent work ethic, but no ambition to try and rise through the ranks of temporary workers. I definitely didn’t deserve any more accolades or salary compared to my coworkers because of my education. Sometimes, them’s just the breaks.

    I finally did land a job that fits with my education where degrees are important and rewarded. It sounds as though maybe the OP should start looking for a job that they think is worthy of their education.

    1. pancakes*

      I agree with and relate to much of this, but with regard to finding a job worthy of one’s education the numbers don’t add up for many people. The number of people with advanced degrees (in the US, at least) has gone sharply up and demand has not. The profit incentive for schools and the job prospects for their graduates aren’t as closely aligned as many people seem to take for granted.

  100. Nixologist*

    I have a master’s degree. I work in an industry where that means nothing. Many coworkers have laughed at my over education over the years, and mostly I don’t bring it up. I have only once had a coworker with a more advanced degree than I have, and never a manager.
    It’s super irrelevant and you’re really shooting yourself in the foot by being hung up on your degree and your feelings about your degree. If Mary sucks, she sucks, and that’s independent of anyone’s level of formal education.
    You have to live in the world you’re in, not the world as it ought to be in your opinion.

  101. AnonComment*

    In my field, practically nobody has a doctorate. If they do, they probably got it in another field and underwent some kind of career change. A few years ago, I was at a pretty networking event for my field and someone introduced themselves as Dr. So-And-So. I’ve never seen people extricate themselves from a conversation so fast.

    On the flip side, my dad is in a field where a doctorate is required. I’ve never seen himself introduce himself as “Dr. AnonComment.” Not once.

  102. dsa686adsaoyu*

    I think the author might have been a bit misunderstood.

    Whereas education absolutely isn’t everything, good education frequently correlates with better analytical skills, better prioritizing skills, logical and structured thinking and the ability to learn quickly – and all of that is relevant for most jobs. The very point of advanced degrees is for students to develop these skills and if you didn’t waste your time during uni it does help.

    I’ve worked in environments in which education wasn’t considered relevant. These were frequently environments where it was believed that drive and self-confidence were more important than education. And that’s fine. But personally I did feel similarly to the author: I was used to structure, analyse and make everything happen, whereas the “go-getters” sold my successes as theirs.

    (In the meantime I’ve changed my field from Marketing to IT in a big, prestigious environment and I couldn’t be happier. People are on average much better when it comes to analytical skills and structured thinking than in my previous jobs. But yes, generally speaking, I still see differences between people with advanced degrees from good institutions and worse ones).

    1. dsa686adsaoyu*

      Mind you, I live in country where public universities are free if you’re good enough to get in. Not sure if my experience would be applicable in countries like the US.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        We do have academic standards here, you know. A lot of us could afford college because our academic records earned us at least partial scholarships.

        1. pancakes*

          We do have academic standards, yes, but we also have profiteering. In countries where higher education is free the incentives are different. I suggest having a look at the eye-popping charts and links in a Jan. 2021 Bloomberg article titled, “America Is Pumping Out Too Many Ph.D.s.”

        2. dsa686adsaoyu*

          What I meant was: It can be that very smart people in the US don’t pursue advanced degrees because of its cost.

      2. allathian*

        Yeah, I’m in the same situation you are. Tuition is free up to a Master’s degree here, which levels the playing field somewhat, although naturally students still have to pay for housing, etc. It’s much easier for a larger percentage of the population to get a degree because they don’t have to go so far into debt. Even so, the vast majority of college students have at least one parent who’s also a college graduate.

        Another thing is that only academic achievement counts towards a place, so there’s no need to run yourself ragged in school and schedule all your free time for extracurriculars to get into the college of your parents’ choice. (This is also something that penalizes disadvantaged groups in the US who are unable or can’t afford to attend all those extracurriculars.)

  103. Duckles*

    I wonder if this is really field specific– in my industry, when it came time for a new head of our department to be selected, we insisted that someone with similar educational history lead our team (e.g., we are a team of accountants and insisted that the head of our group have at least some accounting experience and not be a manager pulled from, say, sales, because they just don’t “get” what we do). I partially agree with Alison’s response because an employee might have additional education that’s not required for a particular role (e.g., an assistant might have her MFA but obviously the office manager she reports to would not be expected to have “more” education than that) but if someone with a masters in marketing were working at a marketing firm for someone with comparable experience and no masters, I would find that odd absent significant performance issues.

  104. BadAssLady*

    Personally, I think that there are two issues here that are getting confused. A person can most certainly be supervised by someone with less education, and even be supervised by someone who is a bad supervisor. But what I am reading between the lines is that OP is frustrated with her own career track and choices, and does not feel appreciated or acknowledged at her work. I suspect that the real problem is this frustration, that seems to have been bottled up for a while. OP, you should take your time to examine your career track and find a position you can truly be happy at long term.

  105. Pickled Herring*

    Yeah, the Close button right above the doggo’s head doesn’t work, but double tapping the page in the middle does make it go away. On an iPhone using Safari.

  106. Elliot*

    One thing to note is that the OP has said Mary, who “only” has a bachelor’s, is young. I’d be interested to know how much more prohibitively expensive Mary’s “lowly” bachelor’s degree was than the OP’s. It is not usually feasible to work your way through college without excessive debt anymore. College costs have risen exponentially without a similar increase in working wages.

    Would you say, “I shouldn’t have to report to Mary because Mary was only able to take on 30-50k in debt, as opposed to 75k+?” I sure hope not. College is a lot of things, but an equal and fair indicator of intelligence and ability, it is NOT.

    Mary being a crappy manager is completely unrelated to her lack of higher degree, and it’s privileged and problematic to insinuate that they’re correlated factors.

  107. HelenB*

    I have a masters degree in mechanical engineering. I did learn some valuable things, most of which do not apply to my current job. But it gives me two things
    1) I am current in a non-Engineering role in IT. Some of the young engineers who come in get an attitude about how their engineering degree is so much better than IT (non-programming) degrees. They’re a little shocked when I can whip out an MS.
    2) It gets me out of getting an MBA. The company says a masters is a masters.

  108. 867-5309*

    I am a vice president of marketing and content marketing is one of the areas under my purview. I no longer even require a degree for roles on my team because experience is much more valuable. I have pushed our organization in the same direction for sales and customer success hires, all the up to director-level.

  109. Esmeralda*

    Yeah, I work in an academic-adjacent job at a large state U. I have a fancy-pants PhD. Most of my bosses (and grand bosses) have had masters degrees. And the ones who had doctorates were not necessarily good managers…

    I totally understand your feeling about your education and your desire to have it recognized. I worked really hard for my education, every step of the way. I like to use my “Dr.” title (because it’s an acknowledgement and more importantly because it is makes people who are in academic-academic depts take me more seriously — yeah, that’s ugly, but that’s academia). But as Alison advises, you can’t let that need for acknowledgement shape your interactions with your coworkers and managers.

  110. Keyboard Cowboy*

    My boss at Big Tech Company dropped out of college. I hope I become as much of an expert as they are someday.

  111. Princess Punky*

    I had a colleague who had a PhD in an unrelated field, and she was insufferable. I had been in the work world for twice as long as her, progressing up the ladder in the same field (we were at the same level but different, though somewhat overlapping, job functions). Every time there was a conflict at work she would bring up her PhD, as if it overruled my BA. My degree is from a very prestigious school, because I was a little prat at 18 who cared about brand names, but after a good decade+ in employment I have worked with many exceptionally smart people who never went to college, and many dum-dums with degrees from Haaaaaaaahvahd. Ironically, our boss never got his BA.

    Colleague was a very academic writer; long, meandering sentences that used lots of thesaurus-words and said the same thing over and over again without actually reaching a conclusion. I once asked her to update the website with some copy about a project I was spearheading. She changed the copy before posting. I asked her to change it back to my original wording. She refused and tried to tell me that she had edited it to appeal to the website audience. So I, being a giant bitch, asked her some pointed questions about what she was trying to achieve, then went through each sentence and broke down exactly what was wrong with it and why it failed to achieve those goals. Her response? “I am a published author!!!” Yeah, your journal article that no one read about llama social groups really qualifies you to write website copy about our rice sculpture competition. While you were observing llamas in the field I was writing promotional materials for Fortune500 companies (and getting paid well to do it, natch).

    1. Elle by the sea*

      People who constantly bring up their UNRELATED PhDs. Ah, heaven save me from those.

  112. SentientAmoeba*

    I have an AAS, a BS and an MBA. Having these helped me get my foot in the door at my current job, but once I walked in the door on Day 1, they became technically pointless. I was answering to people with 20+ years of experience in the industry. At that point, my years of work experience was a bigger factor than my education. Another person hired at the same time had just completed his Bachelors and he had almost no professional workplace experience and he struggled pretty hard early on.

    My education has given me understanding about how my job affects my team, the broader organization as a whole and why certain things are done certain ways. But the actual job itself relies on knowledge and experience you can only gain by actually doing the job. The only skills that directly translated was stuff I did during my AAS.

    I know we all love Feel Good stories about Susie who rode a bike 8 miles each way daily, worked 3 jobs while in school and lived on a pack of ramen a day to afford tuition and living expenses until she graduated Summa Cum Laude. But once Susie has a job, she is going to be held to the same standards of performance as the other New Hire, Billy. Billy’s parents paid for all seven years of his four year degree, which took that long because he partied too much, skipped class regularly and graduated by the skin of his teeth.

  113. PingPongPenguin*

    Alison certainly identified the deeper source of OP’s frustration, if not of their elitism.

    OP is unclear on what makes a manager effective (“good). Which means that OP is in no way ready to assume managerial duties, no matter how many degrees they hold.

  114. D3*

    I get the impression OP thinks of education as a vending machine. Put more in, you’re entitled to more than those who put less in. More pay, higher in the org chart, etc.
    That’s not how the world works, and I absolutely would not have promoted OP based on the attitudes in this letter alone. And I’d be considering an improvement plan as well, frankly. I *want* people to report errors! That’s not tattling. If she’s catching details others miss, that does not make her a pain, that makes her someone who cares about the work her team does.
    Her “go getter” approach is clearly valued more than than the OP’s grumbling and elitism. He says she’s earmarked him for an improvement plan already, but ten bucks says if he had gotten that promotion, he would have targeted her because he doesn’t like it when she gets stuff done and shows him up. And we CANNOT have someone with less education (GASP!) doing better than someone who has however many degrees and certifications OP bragged about.

    OP, you have a lot of self introspection to do. Mary is right. Grad school isn’t everything. And the sooner you accept that, the better off you’ll be. Treat your coworkers – even those who have less formal education than you – with respect for their skills and knowledge. Stop thinking your education entitles you to a damn thing, and catch your own typos.

  115. Richard Hershberger*

    A point I haven’t seen addressed (entirely possibly through my own oversight) is the difference between education and degrees. There are lots of ways to learn stuff. A degree-granting course of study is just one, and not necessarily the best. My hobby interest of early baseball history is one where there really isn’t a formal course of study out there. We are all self-taught. But surely, you ask, formal training as a historian would give a leg up? Not really. Some of the worst books on early baseball come from academic historians who are baseball fans and have Ph.D.s and think this absolves them of the necessity of the grind work to learn the subject.

  116. MaureenSmith*

    It sounds like there’s 2 different issues here: education and management. Education, the perception of it, value, etc have been discussed by Alison and some excellent commentators already.

    Management though, it sounds like the OP already has knowledge of the management style of “Mary”. Some of the points about Mary point to poor management, which happens in all workplaces regardless of experience or education. How to work with/for Mary? Should you increase your documentation to CYA? How will compliance with the proposed PIP be measured? Is the PIP achievable?

    Another question to ask is how to you define your role vs Mary’s definition vs the company’s definition. I’ve had jobs in the past where the original vision of the role did not match reality, and this caused a lot of hiring issues until the role was redefined.

    One thing that’s not mentioned in the letter is if the OP is part of a team or if they do specialized solo work. Are there co-workers that can provide more insight into Mary’s management, or for self-reflection?

  117. JillianNicola*

    As someone who despite her BA ended up in retail for 20 years, and *constantly* heard contemptuous remarks from cashiers about how they were “going to college to get a real job so they don’t have to return to retail” just to have them slink back because the job market was poor … you were far kinder to this letter writer than I would have been.

    I will also say – I think one factor may be OP doesn’t want to have to consider getting all those degrees and certifications a waste of time, which I can empathize with. Obviously there are careers where you need the big fancy degree – but in a majority of fields, college degrees kind of feel like a scam they push on you because that’s what you’re “supposed” to do, and trade/work experience tends to open a lot more doors. Ironically, my degree had nothing to do with me getting my current office job – it was my 20 years of “lowly” retail work that got me here.

  118. GreenDoor*

    This question also discounts the prevailing wisdom of one’s time. Right now, there are a lot of people of the Baby Boomer generation in management or higher level positions who probably don’t have ANY degree. But when they were coming of age, college just wasn’t stressed as the be-all-end-all that it is today. Does that discount the accomplishments of an entire generation? No. My mother-in-law was head analyst of a team of 20 at a Fortune 500 company. The younger members of her team were utterly shocked when they learned that she had no college degree. But she was good at what she did and worked her way up. A degree means you completed a program of study. It does not automatically mean you are competent and experienced.

    1. Lizzo*

      Brava to your MIL! Tangent: I’d love to know if her company’s internal structure was designed with “working your way up” in mine. Too many organizations nowadays don’t provide opportunities to move up and/or they don’t encourage it by way of management activities. Frequently, the only way to move up is to leave for a better opportunity and/or additional schooling, then get rehired later in a more senior role.

  119. MCMonkeybean*

    I’m mostly curious to know more about this sentence in particular:
    “Previously, I always reported to someone with less education than me, which almost always ended with the company taking advantage of my skills and not paying me for it.”

    The general exchange is that a company hires you, you give them your skills and your time and they give you wages. I’m assuming that you *are* in fact receiving wages or else this would be a very different discussion. So I’m not sure what you mean when you say they are taking advantage of your skills and not paying you for it? But it seems like there may be some unrealistic expectations on your end and I’m wondering whether that is what is driving a lot of this tension.

    I know there definitely are people in the world who would sneer at education, but if you are regularly having this many people tell you “education isn’t everything” then it seems highly possible that may be a response to either something you are saying or vibes you are putting off that make them feel like they need to defend their own background. And then you are ending up in this weird back-and-forth defensiveness.

    But at the end of the day they are 100% correct. I am very pro-education but for many/most people, grad school serves as a path to a particular career–so once you are in that career then it doesn’t really matter much anymore going forward. It’s an important part of your life for you because it’s how you got to where you are, but for the other people at work it just doesn’t make any difference to them what path you took–you’re all in the same place now and it’s your current performance and relevant work history that matters.

    1. EchoGirl*

      OP mentions that she was being called in in the middle of the night to fix problems, so I’m guessing she means no additional compensation for things like that — which IS a valid complaint. The problem is in assuming it’s directly related to education level rather than it just being a toxic company taking advantage of employees any way they can.

  120. JJ*

    Also, OP, 5 years of experience is still *pretty* dang new to the workforce…I was definitely still in learning mode at my 5-year mark. As a person who works in your industry, I can tell you that you will find degrees/certifications matter less and less the farther along in your career you get. As others have said, I literally have no idea what sort of education most anyone I work with has. Heck, even awards don’t really matter once you have a long, competent track record with a pile of happy clients/bosses in your rearview.

    People just want to work with people who are pleasant, competent and make their lives easier, especially in collaborative fields like content creation. Your education helped to teach you how to become that sort of coworker, which is great and valuable! But now’s the time to focus on what your jobs/coworkers can teach you about really putting that educational foundation to practical use.

    1. Mermaid*

      This is what I was going to say. You have five years of experience. That’s not a lot and that’s certainly not enough to validate this elitist perspective. I do agree that a Master’s degree can probably make a difference later on in your career when you do have more experience and are stepping into a management role where you have more responsibility for management of budgets, growth, and teams. In that regard, the degree may be more applicable to your job duties as well as a differentiator. However, right now, no one cares. Your goal is to focus on developing your technical abilities so you perform your job really well and get yourself to the opportunities where your education will make a difference. But that’s not now.

      Also, it’s worth noting, most people in the workforce do not have master’s degrees, especially in anything related to communications and marketing, and that’s especially true for digital. Your education matters less than your ability to educate the people around you about something that is often misunderstood and that needs a lot of contextualization to break down KPIs. But yeah, reporting to someone with a Bachelor’s degree is pretty normal.

      Note, I have a master’s. But it was something I pursued personally and not because it would make a difference in my career. It was just a goal I had for myself. It’s not required in my line of work, and it’s never mattered. The only time it might is if I apply for a VP or SVP role in a few years, because at that level it’s the expectation. But bluntly, if you work in digital marketing with five years of experience, the only thing that matters is how good you are at your job, and maybe how you manage up.

  121. Cordoba*

    When I board an airplane, I don’t really care whether the pilot had to work like hell to put themselves through flight school; or what sacrifices they made along the way.

    I *do* care very much that they sufficient skill to safely land the airplane at my destination; or deal properly deal with any emergencies that come up during the flight.

    A pilot who worked really hard to get their credentials is not much use to me if they can’t actually fly an airplane.

  122. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    I started out in my field – translation – at a time when just anyone who was bilingual could have a go at it. Some did it well, some didn’t, and they had to find some other way to earn a living wage.
    At the agency that hired me, we got to a point where I was becoming a victim of my success, with far too much work heaped on me, so we started looking for someone to help. All those who applied had a master in translation – which barely existed when I first started working. So I, who had no education beyond secondary school, ended up with an assistant with a master degree. I had to proofread their work, and they made plenty of mistakes, so the first few months I had to set aside time to train them despite their stellar certificates.

    OP, I subsequently got myself a master, but not by studying, simply on the strength of my professional experience. I had learned more on the job than the students ever learned at the university I attended. So you see, education is not everything. Nowadays people need a degree before they’re even allowed to enter their name in a computer at most firms, most people seem to be vastly overqualified for the entry level jobs they first get.

    I remember too, working at a language school. There was a teacher who wanted to be paid more than the others, because he had a doctorate. But actually, he was a pretty bad teacher, the students didn’t particularly like him, they said he didn’t explain stuff very well. He had more certificates than other teachers, but the other teachers engaged well with their students, focussed on interesting subjects in class and had students who felt they were making plenty of progress.

    Education is important but it is far from everything.

    1. anon translator*

      I’ve been working as a translator for more than 15 years and I’m a career switcher. I have a Master’s in business administration and economics, and only a professional certificate, paid for by my employer, in my current field of work. I am bilingual from birth, and like many people, I got into translation because multiple employers told me “you’re good at languages, how about doing this small translation project…” At some point I realized that the thing I enjoyed most about all my jobs was translation. So I realized that I wanted to be a translator, landed my first part-time gig thanks to my networks, and that gave me the experience I needed to qualify me for my current job. My employer required at least an applicable Bachelor’s degree for my position, without specifying the field.

      The interesting thing is that while I have the formal competence as well as the skills I need for my current job, when we need to outsource some of our work, we specify a degree in translation as a requirement. So if I left my current job and started freelancing, I wouldn’t be able to get any work from my current employer, not even through a translation agency.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I can honestly say I learned nothing from getting my translation degree, so it’s perhaps a good idea to explain to your boss that the requirement is ridiculous?
        Because, as a former project manager at a translation agency, I saw that the best translators in various subjects especially law and medicine, were legal and medical professionals who happened to be bilingual, rather than people who studied languages at uni and then kind of specialised in legal and medical translation.
        There are always exceptions to such “rules”, generally speaking when the translator really goes the distance to learn about the translation subject matter. I have done that for several different fields such as cosmetics (I knew nothing of it, but had the right sort of flair or writing in the style required).

  123. Archaeopteryx*

    Yes, the repeated phrasing of “education isn’t everything”really sounds like it’s something someone would say as a direct response to a coworker continually referencing their own degree or awkwardly mentioning how highly educated they are.

    Higher education is tremendously valuable both from a self actualization, enlightenment, curiosity, growth etc. standpoint (though that’s more of a side bonus given how expensive college has become in the last 30 years, and not a reason and it’s self to take on half a lifetime of debt) and of course for (hopefully) giving you a foothold in the career you want. But in terms of how much of a boost it is in most jobs, it’s more of a “medium-height stepladder” than an “enormous cherry picking machine which will plop you right at the top of the org chart”.

    Being friendly, competent, responsible, humble, easy to work with, and open-minded are the things that will really put you on an upward trajectory.

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        I do want to compliment the OP, though, on the phrase “error junkie”, because that can describe so many people and it’s very catchy.

  124. atru*

    I’ve been trying to figure out what on earth could hit the fan at 4am that could only be fixed by someone with a fine arts or marketing degree. Since neither of those degrees would give LW super specialized/restricted skills that can only be performed by a person with that degree (unlike say, an engineer, medical doctor, attorney, etc.), I’m sure it wasn’t knowledge gained in school that allowed LW to fix whatever the issue was.

    1. Hare under the moon with a silver spoon*

      It’s an MFA in digital media – ie creative coding, video/audio editing etc – not a masters in painting

      1. atru*

        Yes. Exactly. Skills you don’t need to go to school to acquire. So, not something that only someone with a degree could fix. It’s not a question of whether LW fixed something, but the implication was that he/she was only able to fix it because only someone with their education could have.

  125. Elle by the sea*

    Degrees don’t matter that much anymore. In my field (a niche area of software engineering), people with a masters or a PhD have a huge advantage, but many years of work experience can make up for it. The wording in job ads is generally PhD or 5 years of work experience. There isn’t much difference between what you are trained for in the PhD programme and the kind of skills you need on the job, apart from the general academia vs industry dichotomy, i.e. perfection vs good enough results with great velocity and efficiency. So, although people with advanced degrees develop a mindset which helps them tremendously and sets them apart from people who “only” learnt things on the job, even in this rather academically oriented field there isn’t that much focus on degrees.

    I would not look at people as those with a higher or lower level of education than me. People will feel that you look down on them and in general it’s not a good attitude to have. You should look at how good they are in their job rather than what kind of education they have.

    But it works both ways, really. It’s not uncommon for managers to feel insecure and defensive when they work with an employee who has a higher level of education than them. Oftentimes this sort of insecurity manifests as outright hostile behaviour, which will further solidify misconceptions about being managed by someone with less formal education.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yes. And if your underling has a chip on his shoulder over being managed by someone with less formal education, it’ll be even harder for the manager, making hostility even more likely.

  126. scmill*

    You’re looking at this all wrong. My degree was in English. Once out of college, I spent 40+ years working my way up the IT ladder before retiring a couple of years ago. My degree got me the ability to write coherent and persuasive documents, memos and txts. Everything else, I learned on the job.

  127. Education isn't everything*

    My previous boss liked to mention his education (master, mba) but that didn’t change the fact that he was useless. There are many examples, but a highlight was, when he tried to recruit a guy from a competitor – and started him on product training and gave him access to the company’s crm system before the guy had quit his job. Three weeks later we found out by accident that the guy was not going to join our company (that’s when it came out that my boss never had finalised the contract with the guy)…

  128. No Formal Education*

    I have no formal degree or education. I hold a position in tech that often requires a masters. I got this position by showing consistent work, knowledge, and expertise and a healthy dose of right place right time to match my talents. my opinion is valued more than people who come straight out of college with degrees. I used to be ashamed of this and hide that fact. now I’m really proud of myself for getting to where I am. It was an unconventional path and it took a LOT of work and more time to get where I am but I did it. i earned it. And if anyone thought they were better than me just because they had a degree I would be really upset. I technically hire people for positions that used to need degrees. Now it’s just listed as “preferred” and I often hire people with no degree, or completely unrelated degrees. I care more about how someone thinks and communicates those thoughts than the education that they have. I’m glad that other people have that education. It isn’t the right path for everyone and that doesn’t make us not valuable, smart, or even educated in our own way.

  129. Lils*

    One thing to think about, OP: someday presumably you will have the opportunity to be a manager. Eventually you will need to hire and supervise a person with a specialized expertise–and that person may have more degrees or cumulative education and experience than you. That’s ok! You’re still the manager, and your role is to manage. Each role should be respected for what it is and the person how well the occupant performs the role. Mary sounds like she isn’t very good at performing her role, at least not right now. I think you can and should advocate for yourself, use Alison’s techniques for trying to “manage up” but…try not to connect Mary’s bad behavior to her education.

  130. Arvolin*

    Almost everyone here is thinking of education in terms of degrees as credentials. Education started out as a way to learn stuff. I washed out of a Ph.D. program with depression, but I learned a whole lot, and over time I appreciated that more and more. My deeper knowledge helped me quite a bit in my later career.

    OP needs to forget about having the actual degrees and find ways to use what OP has learned in the workplace. Unless the education is worthless, OP has got to have learned things that can be applied on the job, likely with greater understanding of what’s going on than many colleagues.

    1. pancakes*

      It’s very hard to forget about one’s degrees when student loan servicers expect to be paid monthly.

  131. drpuma*

    Alison points out that “people at work aren’t going to care about the sacrifices you made to put yourself through school” and it keeps sticking in my mind. I’m also someone who gave a lot to my family when I was younger, to no notice or acclaim. It feels terrible! I wonder