If I Could Open My Eyes, I Might See the Light At the End of the Tunnel

So, I might hate grad school. Lil bit.

I had a meeting at the end of last month with one of the deans, who happens to be my client. Upon an exchange of pleasantries and my inquiry as to his well-being, he said, “I’m intermittently fine.” I thought that was a genius way to describe my own status and seconded. 

“You’re getting your master’s, right?” he asked.

“Trying to, yes,” I replied, because it was precisely the reason I was only intermittently fine.

“How many classes are you taking this term?”


His eyebrows went up. “Two? That’s a lot, with a full-time job.”

“Turns out!” I replied. 

And then he told me how I might be able to get around taking a 200-level stats course prereq with a bunch of sophomores by taking a special topics course in one of his college’s programs instead. Memo to me: if this works out, buy that man a fine bottle of his favorite liquor.

One of my classes features a six-phase case study. Since it’s done in phases as assigned, you can’t procrastinate and do it all at the back end of the term, which is great… but you also can’t get ahead. Because of that, and the fact that I have to write a 20-30 page research paper for the same class, due the same day as the case study, I decided to knock out the 20-25 page research paper in my other class well ahead of time. I can’t actually even remember when I got that paper done, but I think it was about three weeks ago. Seems like longer. 

Anyway, the case study. Handed in phase one. Aced it. “That’s the hardest part,” said the prof. “The rest is going to be easy.”

The man lied.

Having believed him, I handed in phases two and three on the appropriate date. A week later, he was set to return them. I sat in my tiny little desk like Will Ferrell in the opening scene of “Elf,” listening to him talk about how they were, on the whole, kind of disappointing. I was anxious. My fingers had heartbeats. What if I didn’t do well?

It was worse than I thought.

I didn’t do well. 

I bombed.

“I’m not even going to grade this,” he said. “Just do it over.”

His handwritten notes said, “Wrong,”  “Wrong,” and “This totally misses the mark” in the three sections of the grade sheet.

Do you remember how it felt when you were in high school or college and you got a bad grade on a test or a paper? How the bottom seemed to drop out of your stomach while your throat closed up? Pro tip: happens when you’re 37, too. 

Just do it over, he says.

*whimper* *moan* *sigh*

I had already spent hours – hours and hours – on this case study. And now I had to do these two phases again… and do the next phase. Due in two days.

I had to take a personal day to spend 11 hours working on this thing.

The end of the term is coming. All the stuff is due very, very soon – so soon that I should probably stop spending words on this blog post and write another page or two of a paper, instead. It’s so much harder to write them now! But by the end of this term, I will only have completed three of the 14 courses I need for my degree. The school is only offering one over the summer that can count toward my program. And the no-skin-in-the-game dean says, “Two… that’s a lot with a full-time job.” 

Well, here’s the thing: I don’t do a thesis in my program. I take comprehensive exams. And if I only take one class per term, it will take me 14 terms (4.66 years, assuming I can take a class every summer term) before I graduate. Nine terms (three years – same assumption) before I can take the first comp. I will have forgotten everything from the first classes by then.

Not happening. Gotta double up if they offer two program courses in a term.

I got back the three still-questionable phases of the case study on Monday. Wonder of wonders: I aced them all on the re-do. Now an implementation timeline, a budget, and a package and polish, and that baby is put to bed. I have written seven of the 20 pages required for the research paper. I have bled on the keyboard of this here laptop.

Tonight, I got back the four-question essay exam I had to take in the other class. I had had to completely BS one of the answers; he asked a question about the topic from the only class I’d missed. If I got partial credit, I would have had an 85 and I would have taken it.

I looked at the paper.



I looked at the question I couldn’t possibly have answered well. “I can tell you read the chapter,” he had written in red, “but be more specific.” And then he went on to talk specifics about the chapter. Which I had, in fact, not read. 

It was the only chapter I had not read, out of 21.

Fooled you, pal.

Maybe I’ll make it to the M.S.


19 thoughts on “If I Could Open My Eyes, I Might See the Light At the End of the Tunnel

  1. You are a braver woman than I am! I admire that you’re furthering your education. I tried college twice and still don’t have a degree.

    Also I’m lazy, haha.

  2. Ha! Sounds like you’re having fun! As bad as it hurts and sounds, there will be some papers/tests that you may not do well on – the trick is to do at least average in the class. Sometimes profs will ask hard questions that aren’t clear or haven’t been covered as well as they should have and when the results all come back poor they’ll force a do-over or grade on a curve (depending how lazy they are) The first time I got a 40% on a graduate paper, I almost cried, I was used to 80’s and 90’s. Turned out the whole class failed (hahahaha!) and on a curve I received an 85% Et voila! Get a load of this – you said you were writing final exams so you’ll appreciate the humor in this. One course had two profs, each with their own goup (it was phsical chemistry) and one of the profs was the deparment chairman. I had the other. Mine was an excellent prof and was very demanding and gave hard papers and harder exams. The other class (the chairman’s group) had easy tests and easy papers. they were running about 80 for a class average and we were running about 60 as a class average. We were upset, but what can you do (anything below 65% was a fail)? So, the year end exam could account for either 50% of your mark or, if it was better, 100% of your mark – you got the best deal. The chairman was too busy and told our prof (his employee) to create the 3 hr exam (Ha – you see what’s coming here, eh?). Our prof knew the other class was getting a free ride, so, in an effort to keep them all from failing, he created what he stated, in the aftermath, was the easiest exam he had ever created for a graduate class. So we all trooped in and wrote the exam. When the results came back they refused to release the marks while they pondered. I knew one of the department assistants and she said that everyone in our class had aced the exam and got between 80 and 95 percent. Everyone of the chairman’s class failed. Bwahahaha! I have no idea how they fixed that, but after running about 65% all year, I finished with an 90%.

    Feeling staggered by the sheer volume of work to be done, I was moaning one day to a recent graduate and he laughed and said: “Know how you eat an Elephant? One forkful at a time.” Anyway, hang in there, and just get done each day what you have to get done to make it and after a while, they give you a degree. It comes as a surprise, but it works. I spent two months after I was finished still highlighting even the morning newspaper.

    • Well you’re super-sciencey. Physics… no thanks… I’ll just trust in the universe’s regulated or semi-chaotic-but-with-purpose systems and mind my own business when it comes to that subject. I’m totally intrigued by it… but incapable of studying it. But I’m amazed by what you’ve described! Was it not true for your master’s that everyone had to get an A or B in every class or the M.S. wasn’t earned?

      Gotta to take a bite of elephant.

      • Yes, our overall average had to be “B” or greater. However, there were some subjects that were particularly difficult that had a lower threshold. Physical Chemistry was one of those. We were allowed one mark per year as low as 65% but only in subjects that were deemed “historically difficult”. All other marks had to be over 75% (or a “B-“). Once you had established a record of studying hard, they would allow extra papers for extra credit to keep anyone from failing. It was pretty subjective (and hush, hush), but no question if you had an A average and were failing one course, they would get you the help you needed.If more than one mark was too low – you were gone.

        It is very dedicated of you to be working full time and doing a Master’s. That isn’t easy. Time is the problem – when I started the degree, I stopped watching any TV at all for the entire duration. And your reading skills and comprehension will grow enormously. It is true that the more you exercise your brain, the stronger it gets – like any muscle. The undergrad degree starts to seem like it was a walk in the park. And like any exercise, it will ache someitmes but the end result will amaze you.

        I am impressed by your dedication and wish you the very best. It is doable and although it will hurt sometimes, you will be well satisfied by the outcome.

  3. I could not do what you’re doing. I am very impressed. There’s going to be a very. Large bottle of very good champagne in your not too distant future. I can tell.

    • Sure you could! And if by “not too distant future” you mean “in the refrigerator right now thanks to a generous friend’s birthday gift and having nothing to do with grad school,” you are correct!

      • It wasn’t exactly what I’d been thinking but hey, go for it! Happy birthday. Sante!!

  4. I love this. I relate to this, even though I am only currently after my BS. The masters will come later IF I survive this madness. I’m 47 and I’m not sure what I was thinking. I just aced a mid term I had only marginally studied for. Not because I didn’t want to but because with other projects and assignments due there just wasn’t enough time in the day. The professor sent a note to the 6 of us in the class who got A’s on the midterm. “I can really tell you’ve been studying and really understanding the information. Excellent work.” Um. Yeah. As you said.. ” Fooled you, pal.”

  5. Good job! I feel it’s sweet justice that he paid you a compliment on the chapter you didn’t read – after rejecting a paper you put a lot of effort into. I think you’re both playing a bit of Bullshit Roulette. Maybe HE hasn’t read the materials!?

  6. You’re going to do it. I think I’ve been reading you long enough to read between the lines. I got both my Masters and Doctorate while working and raising a family. Fortunately back in my forties, I needed very little sleep. I’d come home to help with the kids and have dinner and go back to the office to work (and use the computers) until 2 am. It was worth every hour. And … being to bluff your way through a subject you don’t thoroughly know may be one of the best lessons of graduate school.

    • I thought I learned that lesson in undergrad and then forgot it in the years since! My professions have not allowed for BS, so I’m out of practice. It’s nice to know I still got it (apparently).

      But you’re right. I will get it done. That’s not really a concern. I have promised myself that my life – my music, my friends, my family, etc. – are more important to me than the degree, and so I will finish it when I finish it, and that’s that. But those comprehensive exams are a terrifying thought!

      • I had a powerhouse committee and had an oral comprehensive exam (as well as a written one). I got through all the hard questions then the top prof asked me a very simple question. In fact, it was so simple, I couldn’t believe that he was really asking it, so I spent 30 minutes trying things at the white board to satisfy him. By the time I gave him the two word answer he wanted, I was soaked with sweat and wondering if I’d pass. One problem with engineering is usually BS answers don’t work. But I made it.

  7. Well, sounds like you are faking it until you are making it. Or something. 😉

    I’m seriously considering going back to school for a Master’s of some sort, and the thought of it is giving me palpitations. Thanks for the brutally honest insight of all the suckage. I really have to weigh all the pros and cons, which at this moment is heavily favoring that con list. Sigh. Why does life have to be so damn hard this late in life? Weren’t we supposed to have flying cars and pool boys at this point?

    • First of all, we were DEFINTELY supposed to have flying cars. Secondly, you already have your J.D. You will probably have a much easier time with a master’s than you did with that. There are challenges in any life, and while it has been exhausting, my papers are now finished and turned in, and I have survived. We all do. Grad school has never actually killed anyone. If you want to do it, do it. That said: there are certainly considerations about finances, family, etc., that might have influence. I am fortunate not to have to consider those things, since my tuition is paid. (The fees I pay are enough!)

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