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First Semester Complete!

Wednesday: December 21, 2011

I am very proud to say my first semester as a graduate student has been a success! But there is sadness there too – only three more to go… Once there was a time I hated school and all the boredom that came with it. And then I discovered anthropology. I’ve been waiting hardcore for my grades to get posted because one of my classes had me on edge and I wasn’t sure which way it would swing. Rest assured, I have successfully secured all three A’s this round, whoo!

I want to chat a bit here about the semester as a whole, and in total honesty. My two and a half year break was very good for me and in no way do I regret it, but I did struggle getting back into my groove. Much of that may simply be the caliber of this program versus my undergraduate one. Commuter schools, even if associated with larger universities, are just no comparison to research orientated institutions, at least in my experience. I expected this of course, but did not know how to prepare for it (nor do I have any advice). Also, I am not as young as I once was. True story. I may have rocked out with 50-60+ total hours a week semester after semester (class, campus jobs, work, volunteering), but I have tasted the slow life while on break and decided there is worth in that.

So moving on, geoarchaeology was my toughest course. I had no prior experience with the subject, I was not good at standard geology, and the class demanded a lot of time reading articles and writing weekly essays. Furthermore, some reading assignments were uber boring for me, so simply getting through them was rough. Top it off with a teacher who expects high quality essays (as opposed to some teachers who water-down their expectations), and you can probably understand why I found it challenging. My course of action was to slip a bit on my other two classes that I was doing well in to really focus on this one. It worked, and I got good scores.

Not until it was almost too late did I realize that the slip in my other classes was catching up with me. But around this same time, I had to come to terms with balancing my life with school. Thus, my husband and I decided that on weekends, when I made it home (which was not always), school wasn’t allowed. For both our sakes. (Of course, my cats couldn’t care less if I were sitting playing a video game or sitting reading homework, as long as my lap was available).

This was a bit stressful though, because I was not about to let my graduate program take a second seat. I signed up for it and so I needed to rock it. I set a new plan in action, scheduling slots all week to get various projects and assignments done. And of course at this time I also realized that my job in the lab had indeed been taking a second seat which was not fair since I had already been paid for it through tuition. I squeezed it in my schedule and will be working over winter break to make up for it. The upside to all this was that I really got efficient with my time. The downside was that trying to cram so much stuff within basically a 4 day period (Monday night to Friday afternoon) led to unanticipated burnout. I may have hung out with the undergrads a little more than I should have a time or three, but it helped me keep my sanity and, hey, I got free food;)

What I’ve come away with is this:

 Grad school is about balancing time almost as much as grasping the material. I have the class assignments to read, essays to write, and presentations to prepare. I also have side projects like BARFAA and other skeletal projects. I have the lab job which includes casting, scanning, and cleaning. Cohort meetings with my advisor, and random lunch meetings with professionals in the field. I additionally have issues because of my long commutes to school, long commutes to home over the weekend, and a husband to hang out with during the weekends. Grad school, therefore, hones your time management skills.

The most difficult classes will be the most awesome for their challenges. Geoarchaeology was hard for me, mostly stemming from how boring I originally found it. It is hard to be invested in something you aren’t interested in, plus falling asleep while reading gets you nowhere. But then boredom changed to determination to get the grade, which then lead to understanding, which ultimately made it neat.

The internet will give you humorous relief and tips to deal with grad school. Googling random thoughts I had during the semester (try “grad school is” and have a peek at what it autofills with) has taken me to many sites offering tips. There are caveats though. While it may be true that you can get away with not reading everything assigned for every class (I am a bit ashamed to admit I tested this), you’ll need to be careful of crossing the line and cheating yourself. You are in grad school for a reason so “just getting the grade” is no longer appropriate.

I have trouble with visual learning, and I never knew this. My trouble with osteology is in line with my trouble of identification of rocks and minerals in geology. It is a weakness that surprises me, being artsy and having such a visual memory with my notes. Alas, visual memory is not the same as visual learning. I did not identify this problem until the day of the final, unfortunately (someone mentioned his own trouble with it and the thought clicked for me). It is likely this issue went unnoticed all this time because visual learning is not used in many subject areas, and if it were used, it was only for a small segment that did not affect my grade (as in the case of geology). I’ve put some thought into how to correct it (see, although I scored an A, my self assessment finds my skill lacking). I plan on drawing all the bones. This should pen them into my memory like any other note, right?

All that said, my first semester of grad school has challenged me on numerous levels and I am getting more out of it that I expected to. One semester down, and I still love it. Now that I am on break, I intend to catch up on some overdue posts, so look for those. Meanwhile, here is a random colorful pic from campus.

Hydrant on campus

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3 remarks!

  1. SO proud of you and know it was and is worth it wishing you and your hubby the best…

  2. Thanks Joyce! :D

  3. You are doing an excellent job of balancing your time and also keeping information for the future use.
    Isn’t “Boy” a jewel to be patient and helpful. What would we do without his help?

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