I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m getting a bit bored, cooped up here in our 650-square-foot apartment. I’m dangerous when I’m bored. It gives me wild ideas, like Knife Fighting (2018) or Let’s Get Jobs in Antarctica (2016) or I’m Running a Marathon (2014) or My Telekinetic Powers Work on Slot Machines (2005). Track record: Not perfect.
This time, it’s: Grad School, Why Not?
The first thing I do is to start asking around. “I’m thinking about X project. Do you know anything about it?”
First I asked a colleague in the field where I want to study. She immediately replied with the top four schools in our field.
The nearest person I know who has been to grad school happens to be my husband. I asked him. He asked why I wanted to go. Then he told me I might as well go straight into a doctoral program: “A master’s degree is a side effect of getting a PhD.”
He also said I should 1. Try to get a fellowship; 2. See if I could get recommendation letters from professional colleagues, rather than professors; 3. Call the school and ask if they would admit me without having to take the GRE.
I haven’t been in the classroom since 2004, and I haven’t taken math since 1993, which makes me a non-traditional student. The rules may be different for a returning student like me than they are for a fresh-faced kid.
I take all these ideas under advisement. My starting assumption is that I will need to go the traditional route. Since it’s already July, I “won’t be going to school in academic year 2021.” If I need to study remedial math in order to pass the GRE, then I will probably need at least a year to prepare.
Hubby says, “Why? It might be easier to get in for winter term anyway.” He still doesn’t see why I think I’ll probably have to take the GRE, just because most people do.
Again, he might be right, and I have to keep readjusting my expectations.
When I started running, it was not with the goal of completing a marathon. It was with the goal of running a specific route, 2 1/4 miles with a 200’ elevation gain. I thought it would take me a full year, adding one sidewalk square at a time. My hubby was like, No way is that going to take you all year. I was like, Why are you pressuring me?? This is hard! He was right, of course; by the end of the year I could easily do 4x my original goal. It only took me four years to reach marathon distance.
I did it again when I decided to work on my fear of public speaking. I joined Toastmasters, not knowing anything about the program, and four years later I got my DTM.
My experience has consistently been that four years is long enough to accomplish most standard goals, even when I go in with a completely blank beginner’s mind. Even when I start with considerable obstacles, like a phobia or poor baseline fitness, four years is a pretty long time!
It’s hard to imagine going after a goal that can be completed in a shorter timeframe.
Wait, you mean I could be enrolled by (checks dates)... it’s a semester system so... I could be enrolled by January if I get my application in by September 1?
But that’s in like 5 minutes!
Now I have two projects that run on parallel tracks.
I have the default, usually known as Plan A. Working backward, I get a PhD by enrolling in grad school by passing the GRE by taking practice tests and improving my math competencies. Using this formulation, I have framed my math anxiety as the major obstacle between me and my stated goal. I work on my fixed mindset issue and I get some math apps.
Then I have an alternate path, Plan B, derived from conversation with a subject matter expert. What did this person actually do to reach the goal that I want?
In this case, his new boss at his first job out of college asked him, at his first one-on-one, When are you going to grad school? He was like, Uh, I don’t even want to do that because I just graduated and I could use a break. They were like DO EET and they paid him to go, but he had to do grad school while holding down a full-time job, working overtime, with a new baby.
He passed the GRE by flipping through a prep book before the exam.
Does my consulting subject matter expert’s experience map with mine?
Well, ah, yes and no. He went to grad school because his boss made him, because it was directly related to his work. I want to go just for the experience of being back in school. I just need an excuse.
There’s something I’ve noticed since I entered the rarefied world of aerospace. There are noticeable differences between people with advanced degrees and everyone else. They solve problems differently. This is what I’m after, the secret of whatever initiation rites they passed during post-grad. Whether it ever turns into a different job one day, or not, is somewhat irrelevant to my purposes.
I want to be where the action is. I want to satisfy this itch that I have to go back to school. I want a way to keep busy while we wait out the pandemic. I also have a deep curiosity about my field, and I see this as a chance not just to learn more, but to hang out with other people who share this interest.
I have the motivation and I have the time.
The next questions are a routine part of my inquiry flowchart. 1. What’s the least expensive way to do this? 2. How many of these requirements can I skip or test out of? 3. Can I actually get paid to do this?
I keep pushing the marble down the track. When tackling a big project, you don’t have to know all the steps, or even most of the steps. Just come up with a micro-step and then take action as quickly as possible. I’ve found out where I would go and what the annual deadlines are. I’ve found out about the GRE, where and when I could take it and how much it costs.
Next steps: Contact someone in the admissions office and ask for advice. Contact the department at my work that handles tuition reimbursement and ask them for advice, too. Find an online math placement test and figure out where I stand.
After all this, maybe I’ll wind up going, maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll graduate, maybe I won’t. The only adverse outcomes would be boring myself or going into debt, which at least in this case I would be able to foresee in advance and avoid. Therefore the worst case scenario is that I learn a lot about the process of applying to grad school as a returning student, and I can then share that information with someone else.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
This website uses marketing and tracking technologies. Opting out of this will opt you out of all cookies, except for those needed to run the website. Note that some products may not work as well without tracking cookies.Opt Out of Cookies