Friday, August 26, 2016

The Non-Traditional Student

So that's what I am now, a "non-traditional student," also known as the "returning student," "adult student," "life-long learner," or other euphemisms that we all know are code for "old". Some, like my husband, took a while to grow up and didn't get around to finishing college until later, some took time off to raise a family, some are getting an advanced degree to further their careers, and some of us are starting a second career.

I'm somewhat of a combination, I suppose. I have two degrees already, and worked in a previous career for a few years, then took a number of years off to have a family, during which time I volunteered and had a small home business. When the kids were older, I got a part-time job in the library and fell in love with it. So now I'm starting an MLIS program to get my degree so I can hopefully become a professional librarian.

What's it like being back in school after 25 years? Well, it's no picnic. First of all, there are constant reminders of how much older I am than many of my classmates. Some of them are barely older than my daughter, many don't really remember what life was like pre-internet. While on the other hand, the last time I wrote a research paper (my master's thesis) was in 1991, and all research was done in the library the hard way, using printed abstracts and indices to find articles in printed and bound professional journals. I did use a computer, but only for word processing, all of my charts, graphs, tables, and figures were done by hand using stick-on graphics tape, numbers and letters, then photographed and printed. I did all the photography myself, developing my own negative and prints, and making my own slides for my defense presentation (I actually think it's kinda cool I got to do all that).

So I feel like at least initially, having to re-learn how to do that kind of research using digital resources and materials will put me at a slight disadvantage; working in children's services doesn't really require any more in-depth reference than Google 99% of the time. Also I have not done any scholarly writing since my thesis, either, so I'm quite out of practice with using a more stuffy, scholarly writing style and remembering to cite everything properly.

Physically it's different this time around as well. My poor old eyes are having a hard time with the increased amount of computer time, and trying to read the teeny-tiny print in our rather dry and dull reading assignments, and I certainly can't pull all-nighters anymore, unless I don't have to work the next day. Even when I have free time in the evenings, I find I am too tired to stay focused on reading or put a reasonably coherent thought together to write anything. School is definitely going to be a little more challenging and require much more careful time-management than the first time around!

I am not typically a vain person, but I have to confess when I went to my orientation and looked around, realizing I was probably the oldest person there (other than some of the professors), it really bothered me and made me doubt myself. Is it too late? Am I just wasting my time and money getting a library degree? Will it ever actually pay off, with all these much younger people competing with me for jobs? After all, we all know how crappy the job market is in general, but it's even worse once you're over 40. 

Oh well, at least one good thing about being in an online class is that I don't have to see people face-to-face and be confronted almost daily with their young shiny faces and reminded that I am old enough to be their mother. Online I can forget, and pretend we are all the same age. 

Until another "mature" student makes a movie reference to "Field of Dreams" and I'm the only one who gets it, that is.

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