Taking It Slow

Hello! My name is Lauren Bauer, this is my first article for Hack Library School, and I have something I’d like to get off my chest: it’s going to take me six years to graduate.

I realize that’s not the usual way of doing things. After all, most grad programs are meant to be done in a year or two – my own program at San José State University says that students can finish in as few as four semesters, and, anecdotally at least, that seems to be the norm.

But it’s not the path for me, or, at least, it isn’t now. It probably would have been if I’d done something more like Sarah did and enrolled in grad school directly after graduating undergrad. But I didn’t know then that I wanted to work in libraries, and my route has been a more circuitous one.

I work in Access Services now, and once while staffing the circulation desk together during a bit of a slow period one of our student workers asked me, “What do you know now that you wish you’d known as an undergrad?”

“First of all,” I said, “and this is more than slightly embarrassing, but I didn’t know how helpful reference librarians can be. And second, I wonder now why I was in such a rush. I had this very concrete idea in my head that I needed to graduate exactly four years after finishing high school. Why? Where did that come from? What, exactly, was I so afraid would happen if it took me five or six years to get my degree?”

I still don’t know the answer to that question, by the way. I just know it was very important to me. I took no breaks, enrolled in both summer and winter sessions, and never took fewer than 15 units at a time. I even considered petitioning for permission to take more than the max number of units, so I could finish even faster. Again – now I look back and wonder, did I think it was a race? Was I expecting some sort of prize? Or, conversely, did I think something bad was going to happen if I took longer than four years to finish? (I can’t prove it, obviously, but I doubt it would have. I graduated in 2008, a notoriously terrible year to graduate, and was unemployed for a year. I might as well have been in school, for all the good finishing did me.)

Hindsight, of course, is 20/20, but now I preach it to anyone who will listen – life happens, and arbitrary deadlines aren’t set in stone. There’s nothing wrong with taking a smaller class load, or taking a semester off if you need it. The world keeps spinning, and higher education isn’t going anywhere.

As an undergrad, I worked a few part-time jobs here and there, but my main focus was always school. Now, as a grad student, my main focus is, quite honestly, my full-time job. It’s where I spend the bulk of my time and effort. And that’s okay! (Unlike grad school, it pays the bills!) I have the perspective, now, twelve years later, that I didn’t have as a recent graduate, that there are other things, besides school, that deserve, if not all my time and attention, at least some of it. Marissa wrote a really eloquent guest post about balancing work, school, mental health, physical health, family responsibilities, and even hobbies while in grad school, and I’d like to echo that sentiment. Doing well in my classes is important to me, absolutely, but so is indoor cycling and baking and music and reading for fun and gardening.

There are, of course, a host of great reasons to slow down and take a more sedate path, whether just for a semester or, like me, for an entire program. Students need breaks for all kinds of reasons – new jobs, family obligations, illness, mental health, a myriad of other reasons – but I don’t want to discount deciding to space out your program just because you want to. I don’t have a “good” reason for going so slowly, other than, I like it, and it works for me and where I am in my life right now. So if you’re reading this and feel like you need permission to do things a little differently than maybe your classmates are doing or your family expects you to do, consider it given. There’s more of us than you realize, and I’m always here to talk, share and commiserate! Drop a comment below or hit me up on Twitter at @darthbookworm3. I’ll write you back…just as soon as I take a quick nap.

Photo by Maksim Shutov on Unsplash

6 replies

  1. I see no reason to rush at all. Everything seems to be up in the air at this time (sing if you know the Talking Heads song), and where we will be in six years is anyone’s guess. I graduated with my MLS in 2007 just as the housing market imploded and a year before the great global economic collapse. I was lucky that I secured the part-time job I still have during yet another economic recession, this one driven by a pandemic. It was hard to plan for the future then much as it is now. You will probably benefit from taking it slow, learning as social and technological changes influence the direction of the profession. Good luck!

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  2. This is really an important post. It’s so easy (for me, at least) to feel like I’m falling behind because I’m starting grad school after many of my friends have finished. It’s nice to be reminded that it isn’t a race.

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  3. Good point! It feels weird when people you met in your core classes start passing you and graduating without you. I know two people in my program who used to be student workers where I work…and both of them are definitely going to graduate before I do. And I used to be their supervisor! But I just keep reminding myself, like you said, it’s not a race, and maybe there’ll be some awesome job opening up when you do graduate, that wouldn’t have been there a year or two previously.

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  4. I waited quite a while to go to Grad School (i got my bachelor’s in 1992 – and started grad school in 2016 🙂 I just wanted to echo the going slow, that is what I did, one class a semester (i did take classes in the summer, but also took a semester off when my husband and I traveled to China). Slow and steady is still a good choice. I will be taking my last class next semester, and am a little sad it will be over. Good luck at SJSU – I have had an excellent time online there!

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    • This makes me feel so much better; thank you for sharing! There’s a lot of benefits to not jumping into grad school right away, too – not the least of which is being sure you really want it in the first place. I’m also really enjoying hearing how all my classmates spent those intervening years – jobs, families, other degrees…we all come from such different places, and have interesting stories to share.

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