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shrinkgirl

Your #1 tip for an older student?

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Hey guys!

 

I sort of introduced myself on the "older students" thread, but I wanted to pick your brains here. I'm a thirty-something with a husband and two kids and a moderately successful writing career. I begin the first semester of my Masters program at the end of January. I'm sooo excited and also ridiculously nervous.

 

For those of you who've been there, done that, what would your #1 tip be for me as I gear up to begin? Anything you wish you'd known or been told in advance?

 

Thanks bunches!  :D

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Much of this was learned when I returned to finish my undergrad degree when I was in my mid 40's 

 
#1 - the school let you in, that means that they think you will succeed, if they believe in you, believe in yourself
#2 - talk to your advisor early & often
#3 - check out whatever services your school has for non traditional students
#4 - learn to adjust
#5 - create a work area for yourself 
 
most important - remember to have fun

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Make use of all the resources available to you - your tuition helps to pay for them! Whether it's the writing centre, student health services, the gym/athletic centre, make use of whatever you can. And don't be afraid to ask for help.

Also, don't be afraid to make use of your additional life experiences in your classes. Mention things your younger classmates might not be aware of, make connections based on your life experiences. Your profs and TAs will appreciate your contributions, and your younger classmates may learn something from you!

This does not apply to popular culture references, however. ;) At Halloween, when I mentioned "don't cross the streams" (it was applicable, but in a very different context), my classmates looked at me with puzzlement. I guess a lot of early 20-somethings haven't seen Ghostbusters.

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Thanks, guys! Love the GB joke fail, lol. I got the first of my textbooks and have been inhaling the info. So. Excited.

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This is more of an observation than a tip: I was surprised by how long it took me to get back into the habits of studying, having been out of education for a few years. Before I went back to school I had a job that was often long hours, but once I left for the day, my time was my own. Being a student was totally the opposite - I only had 12 hours a week of classes, and had to work out how to schedule the rest of my time (I am doing a coursework Masters so don't have research obligations). I never felt like I was 'off duty' - no matter what I was doing, I could in theory have been studying (even though I don't need to study constantly to do well in these classes). At the same time, the temptation to spend the afternoon drinking coffee with friends was always there, because 'I can always study later'. So you might want to think in advance about how you'll handle that dynamic.

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#1 Tip: Stop thinking about age.  No one is going to look at you and think "Look at this old f***. . ."  You got in, same as them.  If you don't make age an issue, they (the proverbial they) aren't likely to either.

Edited by ANDS!

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#1 Tip: Stop thinking about age.  No one is going to look at you and think "Look at this old f***. . ."  You got in, same as them.  If you don't make age an issue, they (the proverbial they) aren't likely to either.

Not necessarily true. Even if you don't make age an issue, it's quite obvious there is an age difference when you have a husband and family, and they just have boyfriends or casual partners. Or when they talk about how old a foundational study in your field is, that it was published before they were born, but you were in high school at the time. Or when they don't invite you out to drinks and dancing, because they don't want to socialize with someone old enough to be their mother. Or when a prof mentions something that you were alive for, but your classmates weren't, and clearly addresses you as the exception. Or when you are asked to interview your grandparents, but all yours are long dead. Age comes up, even if you don't explicitly mention it or make it an issue.

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Not necessarily true. Even if you don't make age an issue, it's quite obvious there is an age difference when you have a husband and family, and they just have boyfriends or casual partners. Or when they talk about how old a foundational study in your field is, that it was published before they were born, but you were in high school at the time. Or when they don't invite you out to drinks and dancing, because they don't want to socialize with someone old enough to be their mother. Or when a prof mentions something that you were alive for, but your classmates weren't, and clearly addresses you as the exception. Or when you are asked to interview your grandparents, but all yours are long dead. Age comes up, even if you don't explicitly mention it or make it an issue.

I don't entirely agree with you on this one. You do make some good points, such as younger students not necessarily wanting to go to the club/bar with students who are 20+ years older, or a professor saying "most of you weren't alive when this thing happened" while having a certain student in mind.

However, it's not at all accurate to state that all younger students will have boyfriends and casual partners. Quite a few will be married, and some will have kids (married or not). Plus having a spouse does not create some magical divide that separates you from the non-married. I have found that there is little difference between having a spouse or being in a long-term relationship. Mostly the only difference is a piece of paper. I also find your statement interesting, because many of the people I went to high school with got married between 24 and 26. I think the national average is something around 25. Assuming grad students follow the national trend, that means they would probably be in serious relationships upon entering grad school or develop them shortly thereafter. So I really doubt there would be a lot of "casual partners."

I'm also not sure that having an old study or event happen in your lifetime but not during that of the younger students really makes a difference. Sure, the professor might say "most of you weren't alive yet," but aside from maybe making you feel a little old, it's not like the class is going to think negatively about you for it, and they will likely forget about that comment in a few minutes. As an undergrad, I was a little older than many of my fellow biology students (I was 25 when I started the program) and there were actually quite a few students in their 30s and 40s. None of us had issues with younger students thinking we were old or not wanting to work or socialize with us. There was even this guy in his late 30s who had a wife and kids, and everyone absolutely loved him. I don't know if he ever went out anywhere with them, but he was always socializing with younger students around campus.

I also wonder if drinks and dancing are actually that common in grad school. Maybe I'm boring, but that doesn't sound like a good way to spend my precious free time. In my masters program, we get together for dinner someplace or a bbq at someone's house, and there's trivia night at a local restaurant. I've also gone hiking and camping with my fellow students. None of these things are age-restricted. Maybe it's because we're a bunch of biology students (and most of us are into ecology), but we don't really do anything that might be awkward with someone significantly older than us. Come to think of it, our professors often join us, and they are almost all 20+ years older.

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I am 40, and just finishing my second masters and hoping to start my PhD in the fall.  I didn't start college until I was 26, and that was after I have served 7 years in the military, got married and divorced and had a child. Now my child is in college, and I left a second career to go to grad school at 36. It's different.  Age is an issue, but it also isn't an issue.  I agree, we earned our admission so there is no reason to question our age in the program.  The average age of grad students is on the rise as well, so if you are in your late 30's I almost guarantee you will not be the oldest one in your program.  If you are, I will be very surprised.  I always felt old, but inevitably there was someone much older than I was handling things just fine.  Maturity might very well be an issue.  If you have lived a life so-to-speak, and are raising your own children, you might find it a bit harder to relate to younger students that have gone directly through the academic system.  But they may also find it a bit difficult to relate to you.  Study habits might be different, time management, etc.  I found that sometimes I felt a bit of resentment towards young students that still were being funded by parents, never had a job, not doing assignments because of partying or whatever reason when I was a single parent working 2 jobs, and getting straight A's.  But you will see a shift in this in grad school.  Grad students for the most part are more mature and have worked hard to get there too, regardless of their situation. I think you will most likely notice differences when it comes to social aspects rather than academics.  And you might strongly connect with younger students as well.  I rarely do, but one of my best friends now is only 27. We spend a lot of time together, and there are disconnects with some things like dating, etc but all in all it will come down to the person.  You also might find it a bit easier to connect with professors than some of your younger cohorts. Not always true, but they too seek to relate to students and it might make things a bit more accessible some times.  I know it has for me, and I am very close to many of my faculty.  Bottom line, your experience WILL be different than your younger cohorts. However it is neither less nor more valid.  All of our differences make for a rich educational experience.

 

Some things I can suggest based on my experience:

 

- get to know your cohorts the best you can, without prejudice, as much as your time allows.

 

- be a mentor.  I have found that some of the younger students have reached out to me for advice or a shoulder when going through something difficult or unfamiliar.  This will take time for them to know you and understand you, but I bet it will happen.  We have life experiences many of them have yet to have, and you might be the person that they call on to head to the doctor with them or something because it is a little too personal for friends.

 

- stay involved.  This was a mistake I made for a while.  I let my own 'life' keep me from being involved with department and campus cool stuff, and it made me feel even more disconnected. It might mean a bit of extra time management, but it will really help your experience.

 

- call on younger students to help you and vice versa.  Maybe there is a younger student working a couple jobs and needing some extra change, so maybe they can babysit for you, or pet sit, or house sit.  Some younger students have been consistently in academia, where we have taken a break, and they might have more academia experience than you, such as conferences or presentations, or different software stuff, whatever.  Get them to lend you a hand.  Find ways to connect even though you might not be hanging out with them on the weekends.

 

- most departments have a lot of drama...some more than others.  Stay out of the gossip, rumor mills, etc that perpetuate when people get weird.  It will happen.  You will find that there are certain students (and possibly faculty) that will perpetuate this stuff, much like highschool, and it will be to your advantage to be the mature older student at that point and keep your distance.  I am disconnected enough that I just watch everything implode from a distance, but your opinion also matters so don't be too disconnected.  It is a balancing act that will take some time to navigate. 

 

I am sure there is much more that I will come up with in the shower tonight, but all in all your experience is what you make it. Age is only a very minor factor in it all.

 

Good luck and have fun!

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Not necessarily true. Even if you don't make age an issue, it's quite obvious there is an age difference when you have a husband and family, and they just have boyfriends or casual partners. Or when they talk about how old a foundational study in your field is, that it was published before they were born, but you were in high school at the time. Or when they don't invite you out to drinks and dancing, because they don't want to socialize with someone old enough to be their mother. Or when a prof mentions something that you were alive for, but your classmates weren't, and clearly addresses you as the exception. Or when you are asked to interview your grandparents, but all yours are long dead. Age comes up, even if you don't explicitly mention it or make it an issue.
 
Like 99% of that isn't in any way academic, or would have any impact on a healthy personal image in the department.  "Drinks and dancing. . ."  Honestly?
 
Will there be a generational gap - maybe.  If you are dead set on being "friends" with the young people in the department, including doing the social stuff outside of campus a 30-something shouldn't have that much of a problem if they REALLY want that.  Social interests aren't going to completely align, but theres nothing stopping folks born in different decades from having a beer or being invited over for dinner.  Hard partying and at a housewarming on a school night. . .maybe not.

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I'm 44, married, have 3 sons, and am in the 2nd year of a PhD program. I haven't found that there is a huge divide between me and other students - the person I'm closest to in my cohort is 21. I don't go out drinking but many of the other students aren't interested in partying, while some are. Personality plays into this as much as anything.

 

The biggest thing for me is to schedule EVERYTHING. I tell my family all the time "if it isn't on my calendar it doesn't happen." Assignments due for me, assignments due for my students, activities for my children, appointments, etc. I put it all on a calendar. I am rigid about making sure I stick to my schedule because having a family takes time. Kids get sick at the least opportune moments. My first semester I got pneumonia and my father-in-law had a massive stroke - being scheduled kept me on track when it would have been easy to get derailed.

 

I agree with the advice to stay involved. I moved from one office to another my 2nd semester, and being in an environment with a lot more students allowed me to connect with others better. My advisor told me that when I go on the job market prospective employers will care about the type of service someone has put in for the department as well, and those who can demonstrate participation do better.

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Thanks for all the advice, everyone! I'm not so worried about the socialization aspect of things, since I'm in a hybrid program and plan to take most classes online. I'm also pretty easy to talk to for the classes I do have in person (no automatic prejudices against the young uns). I was more interested in how you guys balance jobs, family, children, spouses, etc. with a full-time class load. And there are some amazing tips in here! I'm feeling fairly confident that I can handle things with some rigorous time management and scheduling.

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We have many things in common, shrinkgirl! I am in my early thirties, married, have two children under 5, and am taking my Master's degree in Counselling Psychology. Mine is also a blended-delivery degree, wherein I do my theory classes online and my clinical work on campus or in the off-campus mental health clinic. I'm a few months out from finishing up my first year. Age hasn't been an issue for me in the slightest; my cohort range in age from about 26 to about 50 and are an amazing group of people. My issue is more one of balance and time management. My husband works full-time plus overtime hours (law enforcement) and is absent many long days and nights which makes it difficult to balance caring for my children and school. I don't get nearly as much sleep as I'd like and don't have much (if any) down time, but it's been a very fulfilling and amazing year! Good luck to you; with a lot planning and organization, you can do this, and do it well! :)

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Another Counselling Psychology person, here, just about to start my first semester. 

 

I'm really interested in this thread, since I'm starting at 37 and haven't been a FT student since 1999.  I'm not so much anxious about the rapport/relating to my cohort/social aspect, since I've been working for years primarily with people who are in the age range of the typical person who goes directly into grad school from undergrad. I've got that down, at least to my own level of comfort.  I'm confident I can do the work.  If I'm anxious about anything, it's about mentally getting back into "student" mindset, after so many years out of academia (at least from a student standpoint, I'm switching into counselling from a teaching career). Balance and time management has always been my biggest hurdle, both in school and professionally...I tend to immerse myself and not come up for air, and my life balance suffers.  I'm hoping to improve at that this time around and hit a good balance.  I have a spouse to help take on part of the household load, which I didn't have during undergrad, and although he is career military and his schedule can vary due to his work, we make a great team.  We have no kids at this point, and I'm thankful that I am able to go to school FT without worrying about work.  Were I committed to my former work hours, none of this would be possible, so I'm very thankful I'm able to focus just on school at this point in my life...I know many people don't have that luxury.

 

So I guess I'm mostly concerned about tip for balancing school around life...I'll be honest, years ago when I was in undergrad, I just plain DIDN'T.  I lived and breathed school, and school alone (and I could, at that point, I had no other real responsibilities). Since I struggled then, I'm hoping to do better.

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Thanks for all the advice, everyone! I'm not so worried about the socialization aspect of things, since I'm in a hybrid program and plan to take most classes online. I'm also pretty easy to talk to for the classes I do have in person (no automatic prejudices against the young uns). I was more interested in how you guys balance jobs, family, children, spouses, etc. with a full-time class load. And there are some amazing tips in here! I'm feeling fairly confident that I can handle things with some rigorous time management and scheduling.

And to Wordsmith:

 

About time; if you stop and think about it you more-than-likely have tons of free time.  It is masked by your day-to-day trivial, mundane, tasks.  It is sometimes hard to see ourselves for ourselves, so I will begin with my GF.  My GF claims to "never have free time", yet she spends an awful lot of time watching TV or dorking around on Pinterest, Facebook, and so on.  When she does laundry and is between loads, yup, she passes the time on Facebook instead of working on something else.  

 

I was the same way.  It wasn't that I didn't have the time as much as it was that I didn't want to spend my time in ways that were more productive, initially.  

 

Here is an exercise you can do:  keep track of time spent through the day for one week:  wake up, getting ready in the morning, commuting, work, TV, cooking, eating, and so on.  Be as honest as possible and at the end of the week review the timesheet.  If you were honest you should see a lot of wasted time.  

 

What I did at first, and mind you this was for undergrad, was to make a schedule and stick to it as close as possible. After about six months my schedule, between working full time and being a student full time, became habit so I stopped with the planning.  Since the school/work balance became habit I only noted certain dates in my calendar.  

 

I had to work full time, support myself, pay all of my own bills, rent, etc., but I did not have children.  I I'm a firm believer in the idea that if we want something to happen we find the ways to make it happen.  

 

I am also a firm believer in that by being active it is easier to remain active (laziness breeds more laziness).  I found that when I came home from work I was that much more energized to do homework/schoolwork/projects:  I was already in the work/TCB mode, it was easy to feed from it. 

Edited by Crucial BBQ

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Cruical BBQ has the right idea: I have never met a grad student who hasn't had any free time. I personally work 10 hours Mon-Fri, and 5 hours Sat/Sun.  I sleep ~ 6 hours a day. so if we are adding all that up thats 102 hours of work + sleep.  That leaves 66 hours a week to eat, socalize, commute, hobby, extra sleep, errands. Thats almost 10 hours a day total on average !  Thats a ton of time. 

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As funny as it sounds, when I say balance and time management, I'm not really worried about buckling down and getting my stuff done - that's never really been an issue for me. . My concern is more the opposite. In the past as a student, immersing myself completely and totally in my studies to the exclusion of everything else was my "normal."  When I was teaching, pretty much the same rules applied...I lived and breathed it, devoted every spare moment to it whether nominally "off the clock" or not.  When I was earning my bachelor's, and in my career, this worked...I was on my own, it was just me, and I wasn't shortchanging anybody or anything buy focusing on my studies and/or my teaching to the exclusion of all else.  My issue is that I'm in a different place in life, now.  I have a spouse, an extended family, my time is no longer just my own, and I want to get the balance right. This is new ground for me.  I'm not the person who's going to have a hard time with the school work load...if I had to predict, I'd say I'm the person whose challenge is going to be making sufficient time for the rest of life outside of my schooling. I tend to get a little/a lot sucked in.

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As funny as it sounds, when I say balance and time management, I'm not really worried about buckling down and getting my stuff done - that's never really been an issue for me. . My concern is more the opposite. In the past as a student, immersing myself completely and totally in my studies to the exclusion of everything else was my "normal."  When I was teaching, pretty much the same rules applied...I lived and breathed it, devoted every spare moment to it whether nominally "off the clock" or not.  When I was earning my bachelor's, and in my career, this worked...I was on my own, it was just me, and I wasn't shortchanging anybody or anything buy focusing on my studies and/or my teaching to the exclusion of all else.  My issue is that I'm in a different place in life, now.  I have a spouse, an extended family, my time is no longer just my own, and I want to get the balance right. This is new ground for me.  I'm not the person who's going to have a hard time with the school work load...if I had to predict, I'd say I'm the person whose challenge is going to be making sufficient time for the rest of life outside of my schooling. I tend to get a little/a lot sucked in.

I hear you! What I've found helpful is scheduling family time on my calendar right alongside class time, work, and study time. Certain times are pre-planned and blocked in as off-limits for schoolwork because they belong to my husband and daughter.

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