Saturday, July 31, 2010

Create Your Own Niche

I want to go to Grad School to get my Master's in Environmental History. The problem is, there aren't many, if at all, schools here in the southeast that are doing Environmental History. There is one prof I'd love to sit under, but he is at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH. That's half the world away from my children! I want to stay in the southeast because of my children.

I have been talking to several people about Grad School. I talked to my Philosophy professor most recently. He said several things (in true Philosophy prof form, where there is never just a two-minute answer to any question), among which were, "Create your own niche" and "You don't go out looking for the knowledge, you create the knowledge (about the subject you are interested in)."

That got me thinking - what exactly is it about environmental history that I am interested in? Can I do it in an interdisciplinary fashion? And why the heck are so few history departments doing environmental history??!! I have yet to speak to a Geo prof and a history prof about this. I will post again when I do.

My own niche . . . hmm. What I'd love to do is take a segment of US history and overlay it with a corresponding segment of geologic history and see where the two intersect. I know that sounds rather vague and absurd, but I want to know how geologic factors affected what happened in human history and how human history impacted what happened geologically. Where exactly do earth science and humanity crash into each other? That's what I want to explore.

In the meantime, are you considering grad school? Are you there now? What has your experience been? How have you created your own niche? Tell me about it. Stay tuned . . .

Friday, July 30, 2010

If You Wait Long Enough . . .

It's funny how sometimes situations have a way of resolving themselves. I asked my ex-husband, "Are you sure your health insurance benefits don't extend for the next 30 days?" He checked and we still have health insurance for the next month - just enough time for everyone to get back to school and switch over to the school policies. Whew!

I am a procrastinator by nature. That is something I am having to fight on a daily basis, especially now that I am a single mom, because if I don't do it, it's not going to get done. I do not advocate waiting in all situations, however, there are some situations in which it is better to wait than to act immediately.

Situations such as financial aid and scholarship deadlines, registration for classes, advisor approvals, taking the GRE, MCAT, GMAT, and other tests, and admission applications are obvious situations where time is of the essence.

I have learned to "trust my gut". Call it "women's intuition", "the leading of the Holy Spirit", etc. There is something inside me that says, "Hmm - hold on just a minute . . ." or "Ask that question again in a couple days." Sometimes, there is wisdom in waiting - to ask the initial question, to ask the question again, to seek the answer. It has been my experience that some situations, when left alone, have a tendency to resolve themselves.

How does one know when to act and when not to act? As a nontrad, the three biggest areas of our lives are: school, family and finances. I need to go back to school to finish/get my degree, but how am I going to pay for it and how much time will it take away from my family? When deciding when to act or not, sit down with a piece of paper and a pencil. Make three columns on the paper. Head one column "school", one column "family" and one column "finances". Take something simple like filling out your FAFSA (which you should have done by now). In the finances column, write "fill out FAFSA". Now, on a scale of 1-5 (1 being the LEAST and 5 being the MOST), determine how great of an impact doing that would have on your schooling and your family. Did you put a "5" in the school column? Your FAFSA determines your financial aid which in turn may determine if you do indeed return to school. A "5" means you act now. If you have money set aside specifically for your education, perhaps it's not going to be a big impact on the health and well-being of your family if you don't get your FAFSA done. However, if your wife is freaking out that you going back to school is going to take money out of the family budget, that's a "5" and you'd better get your FAFSA done now.

Act or wait? Three columns, trust your gut, life experience, wise counsel. What works for you? Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Working Hard For What You Want

When I was growing up, my mom told me that working for something would make me appreciate it more as opposed to just having it handed to me. I think once I finally get my diploma, I am not going to have it framed and hang it on my wall, I am going to have it stuffed and make it into a pillow so I can sleep with it! Sheesh!

Yes, sometimes all the obstacles that are thrown in our way make us want to quit. Sometimes we have revised our "Plan B" so many times that we have gone through truck loads of pink erasers or reams of computer paper or cases of Kleenex!

When times like this happen - you're once again revising your Plan B - put down the pencil and take a minute to look back at where you've been. Retrace your steps. How many detours have you taken? How many naysayers have you silenced? How many profs have you had to prove yourself to? How many late night study groups have you commiserated with? How many good grades have you celebrated? How many goals have you already accomplished? You know what? You're almost there! You will appreciate your degree more because you have worked hard - REALLY HARD - for it! I plan on taking a nap on my diploma the day after I graduate. Stay tuned . . .

Monday, July 26, 2010

Blessed Are the Flexible

Ah, yes. Once again I find myself in that place of having to be flexible. The primary breadwinner for my family, my ex-husband, lost his job on Thursday. That means we have no health insurance. Not to panic. My children and I are all students, we can all get health insurance through school. However, that does mean I will need to work more hours next semester and drop a class. That means I will have to drop a class I really don't need but wanted to take all the same - Introduction to Cartography. Perhaps next semester will be better and I can pick it back up.

One of my favorite sayings, one that I should have tattooed on my bicep by now, is "Blessed are the flexible, for they shall bend and not break." Granted, there are some areas where one cannot be so flexible (like class offerings or times from semester to semester and year to year). However, there are many times when one can and often must be flexible. This is also known as "Plan B". I always have a Plan B. I think by now, for this next semester, I am up to Plan Q - things have changed that much. But that's okay - I know I will not break.

Outside circumstances sometimes happen to our plans and we have to be ready and willing, even though we are still going in the same direction, to take a different route. How about you? Have you had to take a detour recently, employ a "Plan B"? How does it make you feel? Yes, it can be frustrating. But remember, you will still get there, not just in the way you had planned. Hang in there, stay the course and be flexible. Stay tuned . . .

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Dog Days of Summer

I just finished reading Studentmum's latest post. She said she felt bad because there wasn't much going on to write about. Unless one is in summer school, there may not be much to write about that is applicable to being a nontrad. So, how are you spending your down time? Cleaning, sorting, vacationing? I am getting my daughter ready to go to college.

If you are like me and your school year is very intense, you need this time to relax, regroup, refresh. You can't go great guns all year long without burning out. If you are not summer schooling it, be grateful. Take this time to plan for next year. Be proactive by doing things like:

1. Make an appointment with your advisor. Chances are he/she may be out of town for the summer, but email them and get on their "gotta get back to" list. This is a "student academic health check" appointment. Are you where you should be with respect to the classes and the number of hours you need? Don't wait until the last minute, like when you are a few weeks away from graduation, to do your academic health check.
2. Reserve or buy your books. Avoid the rush. Set up the textbook rental if that's how you get your textbooks. Don't wait until the last minute here, either.
3. Figure out what you and the kids will need as far as supplies, clothes, etc. Start watching now for sales.
4. Do a "dry run" on getting to sleep on time at night, getting up on time in the morning, etc. Make a game of it. Tell the kids it's called "School Practice".
5. Clean out one closet. It will feel good to be at least that productive over the summer.

Are there other things you need to check on before school starts? Do you have your financial aid? Do the kids have their immunizations? If you do stuff like that now, you will avoid the rush later. Avoiding the rush makes life easier. And I am all for making my nontrad existence just a little bit easier.

So, see? There's always something to write about!! Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

New Blogs, New Nontrads

New blogs about being a nontrad are popping up daily. That's good. That means the nontrad population is growing. That means there are more and more people out there who are overcoming their fears and are taking the plunge into returning to school.

Deb Peterson recently blogged about Man Who Stares at Coats, a 42-year old first year med student. One is never "too old" to return to school. Cheers to Patrick as he starts his journey. I can't wait to read his posts!

I think it helps to chronicle our triumphs and struggles as nontrads. After all, that helps others in their triumphs and struggles, too. The biggest thing is to remember - you are not in this alone! If you are a new nontrad and will be walking onto a college campus this fall for the first time ever or returning after a l-o-n-g hiatus, WELCOME!!

Good luck to Patrick, good luck to the PSCC nontrads (Hi, guys!!!), and good luck to all nontrads - new, returning and continuing - as we get ready for the new semester (only 6 weeks or less away!). Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Going to School With Your Children

No, this is not a post about how to be a good PTA mom. This is a post about being on the same college campus as your children or being in college at the same time as your children.

Starting at the end of August, all my children will be in college. I will be in my last year (hopefully) and will be graduating in May of 2011. That's when my oldest son is also supposed to graduate with his MA in Communications Studies.

This is quite a unique experience - being in college with my children. I enjoy that I am able to relate to their woes about assignments, exams and papers. I can encourage them to hang in there and tough it out because I really do know what they are going through. We can rejoice together when we get good grades, mourn when we don't and relate to early morning coffee runs after late nights or all-nighters. This is a different kind of connection with my children. I am still mom, but I feel more like a peer.

Which brings me to my next thought. I have posted before about reasons people hesitate to return to school. One of the most common is fear. I think another reason people hesitate to return to school is embarrassment - visibly being the oldest person in the classroom. That's okay. As a matter of fact, I have seen more and more nontraditional students on campus. We are not such a rarity anymore.

I am beginning to feel more comfortable being an older student on the college campus. For a long time, I felt rather self conscious. Now, though, I have gotten to the point where I am not afraid to participate in class. In fact, it's fun to "show off" a bit when the other students don't have a clue about what the prof is lecturing on and I do because I read the book!

What are some good things about being an older student?
1. You really have "been there, done that".
2. You don't freak out as easily.
3. You don't need to do stupid things to get noticed - your gray hair says it all.
4. You know the answer to most of the questions the prof asks.
5. You drink coffee instead of Red Bull.
6. You know the true cost of your education.
7. You get the prof's jokes.
8. The only person you're out to impress is yourself.
9. You know the difference between the "small stuff" and the "big stuff" and you know how not to sweat the small stuff and how to handle the big stuff.
10. You can have a beer after your last final.

Being an older student is a challenge, but it's fun. It's even more fun when you share the same campus as your children. "That's your MOM?" Yes, and fellow student. Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Are You Lost?

That was question I asked a young man this afternoon. I was on my way to the bookstore to purchase some more items for the conference I am working on. He was part of freshman orientation and he was just trying to get his bearings. He said, "I'm always lost!" We stood on the steps of the Haslam Business Building across from Hodges Library, within sight of Neyland Stadium, across the plaza from the University Center. I pointed out to him that those three buildings - the stadium, the library and the UC - were basically the "hub" of the campus and that if he remembered where those were, he could find everything else.

What about you? Do you feel "lost" as you venture forth for the first time as a nontraditional student? Or do you feel you are aimlessly wandering midway through your program? Or are nearing the end of your degree program, but still feel lost because you don't know what the future holds? Find a point on a compass- like the library, the stadium or the UC.

Many people find their compass in God and prayer, in their faith. If you are not a spiritual person, who or where is your compass? If you are a new nontrad, perhaps that compass can be another nontrad, or an advisor, or a good friend. If you are a continuing nontrad, perhaps that compass can be a trusted professor, a spouse or friend, or a fellow nontrad in your same program. If you are a seasoned nontrad at the end of your program, perhaps that compass can be an alumnus in your program, a fellow nontrad who has graduated and can encourage you in your future endeavors, or a close friend or spouse.

We all need someone to whom we can turn to and say, "I'm lost", who will gently guide us in the right direction. GPS does not work in this case. It takes good old-fashioned figure-it-outedness to get us where we need to go. We need the help of someone, or perhaps a couple people, to get us going in the right direction. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Don't be afraid to stop and ask for directions along the way.

Are you lost? Ask someone for help. Let someone who has been there journey with you. In the end, we will all make it to that destination - obtaining our college degree. Stay tuned . . .