I had an epiphany today

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Piggybacking off my last post….

If I am choosing a career in academia, would I not make approximately the same salary no matter what discipline I choose?  What impassioned me to go to school mid-life was the urge to be more cultured (less ignorant).  I didn’t want to die being another American that cant fill in a world map, speak another language or relate to other cultures.

I have always loved history but studying history and being a historian is really two different things.  Anthropology seemed like an interesting path.  It has everything, history, language, science, travel, culture.  It still is interesting to me but also seems…remote.  I think I’m a bit old to be an archeologist, as fun as that sounds.  I wish I had had the passion to pursue that degree in my 20s!  Sociology seemed more useful, especially in today’s political climate.  And they make a hell of a lot more money than a historian or anthropologist (on average).  I could study the earth or life on it, but I always swing back to environmental aspects of that subject, be it geology or biology.  I thought about journalism but need a background in another area to support it.  When I thought about careers in any of these subjects, it’s hard to answer the question everyone inevitably asks, “What will you do with that degree?”

My answer to that can now be academia.  I can teach and do research.  With the time I have, I would like to make an impact.  Protect the environment, change people’s lives.  I could stay in a lab all day, trying to figure out equations when math was never my strong suit or I could make a difference I can feel.  Why not stick with my first love?  Why kill myself (and my GPA) trudging through the next year in Calculous, chemistry, and physics when I’m just as happy learning what I need to know in a broader context.  As I was dozing off reading the biogeochemical textbook suggested to get a deeper background of my research, I thought… why am I doing this?  If I act now I could be taking classes I want to take, not ones I have to power through to get where I want.  And anyway, could I ever teach these subjects? No way!

I started college to become the best version of myself I can be.  When the realization hit me that I was going down a forced path, as interesting as it sounded at the time and that the prerequisites are a burden weighing me down, I hit a wall.  When the second realization hit me that if I changed my fall schedule now to something that suits me better… I felt that the freedom of that weight release me.  Hell, I’m doing this to change the direction of my life.  This is supposed to be fun!  Enriching and liberating!  If I want to take freaking piano lessons or art class with my electives, why not?!

I already know the language of the arts and now have a little bit of a background in science.  Enough that it is relatable to me.  I have always been creative and love the arts.  According to FOCUS tests I’m am first Investigative than Creative.  I was forcing myself to be something I’m not.  I’m not handy with machines and advanced math is such a useless chore (to me).

Human geography is interesting to me.  There are concentrations of environmental, historical-context, and economics that sound right up my alley.  What if I started with a foundation of geography and went to grad school for sociology to put it all into context?  There are similar concentrations for sociology, like globalization, gerontology political, and environment.  Or vice versa?

I had this really silly day-dream walking back to the dorm after lab today.  I had earned my Ph.D. and was volunteering my time to teach a class to middle school kids about social change, community involvement, conservation, and empowerment.  I could speak at community colleges like I first went to.

I emailed the different departments today to take a tour of their facilities.

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Goals for older students

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Being around the younger students in the REU program has helped me realize that my path is different than a student who is looking to earn their degree and go out into the world to start their career.  At forty, I have a limited time span on my career.  I don’t think I’ll have the luxury to change paths again if I don’t like the one I’m on.  Afterall, I chose to earn a degree so that I can change the trajectory of my life and hopefully my family’s reality in the process.  Instead of having a mother (grandmother, sister, etc) who was a bartender/server/manager, I want my family and future generations of my family to have a mother (etc) who had an advanced degree and contributed to the world somehow.  My parents owned restaurants so I had higher expectations for myself that I didn’t live up to until now.  I want to set the bar higher.

That being said, what can I do with a degree like that at 50?  I may have another twenty or (sigh) thirty years to use it.  I wonder if I shouldn’t just stay in academia, earning a tenure, and retire.  That way I have a more linear shot of a career to ride out.  There are many benefits, the pay isn’t half bad (really good for some), and there are many different things I can do with that.  I could lead different programs, mentor, travel, do research,

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serve on boards and committees, teach, work in administration, who knows.

When I look at my future that way, I’m not just a college student.  I’ve already started my career.  I already work at school and will continue to, moving from one position to the next through the connections I make.  I’ll make use of the opportunities that present themselves and there are many.

University life is like being on a little island.  Everything you need is here from living arrangments, meal plans, and rec centers.  It’s really like a little bubble of a universe filled with like-minded people who can point you in the direction of whatever resources one may need.  It’s a sheltered existence that I find myself very comfortable in.

I’m not so sure I would like to go back out into the corporate world, start my own business, or work for the government.  I see the older professors and admire their experience.  They have a comfortable confidence in their stride that I would like to have.  I think that I would fit in nicely one day.  I’m learning a lot from watching them closely and it’s helping me decide what kind of person I would like to be one day.  I think I would have a unique perspective, too, which some students may appreciate.  Afterall, if I can do it, they can too.  I think I have a lot to offer in that regard and may find that a rewarding second chapter of my life.

When I think of my future this way, taking classes becomes less tedious.  I’m silently absorbing the experience I need to one day give back the experience to others.  It’s just what I do.  Academia.  I like the sound of that.

On being a non-traditional student

Last week I toured the geology department at KU with one of the other students in our group (a younger student) who was tagging along out of curiosity.  While waiting for the guide to arrive, one of the faculty entered the waiting room and asked if someone was helping us. When I told him why we were there he said, “Not you, right? You’re too old to be a student.”  It was a statement, not a question.  He didn’t mean it to be hurtful, but it was.

Usually, people just mistake me for faculty.  When I tell them I am a student they look mildly surprised.  I’m glad that I started at a community college where there is a lot of diversity.  There is usually at least a couple of older students in each of my classes but I don’t feel the need to befriend them.  We tend to be more serious and focused than the younger students because we have other priorities.  Having a 16-year-old son helps me to feel not quite so disconnected from them.  They show me vines and are shocked when I know some of the videos.

I knew I would feel awkward and really do sometimes.  I feel like people are looking at me and wondering why I’m there.  Like maybe I did something wrong in my life to have to do this now.  Or maybe that’s my self-consciousness talking, I can never be sure.  It’s funny because I wonder why the other older students are there.

I am enjoying this experience in a way that I never could have when I was younger.  I just had other priorities.  I wouldn’t have been so thirsty for information as I am now.  I can’t get enough.  It’s like I want to learn all the things now and it’s hard to be patient.  My favorite thing is signing up for the next semester’s classes and figuring out my new schedule.  In my twenties, I was curious about many things, but it was not ancient history or chemistry.

One thing I’ve noticed is that people seem to assume that because you are older you have knowledge about things that you don’t.  I am learning the material at the same time everyone else but it’s like I should know it already.  I have gotten that in past jobs.  When I started bartending at 30 people assumed that I had done it my whole life even though I had just started.  It’s like the thing you are doing now must have been the thing you have always done.  Honestly, I hope that helps me when I graduate while trying to land a permanent position somewhere.

It made me be timid to get involved for fear of taking the position of a younger student that may benefit from the experience more than me.  My instinct is to think that they are more deserving of that position because this is their first time around but in reality, it’s my first time around, too.  I would benefit from that experience just as much and that is hard for me to swallow.  I did start to get more involved and I’m glad I did.  It’s earned me scholarships, leadership positions, research experience, and at least two jobs now.

Instead of trying to direct the other students, I try to support them.  I was in management before so I have a little bit of experience trying to help people be the best that they can be.  So instead of taking away a position that another student may have benefited from, my goal is to help them shine in whatever project we are working on so that they have the control.  Hopefully, I can help them so more than they thought they could on their own.  I am learning what kind of mentor I want to be and gratefully, I have some really good ones to learn from.

people coffee meeting team

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Where am I going?

I am so curious about everything that it’s hard to pick a path. I often take the harder road just for the challenge just it’s hard to stick with it. I find myself reading the course descriptions over and over as if the idea of the class is more interesting than grinding in the nuts and bolts. I will be really happy to get the basics down and start working on projects/subjects that I have a solid working foundation. I still have a lot of math ahead of me and that’s daunting. I still haven’t forgotten my love of history. I feel that if I go back to humanities than I’m taking the easy way out (and I’ll never make the salary I would like to make). I hope that I can study a lot of different things that interest me and maybe carve out a niche of a degree. Would that hurt my chance of a job or enable me to choose between a wider variety of job opportunities?

I told myself when I started college that I would be happy doing anything as long as it wasn’t in a restaurant but now it’s more complex than that. The reality is, I’m basically making a career it of going to school right now and if I obtain my goal of graduating with a doctorate, I’ll be 50! 50ish, even. At that point, I may as well stay in academia and make use of the connections I’ve made along the way. Maybe continue with research.

In the meantime, I just keep plugging away. Enjoy my classes and the experience as I go. I’m sure opportunities will present themselves as they blissfully already have been.

I’m president of an honors society, just made the student of the month, and work at the school. I’m so grateful!

Where I’m headed

I’ll be going in my third year in the fall.  I will stay at MCCKC for another year so that I may carry out my duties as president of Pai Theta Cappa and I will have one or two electives to finish in the spring.  I’ve become much more involved and even won student of the month.  MCC feels like my home and I’ll be glad to be there for a little extra time than necessary.  I’ll have more credits than necessary to transfer over and I’ll have paid a third of the cost for them.

I’m starting to get a good feel for what I would like to obtain from my academic experience.  My research for undergraduates (REU) program that I am in now for the summer has really sparked my interest.  I am curious about how microorganisms can affect global change such as climate change.  I am interested in learning more about what a geobiologist does.  I like the combination of geology and biology bonded by chemistry.  While there is not a geobiology degree, I think I may be able to mold one out for myself in graduate school.  I see that KU has ongoing geobiology research.  There is even an astrobiology minor that sounds fascinating.  I find it hard to narrow down what I want to study or what I want to do.  I am finding that I really love research both in the field and in a lab.

For now, I’m just taking it one day at a time and enjoying my classes as I go.  Next semester is the last one where I have basic requirements.  This is kind of intimidating.  I feel like I should decide what I want to do or I’m wasting time taking meaningless (to my degree) classes.   I think this is it, though.  I may have found my niche.