Grad School Year One: An Honest Recap
My last grades have just been posted to Blackboard, and I can now officially say that I’m done with my first year of grad school. I’m six classes in toward my Masters in Library and Information Studies from the University of Alabama. This year, I learned about the foundation of what it is to be a librarian. I sharpened my research skills, learned all about the history of the organization of information, and practiced storytelling in many different forms. I learned about technology through the lens of a library professional. I cultivated my own personal management philosophy. I read until the words swam on the page (or screen). I wrote until I thought my brain would liquefy and ooze out of my ears. I managed to get all A’s. I very nearly ran myself ragged.
So how has it been, really? Really really?
It’s been hard. It’s been, hands down, the hardest year of my life. Along with my studies, I was still working full time and trying my best at being a functional wife and mom at home. I struggled with postpartum depression and anxiety, I was tired all the time, and at no point did I feel like I was executing at 100% in any one area of my life. About halfway through the school year, I hit my breaking point. After honest conversations with my doctor, husband, family, and coworkers, I relaxed a little and realized…that’s just the way it goes. For now, my house will be a little messy. My hair will be a little flat. I’ll put on makeup in my office (if at all). We’ll eat out more than we should. I’ll miss an assignment or a few pages of reading once in a while. The world will continue to turn. Once I turned that corner and decided to forgive myself in advance for those inevitable shortcomings, things seemed to smooth out.
Here’s what the year looked like for me:
Julian was born on July 20. I went to Tuscaloosa for orientation on August 10. That’s a pretty long haul for a not-even-two-month-old. I was a nervous wreck from the time we reached our gate at the Charlotte airport to the time we got back home four days later. Anxiety was a struggle all year, but never more so than when I walked into a room full of my cohort members pushing a newborn in a stroller. I wanted to be as invisible as possible, but I felt like a big, unwelcome distraction that first day. Josh was with me to help with Julian, but we didn’t have any idea where he could spend the day on UA’s campus that would be close enough that I could get to Julian when I needed to, but far enough away that Josh and Julian weren’t a distraction to any of my classmates.
The program organizers knew that I would have Julian with me, but we didn’t have a solid plan in place when I walked in for registration, which seriously compounded my anxiety about the whole situation. Luckily, the amazing team of faculty and staff at UA saw our need for a “home base” and found a solution for us that put us at ease within a couple of hours. Josh and Julian made themselves comfortable just a couple of floors above us in a lounge area. I could dart upstairs on breaks, I didn’t have to miss any of the onboarding information, and I didn’t feel like I was drawing extra attention to myself because of the baby. When Julian did join us for bus rides and social events, my classmates could not have been more wonderful. I’m so glad I was able to attend in person with my cohort members — I’d say even the horror of newborn air travel was worth it.
My program is entirely online, but our classes are held synchronously over a sort of skype-classroom situation. We hear each others’ voices, we work in groups, and we get to have real time conversations about our studies. The nights are long and late, and there is certainly an impressive work load, but overall I have found the classes to be enjoyable and the professors to be downright delightful. It’s been nice to commiserate with each other when the core classes have gotten tedious or tough, and the more specialized classes have allowed us to branch out and explore our strengths as we learn from each other. I find that as our classes transition from the general core content to smaller groups and more specialized selections, I’m enjoying myself more and more.
As soon as we got back from orientation, I purchased an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil to use as my all-in-one textbook and notes device. I don’t think I’m overstating it when I say that I would not have survived the semester without this tool.
When I can, I purchase my books as Kindle versions so that I can do my reading in the Kindle app. This makes my backpack much lighter each day, and it makes me much more likely to squeeze in my reading in any short spurts of downtime I may find. I also use the notes function in the app; the notes and the text are easily searchable, and you can turn your notes into flashcards for quick review.
For class notes, I use the Notability app along with the Apple Pencil. I have always been a big note-taker and doodler; I find that it helps me stay engaged, especially when the material gets a little dry or the night stretches past my bedtime. With Notability, I can mark up PDFs of articles, import slides from class presentations, and record audio notes to myself for annotating later. Notability also syncs up with my Google Drive, so I can work from any laptop or desktop I have access to, as well.
When it comes to actually writing my papers, I still prefer to organize on physical notecards, writing with color-coded pens. There are some itches technology just can’t scratch for this stationery-loving girl.
Pretty much all of my presentations are put together in Google Slides – again, I just can’t beat the accessibility from any internet-connected device. Canva is my go-to design tool; the website is robust and easy to use, and the iOS apps are convenient, too. All of my video presentations were edited in Final Cut Pro, which I already had a license for before I started this program.
Wrap it up
I know this has been a long-winded post, so if you’re still with me, you’re probably either a prospective grad student or my mom (hi, mom!). Before I went down to Tuscaloosa for my orientation, I did a LOT of Googling to try and get a sense of what to expect, and I came up dry. I rely on the personal accounts of others a lot to ease my own nerves about new situations. Since I couldn’t find much about this particular situation, especially not from the perspective of a nervous new mom, I thought it might be helpful to share my own experience. If you find that you’re in those shoes and feeling a little unsure, I’d be happy to talk things out with you in more detail! Just leave a comment here or reach out on twitter. For now, I’m looking forward to a month of sunshine and relaxation before things ramp back up for year 2.