Thursday, August 08, 2013

Good-bye, Grad School

I've been putting off writing this post for weeks now.  Okay, months.  The header to this blog still says it's a blog "about going back to school," which has been untrue for more than six months now since I finished my degree in January. Reminds me of that old Saturday Night Live skit about the Reagans not wanting to move out of the White House when his term was up.  Grad school has been my life for the past three years.  Now what?  At a minimum, I have to figure out what the hell else this blog going to be about.

(If you've been around awhile, the rest of this is old news, so you can skip down to the end now.) It's no secret to anyone that knows me that I've had a hard time finding something to do since we moved to Montana, twenty-one years ago now.  I worked as a database programmer/analyst before we moved, and at the time when we arrived, there just weren't any businesses here doing that kind of thing. I've held a variety of part-time jobs in the intervening years, and had a great time raising our kids here and exploring the area, but I've never really found something to do, and I've never been one to find fulfillment in homemaking (although I admire people who do).

Going back to school was really the result of a dare. It wasn't exactly worded that way, but Dean threw down the gauntlet one time (I'm not sure he really even meant to) when I was complaining about how much I missed having intellectual challenges and stimulation, so I took my courage in both hands and tottered off to the community college to see what I could find.  Since I already had a four-year degree and two years of grad school under my belt, you would think I would see junior college as a piece of cake, but I was terrified.  I'd been out of school so long, and I was so much older than everyone else.

That first semester I signed up for Chinese and Java programming.  Chinese, just because it was brand new at our school and it sounded fun and exotic, and programming because even though I'd done all sorts of different application-level programming, I'd never actually taken a class that was strictly about writing code.

Both of the classes were great, but it quickly became apparent that neither was going to yield a long-term path to a job.  The Chinese professor was just here visiting for one year, and the programming professor gently told me one day after class that even though I was making an A in the class, there was almost no chance I'd get hired for a programming job when there are plenty of 25-year-old unmarried childless computer whizzes in our area competing for the same jobs.  They're willing to stay up all night to meet a deadline, amped up on Red Bull and M&Ms, but I'm not.  I've always been grateful for his honesty, even though it was discouraging to hear.

So it occurred to me that I could finally finish the master's in English literature that I'd abandoned 20 years before.  I spent several weeks investigating the possibilities of working online with a professor from the school I originally attended, or doing it completely online at a different school, or commuting down to our state university.  I finally decided on commuting to UTown, even though it meant I would have to start over, because neither of the other two options provided one of the main things I needed--to get out of the house.

Then it took a semester of prep work to get through the prerequisites for even turning in an application, and a semester to wait and see if I got in, and then I finally started in the Fall of 2010.  There are plenty of posts about that, and you can click on the GradSchool label if you want to read them.  Two and a half years later, plus a few extra weeks of revising my thesis, and I was done.

It took about three months before I could even think straight, or as straight as I ever do.  My brain was so wiped out from attempting all that higher-level thought that I couldn't really manage regular life.  I'm just now starting to get back to a semblance of having a non-student life.  Part of it has just been rearranging my schedule.  My best higher-level thinking hours are from about 8 p.m. until 1 a.m., so I got in the habit of frittering the day away so I could save my mental energy for those night time study sessions.  Just in the last month or so I've finally started to figure out how to re-orient my day so I can get things done.  Not to mention having to move my mental energy back here, geographically speaking, instead of having it centered down there, in UTown.

So now what?  I'm teaching those non-credit classes I told you about (if enough people sign up for them-- minimum enrollment for the class to proceed is six).  I talked to a friend yesterday about how to start getting some editing jobs/experience.  I talked to another self-employed friend about helping out with some admin tasks.  Those are bits and pieces that will keep me going for awhile, but I'm not sure where it will end up.  I guess I don't have to know.

There will be another one of these, about things I learned in grad school that I'm still thinking about.  But this is just mainly to say that I'm having a harder time than I expected letting go of being a student.  Not even that I still want to be a student, but it gave me an identity, a place where I belonged--if only because I was paying tuition.  I miss that.  I guess I'll be floundering for awhile, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.


  1. This IS still a blog about going back to school. You have done it, so the header continues to be valid. It's very much a part of your journey and your life and your truth.

    And this:
    I guess I don't have to know.

    Nope, we sure don't need to know. It's not about the destination. It never was.

    Lastly, you and I and so many of the people we know will ALWAYS be students. We're learning every day. There's nothing to stop you from taking more classes,either. A degree is awesome, but again, it doesn't have to be the goal, it can just be part of the adventure.

    The true goal is living a genuine and loving life. In which, you are happy!

    1. yes, you are absolutely right about always being a student. I learn new stuff all the time. I've already taken a couple of online classes this summer (nothing fancy) and I'm about to start another one. :-)

  2. Being a student is a definitive identity. And now you don't have that tidy label to slap on who you are. You, and I, both know that there is much much more to you than just a label but it is comfortable to have that label. I'm living my life with ambiguous labels right now and sometimes it's unsettling, sometimes it's freeing, sometimes it leaves me with wanting to do Something Important but not knowing what that is or whether I really do want it or just want the label and the recognition.

    1. you know, that is a good point. Is it the lack of a label that bothers me, or is it truly that I have things I want to do? I will have to think about that some. I do know I start getting moody and depressed if I don't have something to keep my brain busy, but it may not necessarily have to be something that has a label to go with it.

  3. Well, you're about to be a Teacher which should keep your brain happily occupied, right?

  4. Since it has come up, I'd like to clarify (three months later). By "frittering" the day away, I didn't mean I was sitting on the couch watching soap operas. I just meant I wasn't doing anything related to school-- there was plenty of laundry, running errands, cooking dinner, volunteering at church, working out, etc etc etc.