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Monday, August 26, 2019

Grad School As A "Nontraditional" Student: Third Semester Review

I'm happy to report that my third semester of grad school is finished!  That makes me 60% of the way done!  Yay!  I'm a lot less excited to report that my fourth semester starts today (with an evening class...grrr), but on the other hand, I have to start it in order to finish it.

Unlike first and second semesters, third semester was relatively chill.  This is largely because it was broken into blocks, with two blocks of classes and one block of internship.  This meant that I wasn't having to juggle classes with clinic responsibilities.  Also, to be completely honest, my internship supervisor was way more pleasant and reasonable than some of the clinical supervisors I had during my first two semesters.  That probably doesn't seem like a nice thing to say, but it's true, and it had a huge impact on my experience.

The one complaint I have about third semester is that I got a B- in a class and will have to retake it this fall (on top of my other classes and my fall internship).  More on that in a moment, but this allows me to segue into the main point of what I want to write about today, which is how I chose my graduate program, and how I would view the process differently if I were to do it over again.  I also want to note here that "if I were to do it over again" is strictly hypothetical.  I am completely fed up with school, and if my current endeavor fails (either in terms of getting a degree or launching a new career), my next plan resembles the one in the Portlandia skit She's Making Jewelry Now.

I'm going to be deliberately vague about some details here, but when I applied to graduate programs, I applied to three, which I will refer to as University A, University B, and University C.  I told myself when I applied that I would let cost be the deciding factor if I received more than one acceptance.  In the end, University A accepted me without any funding, but with the idea that departmental funding might open up or that I could look for my own source of funding within the university.  University B accepted me and verbally offered me a funding package, but with no written documentation before I needed to make a decision.  University C waitlisted me.  University C has significantly higher tuition than either University A or University B anyway, so I ruled it out.

On paper, I was a much better fit for University A than University B, and truthfully, I had always envisioned going to University A.  The interesting thing about University B was that it has an "extra" component to its program that would enable me to learn a skill I had thought would be interesting to learn, but that is a "nice to know" rather than a "need to know" in our field.  I was somewhat concerned that University B didn't give me written documentation of my funding package before the deadline to make a decision, but also reasoned that University A hadn't offered me anything.  Plus, my contact from University B was telling me that my funding package would pay the majority of my tuition throughout my program and I wouldn't have to apply for funding every semester.  Despite my reservations, I reminded myself that cost was going to be my deciding factor and chose to go to University B.

Well.  Obviously, I can't speak for what my experience might have been at University A, but I can say that attending University B has been a lesson in things going wrong.  The grant that was supposed to fund me throughout my program had to be returned to its sponsor due to university drama that I won't get into here.  And that "extra" component that I had actually viewed as a selling point for the program?  It's been nothing but a source of stress and struggle.  It was in that class that I received a B- over the summer, giving me an extra burden this fall.  All for something I don't need to know and am unlikely to use professionally.  All of this leads me to how I would think about grad programs if I were to do this again:

1.  Consider funding, but think of it in a more nuanced way.  There is a wonderful expression in Arabic that translates to "He married the monkey for its money.  The money went and the monkey remained a monkey."  I thought about this expression a lot in the months after the grant that was supposed to fund me was returned.  In the end, one thing I'm grateful for is that the university decided to provide a substantial portion of what I was initially offered under the grant.  However, it took many months for this to come fruition, giving me a lot of time to feel upset and worried about how much tuition money I might be on the hook for.  Since bad things sometimes happen with grants, if I were to do it over, I would consider how I would feel about the university if the grant fell through.  Would I still feel okay about my choice of the university, or would I feel like I should have gone elsewhere?  Also, I would consider secondary funding options.  University B is small and fairly under-resourced, and there were few additional options for funding.  University A is much larger and would have had more opportunities.

2.  Think carefully about anything "extra," even if it seems interesting.  Even if the "extra" component of my program came more easily to me, it's still another demand on my time.  My advice to anyone at this point is that if you have anything in your grad program beyond classes (clinical components, teaching, research responsibilities, etc.), you have no time for anything "extra" and "extra" things you have to do will just make you unhappy.  Stick with the basics of what you need to do and worry about learning extra skills later.

3.  Never trust anyone else to think realistically.  I had wondered what it would be like to take regular academic classes, the "extra" classes in my program, and have clinic responsibilities.  But I decided that it must be possible to get all this stuff done because surely there was some adult in charge thinking realistically, right?  Nope.  If your program responsibilities sound like too much, they probably are, and the "adult" in charge probably thinks you're going to give up eating or sleeping to get stuff done.  In my case, I've had to cut corners, mostly meaning that I do very little of the assigned reading for any class.  Obviously, this is far from ideal from a learning perspective.

In the end, I'm hoping that once I graduate, all of this stuff will be water under the bridge.  But it is painful to think that decisions I made in selecting a program may have made the journey more difficult.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Killing Mice, In A Manner Of Speaking

See this furry gray miscreant who's avoiding looking directly at the camera?  She's decided she likes to walk across and sit on laptop keyboards.  I wonder if it's a texture thing, sort of like how most people like to feel soft beach sand on their feet.

Yesterday, I was trying to use my computer to listen to a podcast while I worked on something else.  Stella walked across my keyboard several times, and after I shooed her away, the cursor had frozen.  I tried restarting, which is my standard trick for anything that goes wrong with my computer.  No dice. 

Using my phone, I looked for solutions to the problem (aside from restarting, which is evidently everyone's standard trick for anything that goes wrong with computers).  I stumbled upon an article that suggested that my mouse might have become disabled.  This article specifically implicated cats walking across the keyboard--apparently, they have a talent for stepping on the right combination of keys to cause problems.  So I tried going into the mouse settings (all of this had to be done without use of the mouse, mind you--hurray for mouseless navigation!) and sure enough, my mouse had become disabled.

Good thing I learned how to fix it because about twenty minutes later, Stella walked across my keyboard again and the cursor froze again.  Sigh.  I just hope she shows the same enthusiasm for killing rodent mice if they show up in our apartment again.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Stella Shares My Hobbies!

See this picture?  This is a picture of a cat taking a well-deserved rest after defeating a large piece of paper.  This is also a cat who puts a decidedly feline spin on human hobbies.

I've talked some on this blog about sewing.  I'm still sewing when I have time and am becoming increasingly happy with the results.  Not only am I ending up with more items that I'm willing to wear in public, I'm actually ending up with favorite items that I wear whenever they're clean.  I'm also learning ways to streamline my sewing process so I can spend less time prepping projects and more time actually sewing.  One of these ways is to pay to have PDF sewing patterns printed out on large sheets of paper so I'm not stuck taping small sheets of paper together.

For the uninitiated, there are two ways to buy sewing patterns.  There the ones that come printed on thin tissue paper, and there are PDF patterns you can download and print out at home.  I like the patterns that come already printed, and often buy those.  But some independent pattern companies sell only the PDF variety.  Also, sometimes the PDF patterns come with more sizes or other extra features.  So there are times when it makes sense to buy the PDF patterns.  But I always hated printing them out at home--there were so many sheets of paper to tape together.  And no matter how careful I was, something was always slightly "off" in the end.  Some people take the PDF files to copy shops to have them printed on large sheets of paper, but I was always hesitant to do this because I was afraid it would be prohibitively expensive.  But through someone's sewing blog, I found a company on the internet that will print the patterns on large sheets of paper for a very nominal fee and ship them.  Problem solved!

What I didn't know was that Stella would find her own way to participate in my sewing.  I learned the other night when I was tracing a pattern from one of these large sheets of paper.  The paper was dangling over the edge of the table I was working from.  All of a sudden, I heard a series of popping-like noises from under the table.  I looked, and there was Stella treating the paper that was dangling down like a punching bag.  Pretty amazing for a cat who startled at any and every noise when she first arrived here.

Usually, I put these large sheets of paper away for future use, but I sometimes keep them out when I'm still working on sewing something, in case I forgot to mark anything from the original pattern.  So, I caught Stella boxing with this pattern again last night.  Then, exhausted by her victory, she curled up on it and took a rest.