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Mary Ellen Slayter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 27, 2008; 2:00 PM

The Washington area is a magnet for smart and ambitious workers. Post columnist Mary Ellen Slayter writes a regular column for these professionals who are either establishing their careers or are looking to advance. She also offers advice online.

Mary Ellen Slayter is author of Career Track, a biweekly column in The Washington Post's Jobs section. She focuses her chat on issues affecting working professionals.

Read Mary Ellen's latest Career Track column.

Find more career-related news and advice in our Jobs section.

The transcript follows.

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Mary Ellen Slayter: Good afternoon! Sorry I am a few minutes late. Traffic ...

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Hyattsville, Md.: Hi. What's the proper way to tell your boss you're leaving your job because you're getting married and moving out of state? Is this common or should I just say I have another opportunity?

Mary Ellen Slayter: Why not just tell the truth? Do you have reason to expect your boss's response will be anything other than "Congratulations!"

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Washington, D.C.: I want to know how much time after meeting someone should we follow up without being annoying or sounding too desperate.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Within three days. In most cases, e-mail is best.

I think people tend to be too worried about coming across as desperate or annoying, when they should really be worried that people will forget who they are. And that becomes more likely to happen the longer you wait to touch base.

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Alexandria, Va.: Is it worth it to go on for a Ph.D. without a scholarship/funding? I've been accepted into a program after finishing my master's with a 3.9 GPA. Unfortunately I'm terrible at standardized tests and so I cannot achieve the score necessary to be awarded a fellowship or as a funded student. That leaves me with doing it part time, which I would do except that I do not think I will gain the same academic experience as my peers. I have always wanted to be a professor, but if I don't gain TA experience I doubt it will happen. I know there are a lot of variables here, but would you suggest going through all of that work only to not be able to gain employment in academia after finishing my dissertation? For what it's worth I'm currently working in a field I enjoy, so the world won't end if I don't go on for the degree, but it's been my dream for so long that I hate for it to die. Thanks...

Mary Ellen Slayter: What do your professors think?

I think you're smart to be cautious here. The system that decides who gets a job is tightly linked to the same one that gave people funding. Except the pool of winners gets even smaller.

How much would the PhD cost you? Don't forget the opportunity cost from being out of the workforce.

Is there any payoff, in terms of salary? Or will this just be for your own development and satisfaction? If so, is it worth that much to you?

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Maryland: Unless you are close on a personal level why tell your boss you are leaving b/c you are getting married and moving out of state? Shouldn't it just be "I'm going to be turning in my notice -- I intend my last day to be "x"."

Mary Ellen Slayter: I guess so, but why be secretive about it? Most bosses would be understanding, and it would make it easier to line up references for a job hunt in the new state.

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Downtown D.C.: Mary Ellen, some coworkers and I have a bet going: After an inteview, thank you note, or thank you email?

Mary Ellen Slayter: Depends on the culture of the office, but these days, I would say it's usually e-mail.

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re: marriage: Maryland, why not tell her boss she's getting married? A professional wouldn't just leave without offering any information about future plans. Suppose she likes her job and wants to keep in touch with the people who hired her?

Mary Ellen Slayter: I agree. Sharing "personal" information with your boss isn't entirely about friendship.

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Atlanta: re: unfunded PHD candidate.

Depends on the degree but...

talk with the people in the dept that made the decision. There is no guarantee of anything - in my case, when I went in person (master's actually) even though I had been denied funding, they had one other scholarship, and once they met me, I got it. Otherwise, you can make it known you will go part time (they didn't want me to do that) and see what they say, and indicate you need funding - and perhaps you could get it your second year (happened to my classmate).

You never know -- but talk to the people who make the decisions -- AND -- they would also know about how easy/difficult it would be to get a job after the PhD, too. Cause another classmate couldn't get a job cause he had no teaching experience, and so they gave him a TA'ship so he could get some.

Mary Ellen Slayter: This is excellent advice. Thank you.

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Silver Spring: Mary Ellen, I'm surprised. I disagree with you on the thank you e-mail. Thank you notes are much more personal and I appreciate the extra step after I've met with a job candidate.

Mary Ellen Slayter: I think you represent a significant minority, actually.

The trouble with snail mail is how long it takes, especially in offices with security measures. I've had it take two weeks to get something in the mail here. God help you if that was your thank-you note after a job interview.

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Dupont Circle: HI Mary Ellen. A significant portion of my pay is supposed to come in the form on a bonus, which is distributed quarterly. However, due to the economy, the last couple of quarterly bonuses havent been distributed. I'm thinking of switching jobs and am wondering if I can recover these bonuses when I leave? Your take on this would be appreciated as I'm young and have little experience with issues such as this one!

Mary Ellen Slayter:"Recover"? They were bonuses. They might have been a significant part of your pay, but they weren't a part you were guaranteed to received. That's what made them "bonuses." I imagine they were tied to the performance of the company. It took a hit, so did you.

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Washington, D.C.: I am in my late twenties (nearing 30) and trying to transition into a new career. Do you think my age sends out a red flag since I am not right out of college?

Mary Ellen Slayter: Not at all. That's prime career-changing age, actually. You've been working long enough to have a sense that you'd like to do something different. Good luck!

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McLean, Va.: Hello Mary Ellen,

I came here from India this year but can say I'm not very good at communication in English. I have a master's in computers and want to obtain a job in my field. But my problem is that it's difficult for me to understand sometimes due to pronunciations. Please advise me what I can do to find the job for me.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Keep working on your English. And network like crazy, especially with other Indians.

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Alexandria, Va.: I will be receiving my master's in organizational management in a couple of weeks and I want to know how much is a master's really worth, can you really demand more money for this degree?

Mary Ellen Slayter:"Demand" is the wrong word. What did you learn from your coursework? Does it make you more valuable to your employer? Other employers in your field? Master's degrees don't automatically translate to a bigger paycheck. The context matters.

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Washington, D.C.: It's ironic -- here we're talking about career track, and on another chat, a guy is talking about what it's like to lose his job...

Mary Ellen Slayter: That's something we should all be prepared for as well. There are no guarantees in this economy.

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Arlington, Va.: To chatter considering PhD: If you are in the liberal arts and sciences, do not go to grad school without a fellowship! I've got a PhD and everyone but one student in my dept. was fully funded. If you don't have a fellowship, you will not be treated the same as other students in class and in opportunities. Top programs expect to fund all their students. If you really want to go, keep retesting and applying until you get a fellowship at a good program. If you are independently wealthy and strongly suspect that you are a genius, disregard and do whatever you want. Good luck!

Mary Ellen Slayter: Agreed

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Atlanta: re: phD without funding -- the education is what is important - and certainly, being funded helps, says something to employers once you are out -- but also, once you are ON CAMPUS you can get contacts, etc, and perhaps get a fellowship in some other dept (i.e., business if your degree is related, or stat dept if you are in math dept) but that can't happen if you're not on campus and meeting people. You can do the networking beforehand, too, but I wouldn't even consider a program that would treat students differently based on how they are there. That's pretty unprofessional.

Mary Ellen Slayter: That's a pretty big risk to take, though, don't you think?

And the reality is that whether you have funding speaks *volumes* about what your school thinks of you. And I don't think that sort of hierarchy is peculiar to one or two schools.

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Washington, D.C.: Re: PhD candidate. Regarding standardized tests, I'm in the same boat as the poster. Has he/she thought of taking the GRE untimed? Regarding funding, if the poster doesn't get the fellowship or the TA stipend, there's still the Stafford Loans. I also agree that having a Master's degree is no guarantee for higher pay: When I earned my MBA (I did it by attending night school and still working) nine years ago, I certainly didn't expect more money in my paycheck.

Mary Ellen Slayter: Interesting. An MBA always struck me as being the most practical, purely business degree. Why would anyone pursue one, if not for the financial payoff?

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Mary Ellen Slayter: Thanks for all your comments and questions. Enjoy the rest of your afternoon!

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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