Random Observations As Re: Going Back To School In One’s 30s

So now that I’m expert at being in graduate school (read: I am exactly one week into my second term, taking two classes after having taken one class in the previous term—only 15 more weeks and then 11 more courses til I get my degree!), I’m beginning to realize some things about the unique challenges, rewards and like-such-as of this undertaking.

For example, I’m totally supposed to be reading some shit right now.

What? I read a chapter. I’m taking a break. I worked 11.5 hours today.

Observation #2 (because the thing about writing a blog post when I’m supposed to be reading an assignment was #1): Where am I supposed to do this homework, anyway?
In undergrad, we all sat on our beds. Because… where else? Now I can’t sit on my bed because my back will go out or I will lie down and go to sleep. It’s either the couch or the kitchen table, and neither of those seem to be particularly diligence-inducing locations. The kitchen table worked when I was eight. Not since.

Observation #3: I have forgotten how to outline. 
See the whole #1/#2 fiasco above as evidence. Be glad I can’t draw arrows on my blog post. That’s apparently what I do now when I want to elaborate on a point I’ve written down seven lines ago.

Observation #4: The best part about this whole graduate-school-in-my-30s thing? Drinking wine while reading the textbook.
Obviously.

Although I have been warned not to drink too much, or I’ll end up highlighting entire chapters. Since tonight’s reading was uploaded to an online educational server, I had to keep the marker tightly capped to avoid drawing on my computer screen.

Observation #5: It is much easier to get distracted now.
This seems like it shouldn’t be the case. I mean, there was a lot more streaking going on in undergrad, for one thing, and I lived across the street from the park for my upperclassman years. But now, instead of “I forgot to call mom,” “Why do I have to do this stupid paper?” “Instant mashed potatoes or mac & cheese for dinner?” “The fire alarm? Again?!” and “I’m so broke I can’t pay for the copies I have to make,” the distractions have multiplied to include: “What is that noise in the wall?” “Has that clock always ticked so loudly?” “Did I pay the mortgage?” “My hand hurts. Wait, do people still take notes?” “Reading while taking notes takes so much longer than I remember,” “I need gas,” “What time is my morning meeting?” “Did the boss say it’s not due tomorrow, or it is due tomorrow?” “I forgot to take out the trash,” “I forgot to call mom,” “I’m so broke I can’t even afford the copies I have to make,” “I can’t sit like this anymore; my back is going to kill me tomorrow,” and “I’m out of wine.”

Observation #6: No all-nighters. Ever. I have a job.
To be honest, I never pulled all-nighters in undergrad, either, but at least then I had the luxury of falling drooling-on-the-couch asleep in the middle of the day if I needed to.

Observation #7: Published academics need to get over themselves.
Here’s the thing about writing and editing for a living: it’s really, really hard to read academic works without wanting to ruthlessly slash their lengthy, innumerable paragraphs. I just read an entire paragraph of word salad that essentially boiled down to: No one understands exactly what this profession is. We’re going to talk about that for the next 600 pages. By the end, we will have affected exactly no change at all. We will have merely explained at length our thesis statement above. And this criticism is coming from someone who can write a damned lengthy blog post. But at least those make you shoot coffee out of your nose sometimes, amirite?

Observation #8: Can I even still write a 25-page research paper?
Alright, that’s more of a question. But you take my point. Sure, they’re double-spaced and include citations for reference, but still… writing papers now is very different from writing them as an undergrad. Aside from the fact that I was well-versed in it then, I also had little problem bullshitting my way through them and making them sound pretty great. Now? Bullshit capacity exceeded. Everything has to matter. 

Stupid paycheck-enforced accountability standards.

Out of curiosity, I pulled a 952-word blog post up, copied and pasted it into a Word doc and made it double-spaced. 

Not quite two pages.

Yep. I’m screwed.

Observation #9: I find research materials where?
Apparently I don’t have to go to the library anymore. The limitless expanse of the internet as a source of academic information is somehow terrifying. Oh look! Justin Bieber!

Observation #10: To Do has me done in.
I have a habit at work of spending the last minutes at my desk in the evening making a to-do list for the following day on a Post-It note and sticking it on the next day’s block of my desk calendar (yes, I have one of those). This is a habit that started—minus the desk calendar—in undergrad. Back then, I stuck the notes up on my shelf next to my bed. There were never fewer than two at a time, but it’s how I kept everything straight. Back then, the to-do list was always limited only to school. Now? Work to-do, house to-do, interpersonal human to-do and school to-do. Fuck.

(That one should be on a to-do list.)

Observation #11: I thought college kids were lazy. Turns out, I was way more motivated then. 
In undergrad, I don’t really remember feeling like I didn’t want to do something I had to do. I’m sure I felt like that. I just don’t remember it. Mostly it was really my only purpose in life, so I’d better get my ass to the library and find the microfiche I need for the research paper. Now, aside from apparently not even having to go to the library, I am overcome by what I can only imagine is Senioritis after 14 years dormant in my body. Back then I got up when I needed to (though I have been a snooze-slapper since God invented Snooze), traipsed around in all kinds of weather, did my full-time student thing, worked a part-time job and handled internships that often had me there for at least 25 hours a week. When I was a senior, between the job I got in my industry and the internship credit I was still able to earn, it was damn near 40 hours. How the hell did I do that?

This is the part of the post where I should go on, flesh out the theme, find a way to wrap it up… but I’m tired. Failing that, I should save it and finish it later, but I know I’m not going to be able to maintain the voice and the thought pattern. So you get this. 

Doesn’t bode well for those 25-page papers.

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10 thoughts on “Random Observations As Re: Going Back To School In One’s 30s

  1. I feel you. 17 hour days (between work and school) used to be a piece of cake. And I had a social life and did fun things. Now I can’t even make it to the dry cleaners once a year. What happened to me?

    • I confess I worked too much in college, and if I could do undergrad again, I’d have more fun. But yeah – what’s with the impossibility of dry cleaning now?! Why can’t I get to the store to pick up cat food? Why is that so hard?

  2. I went back to school at the beginning of the month. I’m 47. Its been a hell of a long time since I was in school and I seriously relate to everything you wrote. What in the world was I thinking?! You’re post distracted me. Thanks for that.

  3. I give you a lot of credit for going to grad school while working full time and having an adult life with lots of responsibilities. I know you can do it! Just don’t stop writing your blog. Think of it as a mental break to get the creative juices flowing so you can better do your school work. Women can justify anything.

    • Thanks Judy – but if I may deflect a little of your kindness: I don’t have a partner and/or kids to deal with. Holy moly – my cousins who just got their nursing degrees are amazing people!

  4. Right. There. With. You. This is the post I’ve been meaning to write since my first day of class on January 15. Except I haven’t written it, because I’ve been too busy trying to navigate Blackboard and make sure I haven’t accidentally missed a due date or something.

    I was all fired up to return to school until they sent me the reading list. Or rather – I was still fired up when I got it and purchased the books – it was once I started trying to read and realized exactly how many pages they expected me to get through (and how shitty I am at retaining what I read now) that I realized how screwed I was.

    I have a whole new level of respect for those single parents who also somehow manage to get a degree while working fulltime. How the hell is that even possible?!

    • You too? Jesus, are we actually the same person but suffer from some sort of dissociative disorder? As I was just saying to Judy up there – my cousins (one is a single mom, the other has five kids) just got nursing degrees and I want to go hug them and buy them shots. Blackboard – right? Who knew this existed in life? What is this strange new world? Give me my syllabi on paper and I shall give you my papers on… well, PAPER. SafeAssign? What? And I read a research article that was 16 pages long (the word salad), and I’m PRETTY sure what it basically said was, “We spent a month watching a Portuguese airline’s Facebook page. They posted a couple of things. Here’s what happened.” Why did that take 16 pages? Am I missing literally the entire point? Did I win?

  5. You’re post makes me feel like I did it right. I coasted and played (and courted a wife-to-be) as an undergraduate, attaining an unimpressive 2.5 GPA. Then, in my thirties, I got my Masters and PhD. Of course it was engineering, so no research papers (unless you count my 385 page doctoral dissertation. What can I say? I didn’t find one concise result worth publishing so I settled for many small results). The thing was, as an undergrad I didn’t even know what an engineer did but in graduate school, I was already doing what I wanted to do and could pick really pertinent classes. My “trick” for getting work done without distraction was to go back to the office (which also gave me access to computing power … the equivalent of which now lives in my phone). All the journals I went to the library to use in my research are in fact now online … I occasionally use them in the legal expert work I do. Of course, registering to use them is expensive. I suppose this qualifies as a “serious response to a humorous post,” something I’ve occasionally accused you of. I enjoyed reading your take (sorry, no coffee from the nose) but I’m in a nostalgic place lately. You’ve probably started the germination of a new post on Older Eyes.

    • You’re perfectly welcome to comment as you like and interpret as you choose, though I’m disappointed about the nose coffee. Aside from your relative undergraduate slackitude, we don’t sound so far off from each other. I won’t be getting a Ph.D. but I have ever-increasing respect for those who do. There is no doubt that I had little idea of what a practitioner of my undergrad degree did when I set out to do it (though I actually started in that field less than halfway through college, so I was doing it by the time I graduated). I’m grateful to have picked good classes so far, but this whole changing careers thing does make one wonder if one has picked the right stuff. In any event, I’ve been yawning for 40 minutes and I’m not done the reading I need to do for tomorrow night’s class. Apparently I’m going to start slacking…. now. Time for bed.

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