Thoughts on Back To School

I love school. I love it so much that I enrolled in a PhD last year, so I would be able to stay in it for another 4-5 years as a student and then stay in it for the rest of my life as a professor.

This is the first time in seven years I am not entering university tomorrow. It’s strange. I don’t regret my choice but I can’t help feeling nostalgic about the smell of new books, the buying of new clothes and the meeting of new colleagues and professors on the first day of school. It used to rhyme with renewal, new chances and new opportunities, new friends and new ideas.

As much as I enjoy my life right now, I am a bit jealous of all of you who stuck to the PhD, who decide to go on despite the insane odds. I lack your courage and your optimism. I am also jealous of all the undergraduates who are entering a new world, either for the first time or for their second, third or fourth year. I used to love looking at my new books and wondering “what will I learn this semester?”

 

UVic

The University of Victoria grounds

Despite all this, I also see good things happening with this new September. First, I have made amazing friends in this new city and I am happy I get to spend time to get to know them better. I am also keeping one foot (okay, maybe one toe) in the academic world through my online grading at the University of Calgary. I might not be looking for teaching jobs right now, but I haven’t kept it completely off my mind. I just feel like I need to explore new avenues, and happily some of them have opened already.

This new fall also means I will have to take my learning into my own hands. There are no committees to please, no professors to look up to. There is only me and my personal goals. I need to think about my own topics without guidance or even a field specialty to rely on. I have to get a community library card.

This freedom is amazing but it’s also scary. I enjoyed the somewhat unstructured life of higher education, especially at the graduate level. Yet, my life is less structured now than it was even last year, and this leaves me with a lot to learn about self-discipline.

To all of those lucky enough to go back to school tomorrow: enjoy this moment. It’s the best time of your life. Learn as much as you can, write, make friends, party. School is not a chore: it’s a springboard for the rest of your life.

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6 Comments

Filed under Life, Thoughts, Work

6 responses to “Thoughts on Back To School

  1. I’m going to have to disagree with your post (even though I’m one of those who stuck it out and got the PhD). No, Anabelle. You don’t lack the courage. You decided on another career path. And that career path is VERY legitimate. You were, indeed, extremely courageous by deciding to quit the PhD instead of spending 8 years on the wrong career path (sorry, the story of 5 years is a myth, unless your PhD committee is EXTREMELY lenient and your data sources are amazingly available).

    What you learned through being accepted at a PhD program, the skills you learned to undertake rigorous research, the ability to synthesize information and learn and teach then what you just learned, you’ve already done that.

    You don’t need a PhD. What you need (and I’m fairly certain you’re in the pathway of achieving) is accepting that it’s time to chart a new destiny. From where I stand, I am pretty sure you’re on the right track.

    • Anabelle

      In English, 5 to 6 years is the average as our “data sources” are basically texts and most are easy to find, unless you’re doing archival work. There’s no quantitative work there unless you’re doing something with mathematical models or whatever. :p

      I know, still, it’s hard for me to let go of the fact that I was going to teach my first class… today actually. My own group, my own class. That’s what I had wanted all along and I left just before I started. I don’t regret it but I still have to mourn my old dreams and replace them with new ones.

  2. I miss school too! If I won the lottery, I’d probably go back to school (combined with educational travel).

    What I did not fully realize when I was in school was that one of the most important things to do is build your network. Of course, the last time I was in school I was the mother of 2 small children and also working, so it’s not too surprising I missed that part.

    • Anabelle

      God, give me independent wealth and I’d try to beat the record of the most degrees a person holds without being a genius person.

  3. School, at least the kind I experienced, never suited me. In fact, classrooms frightened me from the very first day I set foot in one.

    Dyslexia, and the poor response to my disability from teachers, reinforced the feeling that I could learn more about the world from sitting in a tree than a concrete box.

    I have known and learned from professors and instructors at many levels (I’m particularly indebted to various teachers in the creative writing department at UBC) and by serendipity have continued to befriend remarkable people who have enriched my life.

    But I do not have what it takes to sit in classrooms and follow any prescribed “curriculum.”

    This fact has has blocked byways I might have explored … perhaps. But it has never stood in the way of my quest for understanding and development of my skills.

    • Anabelle

      Classrooms are definitely not the only place where one can learn and grow! These days it’s so easy to get access even to academic volumes through a community library card in universities. I love universities because it’s been my world for most of my adult life but I certainly don’t think it holds the exclusivity on knowledge. Being out of it has actually made me less complacent about what I spend time learning on my own!

      Thanks for your comment :) Always great to read about others’ experiences and I appreciate your input.

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