Awareness Article: Going Back to School

Awareness Article: Going Back to School

This month the Advocacy Committee would like to share the unique perspectives from three UMKC Staff on their decision to return to school as students while concurrently maintaining their full-time employment.  We hope this unique outlook on life as a full-time employee and part-time student at UMKC will help provide insight to those considering this step.

Going back to School – The decision, or indecision, stage.

Many adults who have been employed for a number of years consider going “back to school” for a variety of reasons.  New skills, improve level of skills, update on new theories or technologies are just a few reasons to consider going back to college for one course or a higher degree.  Many issues factor into the decision making process – where to go, how to pay for it, will it be a sound financial investment, or will it fulfill a goal or dream.

As a working adult with a Masters plus several certifications, the question to continue has presented itself again.  Obtaining a Doctoral Degree has been one of those someday things on my list.  For many years, it was below raising children and performing successfully in my chosen profession.  As I recently made a switch and am employed by UMKC, the desire to start my doctorate has increased.  But so have the questions – where to begin, do I have the time, how hard will it be to manage the added demands to my time, and will it truly add value to my life.

I began simply by talking to an advisor with the program I was interested in and exploring my starting point.  This discussion was interesting because I was asked many questions about courses I took 10 years ago.  I had to go back through files and do some digging to find answers.  Then there were several options for me to explore.  Different directions based on desired research, outcomes, etc., that I needed to explore before I could officially apply to the correct program.  While some of this was overwhelming, and seemed to take more time than I wanted it to, it did open some doors that I had not considered.

Advice for those contemplating returning to school:  Jump in the shallow end and wade around a bit before committing to swim the distance.  If it has been years since you have attended a university, the choices are more and the variety is wider.  It can be daunting to go in and talk to an advisor, but this is a great first step.  Getting solid information on the time commitment and scheduling with classes can go a long way to determining the reality of this in your busy schedule.  It will be difficult but can be a great next step.

GOING BACK TO SCHOOL … THE “CAN I DO THIS” STAGE

I too, started my advanced degree by talking with an advisor. The conversation inspired me to apply for an advanced degree. I’m now nearing the end of my coursework and will soon begin the daunting dissertation process.

Along the way, there have been many occasions when I have questioned my decision to go back to school. There have also been times when I’ve wondered if I (and my family) would be better off just taking a break from classes or quitting all together.

It seems I get most frustrated when school, work and family all pile up. I’ve come to realize that the end of the winter semester is really hard for me. It’s always a busy time in my office.  At home my kids are finishing the school year and looking forward to summer break, my husband and I are often planning the family vacation and the weather is really nice and distracting. With all that, the last thing I want to do is finish papers and prepare for exams. But, that is exactly where I find myself.

As I write this, it is 10:00 p.m. I was up before dawn, got the kids off to school, put in a full day of work, and then came home to make dinner, give baths, complete the final preparations for tomorrow’s last day of school party, finish the dishes and put the kids to bed. I’m now sitting at my computer trying to focus on a 15-page paper due next week. I’m on page one.

This is one of those times when I wonder why I thought an advanced degree was such a good idea and so important. So I read the “mantra” I taped to my computer keyboard – “this too shall pass.” Then, I look at my daughter’s picture hanging on the wall and remember why I’m doing this … so she will know she can do and be anything with an education. I then take a minute to reflect on the positives of going back to school. I’ve made some really good friends (misery loves company!), my knowledge base has been drastically increased, the lectures and readings keep me current, and I’m now a role-model for others in my department interested in continuing their education and most days it really makes me feel good.

Now, I’m going to finish the five pages I scheduled to have finished today. I’ve learned over time that the only way to survive going back to school while also working full-time and raising a family is to set my own deadlines. At the beginning of every semester I map out the required readings, projects and assignments alongside my work and home schedules. I aim to break down the assignments into manageable tasks that I can complete weekly. There are weeks, like when one of the kids gets sick or an unexpected project comes up at work that I don’t stay on track. But for the most part, the system works for me. By just worrying about what is on my list for the week and blocking out the rest makes each semester seem possible and one step closer to graduation!

GOING BACK TO SCHOOL … THE “I DID IT” STAGE!

It’s been almost seven years since I was hooded at commencement as a PhD graduate. What an amazing afternoon. When my name and dissertation title were read, the tears flowed. Years of sacrifice and determination now seemed all worth the effort! The experience continues to be one of my proudest life moments. It was a different type of proud than getting married or having children. Obtaining my PhD was something I wanted to do and set out to achieve. No one required me to go back to school – in fact some people tried to talk me out of it. Getting a PhD was not a requirement of my job – only a handful of people in my department have an advanced degree. There were many times when I wanted to quit. But I kept going. There were times when I would have given anything to go to bed or hang out with family and friends instead of studying. But, I persevered. Now every time I look at the diploma hanging on my office wall (I like to see it every time I walk into work) or each time I hand out a business card with my PhD credentials that sense of internal pride and personal achievement continues.

Looking back now, I can’t imagine how I found time for class let alone the readings and papers. My kids were young and yet I was still involved in their activities. If I think hard enough I do remember the late nights and early mornings. Sure don’t miss those!

My degree has enhanced my career. I’ve applied several of the theories and principles I learned in class to work situations. The ability to analyze data and research topics has certainly proven beneficial as have the enhanced writing skills. Perhaps the greatest gift gained from my degree has been a greater sense of confidence. The process of seeking my PhD taught me I can do anything I set my mind to.

Although there times along the way when I wasn’t sure I would finish –  like when my advisor told me the first draft of my 220 page dissertation literature review was all wrong and I needed to start over – I’m so glad I hung in there. For anyone who is thinking about or currently working on their degree, I urge you to create a support system. Identify family and friends who you can contact when you are thinking about giving up. Keep your eye on the prize … you will be so glad you did! An education is something that only gives and never takes away!