My life as "Jeopardy!" question: Obsessive Type A personality with an impressive inability to say no...
Answer: Who is Kevin Clapp?
If only there were a fabulous cash prize for answering that one.
There is no prototypical online master's student at Purdue University. Each of us enter the program with diverse backgrounds and life experiences, which make our weekly forum conversations so rich and stimulating.
(Check back next month for thoughts on why these discussions, and the approach taken in them will define your online experience more than any final project ever will.)
Despite these valuable differences, there is one way in which the vast majority of us are similar: we possess a single-minded drive to succeed and strive for something greater. This ambition is what drove us to explore obtaining an advanced degree from Purdue in the first place. We are achievers; complacency bores us, especially those of us in mid-career juggling complicated work and family lives.
So, if you're like me, you are juggling work, marriage, parenting, youth sports, music lessons, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts and more. And, just for fun, you're going to toss higher education into the mix. Yeah, good luck with that.
There are ways to manage your many silos without allowing any to fall into disrepair, but be prepared to become a master juggler. Also expect some of the balls to occasionally fall. This is nothing to be ashamed of. As a new student you encounter the rush of re-entering an academic environment, and the accompanying flood of adrenaline will power you through the first class or two in a way that will deceive you into thinking this is going to be a piece of cake.
Then you hit class three, four, five and come to the gradual realization that oh, wait, while individual classes may feel like sprints the program itself is a marathon and ... What do you mean I've got a major presentation due in a week? I'm going away with my family that weekend. How am I going to get it all done?
Everyone needs to find the balance necessary to thrive in class while not abdicating responsibilities at home. I have, for instance, completed coursework in the following ways:
- By propping my iPad on the dash of my Toyota, a Bluetooth keyboard in my lap while my son is preparing for a soccer game
- By highlighting passages from a research study while sitting in a softball dugout and my daughter is fielding ground balls
- By reading text books on the porch of my parent’s house in Western Massachusetts after a long day of doing chores on the farm.
I have completed reading by the light of a campfire. I've written assignments at 5 am and 11 pm. I've marked up paper drafts while sitting on the beach. I've stayed at work late to write one last discussion forum post because it's the only quiet time I'll have given the amount of work to do at home. I've written entire essays in my head while mowing the lawn because ... Well, because what else are you going to do while mowing the lawn?
If you're preparing to enter the program, I'll understand if you think I'm trading in hyperbole. If you've been in the program and you're reading this, you know it's true. Nothing about this is easy, nor should it be. Life is a contact sport. If you're not prepared to get a little dirty, what's the point? Anyone who enters the online communications graduate program with a burning desire to do their very best to be the very best is going to get pretty filthy in the process.
One final thought for all you parents out there:
If you have children of any age who are able to string together a coherent sentence or two, be prepared to hear a variation of the following at some point in the next 20 months:
"You really spend a lot of time doing schoolwork."
"I really wish you didn't spend so much time doing schoolwork."
(Coincidentally, if your child does not yet speak, prepare for them to give you a look that says all of the above and more.)
It will break your heart. You will feel guilty, and you'll know that in that moment one of those balls you've been juggling has crashed to the ground.
Each of my twins has said a version of this to me more than once. It doesn't make me feel good, but it's to be expected. In my entrance essay, I discussed how going back to school now can serve as an example for my children about the importance of not only education but that the pursuit of knowledge never has to end. It may not be easy. It may take tremendous sacrifice. Just remember that despite the hardships you encounter - and the challenges will come. Count on it - this journey we are on is worth it.
Kevin Clapp is a student in Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.
*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.