Grad School: My First ‘Real’ Semester

I’ve already finished two courses in my Master’s program, and yet, this September still feels like my first ‘real’ semester. July’s courses were condensed, which gave it an all-in sort of feel. Since we had to be in class every single day, there were always readings to be done, blog posts to be written, and conversations to be had. Now, with classes, readings, and assignments much more spread out over time, everything changes.

Now is when all my questions about balancing work and school and life are being put to the test. In July, the answer was simply: “take vacation.” That doesn’t exactly work anymore! Now is the time to find new answers.

Admittedly, I’m not very convinced I’ve set myself up for success. Our current course, Research in Curriculum and Instruction, which is largely focused on research and trends in educational technology, is only a 10-week course, ending in mid-November. While completing this course, I’m also continuing to work full-time, I’ve signed up to play soccer four or more times a week, and I’m away multiple times, for skating shows and competitions, for conferences, and for baby-visiting. Fitting everything in without burning out is going to be an adventure all on its own.

In July, I documented my grad school experience day-by-day. Now that the work is being more spread out, so will my documentation of the journey. Welcome to the week-by-week play-by-play.

Week 1: Are we sure we’ve started?

Starting an online course can sometimes feel a little bit weird. When you’re not there meeting in person, when there’s no official ‘kick-off’, it feels really anti-climatic. Nothing about your life has changed, on the surface, yet all of the sudden you’re supposed to be living a slightly different life.

The start of this course has also felt like a little bit of an information hunt. In the summer, when we gathered in person (or at least, synchronously), we were told exactly what to expect, we knew where we had to be when, and it was easy to ask questions and get answers. The beginning of this course hasn’t felt that way at all. Our entire cohort has been clicking through our cohort website trying to piece together information, and asking each other a ton of questions to try and get our feet under us. We’ve gotten used to things being a certain way in the summer, and any deviation from that feels strange right now!

Adjusting to the online modality of this course is going to be a bit of a struggle after our condensed in-person summer courses, especially for those of us (like me!) who love to talk about and explore what we’re learning. A lot of the learning and chatting and exploring is being left up to us, which means, in the context of all of our busy lives, it’s much less likely to happen.

Week 2: When you already feel behind

It’s only week 2 of 10, and I already feel as though I’m not doing this right. It’s too easy to not-centre this course in my life- to procrastinate, to decide that tomorrow is a better time to finish my reading, Monday seems like a great day to write my blog post…

One of my September goals was to adopt the habit of schedule blocking, and I think this is going to be sooooo important for getting through these Master’s courses. I need to be planning things out, I need to be scheduling time to do work, and I need to be prioritizing and following through on those commitments.

With online courses, you really do get out of them what you put into them. And when I’m doing my readings or writing my blog posts are the last minute, I don’t have enough time (or sometimes enough energy) to truly get out of it what I want. Being last minute doesn’t give me time to think deeply, to reflect, or to do any additional research or writing. And I LOVE all those things. I want my degree to be FULL of those things.

Structure. Structure and accountability. Two things I need so, so much.

Week 3: Bit by bit

Three weeks in, I don’t think I’ve solved any of the problems I mentioned last week, but I do think I’ve had a realization- my procrastination isn’t always simple procrastination; sometimes it’s simply me spending time reflecting, figuring out what I think, working through different options. ‘Procrastination’ and deep thinking/reflection go hand in hand (at least a little bit!).

I have forever been the type of person who does an entire assignment all in one sitting. Throughout university, I would start a lab report at 9 p.m., and work until it was finished at 4 a.m. I rarely ever broke projects down or worked on them a little bit at a time. I think, for me, this may be a major difference between my undergraduate degree and my graduate degree. While I start each blog post with an idea of what I want to talk about, my thoughts often change and morph as I write. This often means that after writing for a short time, I feel the need to step away. I need a bit of space and time to sort through my thoughts, without a blank page and a blinking cursor staring me in the face. This means my blog posts take forever to write, but it also means my blog posts are more than just a product I’m putting out there; they’re a thought process in themselves.

Week 4: The benefit of complaining

This isn’t 100% grad school related, but a life lesson that I’ve learned over the past few years: no one knows you’re unhappy unless you tell them. If you don’t speak up, people won’t know what you want. Complaining to your friends and colleagues is unlikely to result in change; voicing your complaints to someone in charge may actually create your desired result.

When I sat down to write this week’s blog post earlier this week, I still had not received any feedback on the first two posts I had submitted. Multiple people in our group chat had commented on this, and no one was particularly happy to be lacking that feedback. How can we improve if we’re not receiving any guidance?

So I emailed the professor. I asked when we could expect feedback on the posts we had already submitted. I told her that feedback would be useful in writing future posts. And as a result, she extended the deadline for the blog post by several days and finished a first round of feedback.

If you don’t ask, you don’t receive.

Admittedly, I was a lot happier about the deadline extension 5 days ago. Now the blog post is due tomorrow, and we’re back to regretting not already having it done…

Week 5: The dreaded group project

One of the major assignments in my current class is a group assignment. Each group has been assigned a textbook section, and it’s our job to read the chapters, summarize the content, and create a video and handout to share what we’ve learned with the rest of the class.

It seems to be common to hate the dreaded group project. We have to trust other people?! But the more I think about this concept in the context of my everyday job, the stranger it seems. Because I work in groups every single day. So what’s the difference?

Every day at work, I’m collaborating with other people. I’m depending on them to contribute ideas, to meet deadlines, to provide feedback, to do work. And while that’s not always a perfect process, it’s also not a dreaded one. What’s the difference?

After thinking about this question for the last week, I think it comes down to accountability and ownership. In a group project-based world, everyone is supposed to do an equal amount of work, and everyone is equally responsible. Meanwhile, in a work world, one person is typically in charge, and while you may be working on the project, you don’t have direct ownership. That means that for your work projects, you’re able to make decisions, edit work freely, move forward with out someone, etc., whereas in a group project, none of that is really possible.

Week 6: What is the point?

Featured image by freddie marriage on Unsplash

Nicole Crozier

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