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,
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.