I worried about a lot of things in the months between receiving my GCSW acceptance letter and beginning the MSW program in August. In addition to wondering how my family would manage without my time or my paycheck, I spent a lot of mental energy pondering life as a student in the digital age. I suppose focusing on the latter helped me from developing guilty feelings related to the former. This strategy has worked out well for me.
The last time I was in graduate school, Windows had not been invented. Floppy disks were, in fact floppy; They were big yet held small amounts of data. No one had heard the term “USB Port.” Macs were burning bright on the horizon but were few and far between. The internet was a mythical idea, although some comp sci friends had modems that required they push their phone into this rubbery cradle thing. They seemed to get it, but most of us didn’t. At any rate, all research was done in the library, card catalogs ruled, and most journals were located in dark and dusty stacks. Registration was a stressful but necessary evil that took place in a gymnasium. All departments had tables manned with clerks who had punch cards for each class offered: one card per available seat in the class. In order to get into a class, you had to get the right punch card. It was an unnerving but exhilarating process. If nothing else, it was physical.
For those of you, like me, who have never dealt with digital registration, identification and the like, the different usernames and passwords will be daunting. But just in the beginning. I have memorized my PeopleSoft ID number, but I had to look it up and use it many times before I did. I ended up writing all passwords and usernames on a single sheet of paper to post on my desk, except those related to financial aid. Digital financial aid information is with all of my other, super-secret financial information.
All-in-all, the changes wrought by the internet have been great for students. If, like me, you have young(ish) children, (I have two daughters: 6 and 12 years old) the conveniences enabled by the internet are fantastic. Not only can you do research from your living room and read articles posted on line, you can be in touch with your instructors without making appointments or going to campus.
But what about the work/life balance? During my first semester, I didn’t find it stressful. The academic workload was tapered so that when we started our field placements (which require roughly 20 hours per week) during week 8, we only had to be on campus one day per week. I know other students, though, who had real struggles finding a manageable balance. The good news is that the faculty and advisors are well aware that many of us are both full time students and full time “something else.” Finally, when I filled out my fieldwork paperwork, I requested that I since I have school aged kids, I’d like to be home by 4pm. I also indicated that I bike or take the bus to get around. While I’m sure these were not the only factors that went into determining my field placement, I think the office did a good job of coordinating the kind of experience I hoped for (I was very vague, since I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up) with my logistical requests. I’m home by 4:15 four days a week.
Some changes that I have implemented at home with my family that have really helped: we do our food shopping on Sundays; we put my youngest in extended day, which she loves (lucky us, it’s free); we have a chart of kitchen chores for everyday so the work load is shared across all four of us; and, my oldest prepares her own school lunch.
Going back to school has been a big transition for our family and it’s been great. School is a lot different than it was 25 years ago which surprised me. And, I think it’s good for my kids to see me as a student; they see that I don’t know everything and that I have to spend time on schoolwork. I’m glad we took the time over the summer to prepare them for the changes. With some advanced planning our family has made a smooth (and almost glitch free) transition.