The 4-0 You Want

I suppose there’s something apt about having to be in my 40s to finally achieve a 4.0, but better late than never, right?


It’s been a long two years (and technically I’m still waiting on an approval on my graduation portfolio), but it’s a wonderful feeling to be more or less done. I made some wonderful new friends in graduate school and I learned a lot to boot. Some classes stood out more than others, of course, but there’s only one class choice that I genuinely regret and I consider that a real victory.

I’ve half-joked about writing a book on how to go back to school in your 40s and who knows? With ebook self-publishing what it is, that may happen. But I’ve got a lot of other things still on my plate too; two years worth of pleasure reading to catch up on, all sorts of games that are waiting to be played, and (lest you think there’s nothing but frivolity ahead) plans to work my way through the LIS 7440 Scripting Languages for Library Applications syllabus. We’ll see how far I can get through that last one, but it would be good to learn PHP if nothing else.

It still feels strange to not have classes kicking in at the end of the month, though. I won’t miss the lack of free time, but I must admit that I will miss the chance to learn something new and to interact with some really great fellow students. In the meantime, though, I’ll enjoy getting my life back, or some approximation thereof.

Too Much Travel

I love to travel. I own guide books to places I’ll probably never go; I love reading travel diaries. My biggest complaint with my job is that I don’t get a crazy amount of vacation time with which to travel all over the world. So it’s with that in mind that I must admit that over the past three weeks, I’ve had too much travel.

In Flight

I ended up with three trips; one for work, two for pleasure. And let me quickly state that the two for pleasure were both great. I had a fantastic time on both of them and I’m so glad I did them. But I am run ragged, now. I miss my routines, even if it’s just sleeping in my own bed and sitting down at my own desk.

It probably doesn’t help that in between trips #2 and 3, I also had a three-day work meeting which had me slightly wiped out by the end. Or that this semester of graduate school is proving to be the most difficult/intense one to date. (Fortunately the classes are also interesting.) Or that right before leaving for the third trip, I came down with a cold that I’m still trying to shake. None the less… it’s nice to be home. Very, very nice to be home. Fortunately that should last for the rest of the month and then some.

No doubt, by this time next month, I’ll be dreaming of travelling once more.

Halfway There

It’s a little hard for me to believe that I’m already halfway through my graduate school program. When classes began a year ago, graduation seemed very far away, although that could have been in part a level of nervousness. After all, it had been 18 years since I completed my undergraduate degree. And while I design online courses for a living, the idea of shifting to a fully online format for school was also a bit daunting. So, with that in mind… what have I learned so far?

Graduate school was a good idea. Of the six classes I’ve taken, I’d say that four of them were well-worth the money. I’ve learned a lot about cataloging and researching, adding to the skill sets that I already possessed. I also increased my knowledge of Access databases and SQL queries immensely, neither of which I knew very much about. Strictly from a “gaining knowledge” standpoint, those four classes have been automatic successes. As for the two other classes… well, honestly, if I was someone fresh out of my undergraduate degree and without any real-world/job-market experience, these would have probably been a lot more beneficial. So there’s certainly no anger or disappointment when it comes to those two remaining courses; they just weren’t helpful to me because they covered ground that I had already tackled or experienced on my own.

Something’s got to give. I knew, going into this, that I’d lose some free time. But somehow, it was still a bit of a surprise on just how much free time I ended up giving up. Usually at least one day on the weekend is devoured by schoolwork, for example. I’ve been reading a lot less, unfortunately, as well as finding it much more difficult to keep up with the few television shows I watch. I also had to scratch my plans to run the Nations Triathlon in DC next month; I have not made it to the pool at all this year to swim laps. (A full marathon is, needless to say, right out.) With less gym time, there’s also been a slight weight gain, too. Ugh.

Organization is key. I know, this is a library and information science degree, I should already know that. But in this case, I mean more along the lines of tracking my assignments. I create a master calendar with all of my assignments for the semester in the first week, highlight graded assignments in red so I don’t miss them, and then delete items as they’re finished. Additionally, I put the current week’s assignments in an app on my phone that I check off as they’re finished. It might sound like overkill (since I do have a syllabus for each class) but it makes a big difference in getting everything done.


I really do work harder now that I’m older. I will be the first to admit that I did not focus as much as I should have in my first two years of my undergraduate degree. (Spring 1991 and Fall 1992 in particular.) I buckled down after that and improved my grades a great deal, putting a lot more work into my classes. Well, that was apparently child’s play compared to the amount of effort I put into classes now. Sure, it’s graduate school so it should require more effort, but being in my 40s I find myself caring that much more about my assignments and getting them not just completed, but excellent. And honestly, at times I’m a little perplexed that not all of my fellow students are in the same boat. (Then I remember being in my 20s and I’m not that surprised. And there are some people who are almost 20 years younger than me who are even more driven and determined than I am, for that matter.)

Vacation is the best thing ever. I hadn’t realized just how important the three week break in December was, until I didn’t have any sort of break between my spring and summer classes. (Or as WSU refers to them, my Winter and my Spring/Summer classes.) There was definitely a little bit of burnout as a result; having a lot of the month of August off has helped a great deal in that regard now, but it was certainly a difficult May and June thanks to not having any real break.

And so, with all that in mind, classes officially kick off today. Six down, six to go. To use a running metaphor, this is the point in the marathon where you can start counting down the miles, because it’s no longer terrifying to do so. I can’t see the finish line yet, and won’t for a while, but at least I know it’s out there.

Welcome to Grad School, Greg! Hope You Survive the Experience!

welcome1I was accepted a couple of months ago, but on August 23, I began my first day as a graduate student in Wayne State’s School of Information and Library Science (SLIS). Specifically, I flew up to Detroit for a one-day mandatory orientation.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from a grad school orientation, especially since the bulk of students (myself included) are taking the classes via online/distance learning. But that Friday morning, I woke up super-early, ran 6 miles on the always-dreaded treadmill (but on the bright side I got to watch the sun rise over Detroit thanks to the gym being on the 40th floor), and drove over to campus to get there just in time for check-in. That’s when I discovered that on my nametag it said I lived in Michigan rather than Washington, DC. A sign of things to come?

Actually, no. What happened next was a day-long extravaganza of introductions, meetings, and discussions. A lot of people got up and talked to the assembled group of new grad students. We started to get a better idea of the sort of projects that we have in store. The professors performed a round-robin rotation through rooms where they introduced themselves to us and explained their specialties. (That part was especially interesting because of the wide range of disciplines within what might seem like a narrowly-focused department.) We were given a couple of group collaboration assignments. It was, without a doubt, a full day’s worth of work and then some.

I could go on and on about everything that happened, but I suspect it would bore most people. (How many other people would be tickled about a professor who looks like Mo from Dykes to Watch Out For besides me, though?) There were a couple of things that stood out as particularly good:

  • welcome2Meeting my faculty advisor was a huge plus. Professor Schroeder was one of the faculty who talked to the assembled masses early on, before we broke out into smaller groups, because she has a strong focus on digital librarianship. If you didn’t know already, that’s something that I’m extremely interested in, so right from the get-go it potentially seemed like a good match. But the second she got up to speak, I was entranced. She’s not just a good public speaker, she’s engaging, she’s smart, she’s energetic, she’s interesting. Even better, when I got to meet with her later, I felt like there was a genuine interest from her in my career path and as we chatted, I found myself thinking, “So this is what it’s like to actually have an advisor.” I was assigned one as an undergraduate but I think we only spoke once on a student-to-advisor basis, and that was a mandatory session before graduation. That advisor had no interest in me, and vice versa. By way of contrast, Schroeder mentioned that she’s in DC several times a year, and that she could let me know if I’d like to meet some different organizations and the like that are interested in digital librarianship. Not only did I say yes (of course), but I feel like it really could happen. This was easily the best part of the orientation.
  • I also found out that I might be able to waive out of one of the core classes, Information Technology. Not only is this a good thing because right now it looks like I know about 95% of the material already (and have no problem taking some of my own time this fall to learn the other 5%), but it would also free up a space in my schedule for me to take another class I’m more interested in, instead. I’ve already sent the faculty member who makes those decisions my credentials, and with any luck I’ll hear back in the next couple of days that I don’t have to take the class. Fingers crossed!

Of course, there were one or two things for which I raised my eyebrow:

  • We were given a “how to work in groups” series of exercises in the afternoon, right after lunch. The first one involved the entire group having to decide which one of seven different pizzas we could all agree upon to order for the table. Except, of course, it wasn’t a real pizza. (And even if it was, we were all full from lunch.) This may sound silly, but I was a little disappointed in this activity. It was a very juvenile sort of group exercise, and one that needed a bit of a boost. (Make it instead into types of cookies and offer the real thing and it might have perked everyone up.) The other half of the company that I work for comes up with these sorts of exercises all the time and I felt like they could have had a much better one instead. Not bad, but just didn’t feel like it was going after the right target audience.
  • There was one professor whose classes I was thinking about taking (and was in fact originally signed up for, early on), until I was warned away from them by multiple people. One of those clashes of style/approach where I could tell that the professor and I would not be a good match for one another. Well, at lunch, this professor decided to sit at the table I was at. And just in those five minutes, all I could think was, “They weren’t kidding about this teacher.” All of their complaints suddenly felt very plausible, alas, and it became very clear that if possible I should go with a different professor in the future. Oh dear. Well, it’s nice to have confirmation, right?

welcome3When everything finally ended, we had a mixer sponsored by a student organization, and while I wasn’t entirely sure at first on if I would go or not, I’m glad I did. A lot of super-nice people, and when in the space of five minutes you get both a Cards Against Humanity game reference, and  someone relating a story with the sentence, “You can’t make me give my books away, they’re my friends!” I knew I had found my people.

On the flight back this morning, though, I had a momentary spike of panic as I started to think through all of the different projects and activities I have in store for myself over the next two years while still juggling a full-time job. What was I thinking? Could I really do this? Should I just pack it in and work at a butcher shop in Eastern Market instead? (I’ll blame that last one on the new issue of Lucky Peach that I was reading.) But the more I thought about it, the more I reminded myself that this really is what I’m interested in learning about, and this was the only way to truly do it. And after all, Wayne State sees a lot of applications. They must have thought I could do it or that slot would have gone to someone else, right?

So to twist around that old familiar phrase on the various X-Men covers of the past… I think I will survive the experience. It’s going to be a little tough in spots, but right now it’s full steam ahead. And heck, I’ve already started one of the first week’s assignments. So far so good, right?

Things They Don’t Tell You About Graduate School (part 1)

I remember signing up for my classes at James Madison University, back in the summer of 1991. With 120 credits needed for graduation, all I really had to worry about was, “Will this class be full, yet?” With a paper booklet listing all the courses in very small type, I made a dozen sample schedules for a 15-credit fall semester. Happily my second choice actually coincided with what was still available, and I went on my way. Aside from having to once beg for an override for a class from a professor so I could add in an extra class (to make up for one I’d dropped earlier, so that I would still graduate on time), and having two classes that had to wait until senior year because they always filled up so fast, that was the most of my worries.

Graduate school, at least for me, seems to be a very different sort of game. Wayne State University’s MLIS program requires me to take 36 credits (or 12 classes), six of which are core classes for the degree and must be taken. Of those six core classes, two of them are locked into the positions of first and second classes taken, while a third class is strongly recommended to get slot #3. (Two of the remaining three core classes “should be taken as part of the first 18 credit hours” while the third “should be taken as part of the last 9 credit hours.”)

This still seems pretty simple, until you start to look at the other courses you want to take for the second half of your degree. (And lest you think I am jumping the gun a bit, by the time I’ve finished 9 credits I have to submit a plan of all my remaining courses with my advisor and get them to sign off on it. So that’s not too far away.) And that’s when you realize that unlike the majority of undergraduate classes, many of the offerings are only offered once a year. And of those offerings, most are either in the (main) fall or winter semesters, with only a handful in the spring/summer session.

The end result has been a surprisingly fun logic puzzle, almost a game. “Database Concepts and Applications for Librarians is offered both fall and winter, so it can be almost a wild card, while Metadata in Theory and Practice is only a fall semester class… and what spring/summer class do I want for one of my electives? Maybe Advanced Classification and Cataloging?”


So now I have a spreadsheet built, which has two different timelines (one for if I take a single class in the fall, one for if I end up with two classes) and everything locked in save for a single “to be determined” option. It’s incredibly geeky and ridiculous. It is also, quite possibly, another indicator that this is the sort of graduate degree that’s meant for me.

At any rate, though, it’s definitely been an eye-opening experience. Certainly one of the first major differences between undergraduate and graduate classes! (More to come, I’m sure.)

Operation: Parker Posey

Back in April, I posted an update on Facebook that I’ll quickly replicate here:

I’ve been trying to come up with a fake name for a project I’m working on that (for reasons that will hopefully become clear) I don’t want to name in public just yet. Today while driving from the gym to the office, NPR played a clip from the hysterical movie Best in Show. So in honor of that, I hereby name it Operation: Parker Posey.

That was about 90% true. The name did come to me when they played that audio clip from Best in Show. But what I didn’t mention at the time was that it made me think of another film starring Posey; namely, the film Party Girl in which Parker Posey’s character shifts from a young woman throwing illegal raves to make a living, to someone who wants to enter library school.

Party GirlWhich is a roundabout way of saying that ever since the start of the year, I’ve been working on applying to graduate school. (Researching schools, studying for the GRE, taking practice GRE tests as well as the real thing, lining up recommendation letters, filling out forms, writing essays, figuring out financing, that sort of thing.) And while I’m still waiting on hearing from a couple of other schools, barring a surprise scholarship materializing for a different college, I’ll take my first class from Wayne State University this fall as I work on a Master of Library and Information Science degree.

And now, the answers to the questions that I know I will otherwise get:

  • I’m not quitting my job, so this will be part time.
  • I’m not moving to Detroit; I’m taking classes via distance learning.
  • I’ve developed distance learning classes for the Federal Government for the past 15 years, so I’m not afraid of the idea.
  • If all goes well and in the spring I can start taking two classes at a time while still working, I’ll graduate in December 2015.
  • No, this is not a midlife crisis. But it probably will cost more than a sports car would by the time it’s all done.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to beginning graduate school in a few months, and I’m especially excited by taking some classes in digital content management. So, anyway, while there’s still a chance that the school itself might change, the fact that I’ll be starting grad school won’t be. Ta da!