Friday, August 31, 2012

Let's Clear This Up Or Sometimes I Can't Finish a Post Right Way

For those of you that have been reading so far, thanks for the following! As I said in my first post, this is largely an outlet for me to bitch and moan about grad school, but will also become a way to keep people in the loop of what's going on in this life of mine.

Upon re-reading my most recent post, I realized that I have already fallen behind. Yesterday's excuse is that I spent the better part of the day traveling and did not have a connection to post the entry (so I had to finish it a day later). This will happen sometimes because like I also mentioned in my opener: school comes first (most of the time).

A second thing I realized is that I am rambling on and on about my classes but they are vague and ambiguous statements and unless you are in the classes, you have no idea what is going on. So, let's clear some things up.

On Mondays and Wednesdays, this is what my class schedule looks like:

9.30-10.45am: Organizational Efficacy (PPOL220) with Carol
11-12.15pm: Local Policy, Planning, and Management (PPOL227)* with Mark.
2.30-3.45pm: Qualitative Research Methods (PPOL216) with Carol

After these classes, I'll probably hit the gym for an hour or meet with members of my cohort to work on any one of our million class projects.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, this is what my class schedule looks like:

11-12.15pm: MPP Integrative Core I (PPOL230) with Mark and Sharyl
2-3.30pm**: Transportation & Land Use Planning (CP213) with Dan Chatman

After this, I will most likely roll down the hill and work at the shop from 4-9pm.

In case it wasn't clear before, I work in a bicycle shop. Mostly I sell things but occasionally, I get to work on bikes, maybe build one from time to time if the shop is slow. Due to my ridiculous class schedule, I have to scale back my hours from this summer, but will still be working about 20-30hrs a week. I've put in for: T/TH after class (4-9pm) and anytime on Fridays and Sundays. I've left Saturdays for my own sanity and a whole day to work on class readings and meet with colleagues. Due to the School + Work schedule, I don't foresee much (or any) social time. Which means I should probably have a drink or two when I'm meeting with classmates.

There you have it. This is going to be my life for the next nine months.

*According to Mark, we will be referring to the class as "Local" by next week.
**It's really more like 2.10-3.30pm, due to "Berkeley Time". Again, I think they should change the schedule to reflect this. Apparently, Harvard does the same thing.

Day 4: Not Quite In Over My Head...Yet

Today is a different kind of day. Typically, I have Mark in the morning and then quickly head back home to jump on the bike and ride to Cal for 213. Instead, I'm skipping 213 and will be spending the duration of that class up in the air on my way to Colorado. This holiday weekend is being spent celebrating the beginning of Cameron's final year at USAFA and most of my time will be spent reading for classes (both for next week and this past week).

After a late night of cleaning, I spent this morning doing last minute errands in preparation for my trip. After all the remaining cleaning, packing, and showering, I hopped in the car around 10am to head over to the shop to pick up another textbook that came in. I figured since I was just down the street, I would also head to Krishna Copy to pick up my reader for 213. Another Berkeley joke: there are THREE Krishna Copies within .75mi of campus and NONE of them are related to the others. I ran back to my car cursing after finding this out and pulled two illegal U-ies in order to score a parking spot in front of The Original Krishna Copy. Three minutes and ninety-four dollars later, I am the proud owner of a two-part reader. It was fun trying to cram this in my bag and then make my way through security with it. Better be worth it.

Even though the speed limit down Telegraph is 35mph, I was booking it at about 45-50 and making it through every light. I made it to class with about 10min to spare, a feat I hope to never have to pull off again.

 I think this class, more than any other class, is going to be the one that sends me under. It's not so much the workload, as it is what we are working towards. This is the precursor to our Senior Thesis class, in which we gather the materials in order to prepare to write our Master's Policy Reports (MPRs) next semester. It's not extremely work-intensive compared to the rest of my classes. But that will certainly become the case next semester. Understanding the purpose of this class is what makes me feel as though I may be in over my head.

After class ended for the day, I needed to head to the airport to catch my flight. First things first, I need highlighters. For the life of me, I have not been able to find my pencil pouch ANYWHERE, even tearing my room apart to find it. It went missing about two weeks ago but I've not recovered it. For the time being, I am in a DESPERATE need of highlighters.

So desperate in fact, that I was willing to pay the inflated price for a pack at the bookstore on campus. However, when you walk into the bookstore, see a line of 15 women at the cash register and you have to be at the airport in 30 minutes (and it takes about 20 minutes to get there), you realize that you aren't THAT desperate. Though, it was extremely tempting to grab the pack, toss $5 on the counter and yell "keep the change".

I made it to the airport in good time, even picking up a double-double from In-N-Out. The airport was business as usual: eating lunch and cracking up over a video, while waiting for my plane to board. I nabbed one of the last aisle seats at the back of the plane, thinking this was a prime space to be so I could read for class during the 2.5 hour flight.

WRONG. The row in front of me had two young boys, talking and watching a movie (without headphones). And the row behind me and on the other side of the aisle had a mid-40 year old rocker that looked something like Chad Kroeger, but with more tattoos and an air of California drug propensity. We landed around 5.20pm MDT and he yells out "WOOHOO! It's 4.20". It was even better when I turned and reminded him that it was actually an hour ahead and he missed it. I got a glare for it, but considering his chattiness kept me from getting more reading done, I didn't feel bad in the least bit.

It was a relief to be off the plane, even though it would later mean waiting an hour for Cameron and Nate to come pick me up and then another 90 minutes of driving to the Springs, after we got caught behind a car accident on I-25 that shut down the highway (and Cam's car) for a good half hour. How I managed to make it through dinner and then back to our host family's house, I don't know. But I was out cold and had no more thoughts of traveling. Only of how I was going to get all my readings for next week finished.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Day 3: Getting the Ball Rolling or Already Behind and Scrambling to Catch Up

Today ended up being MUCH better than I thought.

I managed to fall back into my school morning routine pretty quickly. I got to campus, chatted with some friends, and made my way to my new academic home. All my classes are held in Reinhardt Hall and since it's stocked with a full kitchen, showers, and lockers for each student, I expect to be living there part of the time. And I'm more than okay with that.

Considering I didn't read for ANY of my classes today (I still don't have all my books yet), I managed to get by. We jumped into discussion of the material for Organizational Efficacy; I realized that Mills has given me the tools to get by in a situation when I'm not prepared. I got by and contributed to the conversation using my own knowledge and experiences. I really overestimated the class, but I am still conscious of the fact that I can't skip the readings. I'll only be hurting myself.

My class with Mark was FANTASTIC and I can tell I'm going to love every second of it. I signed up to lead three class discussions of the reading throughout the semester. And since I'll be missing a few classes, I'll be giving mini-presentations on what I learned during my travels, as they relate to planning. Again, not something I'm particularly worried about.

I had a two hour break following Mark's class, in which I shared lunch with Isabel, chatted with friends, and sat on the benches beneath the Campanil. I've spent the past four years here and never once  have I sat beneath the clock tower. I find this amusing, since my favorite historical fact about the campus is that the Campanil (which chimes every quarter hour) was the first concrete-reinforced structure west of the Mississippi River. When you consider the area west of this major river, this is a serious deal. I turned in my cross-registration paper (YAY!!!) and then cruised back up to Reinhardt for my final class of the day.

This class, Qualitative Methods, proved to be a little harder to BS. We were supposed to have read the majority of a book that (you guessed right) has not arrived yet! Even though I could think of valid answers to many of Carol's questions, they were text-specific, so I didn't want to risk looking like an idiot and a liar. As they say "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, rather than to open your mouth and remove all doubt." Again: sound advice. Sometimes, though, I have to mentally tell myself NOT TO SAY A WORD in class, when I haven't read the material due for that particular class lecture and discussion. The last thing I want to do is be called out by a professor for having not done the readings.

Heading home was a relief, despite the things I have on my To-Do List. I'm leaving tomorrow after class to Colorado to visit Cameron and see my folks for Labor Day weekend. I took the initiative of making a list of everything I need to do. I got to most of them, but I will still end up packing tomorrow morning. I had Riley over for dinner and to keep my company while I did my laundry and cleaned up. Now, he's passed out (which I'm ready to do also) and I will get to the rest of my travel things tomorrow, before I head to class and then to the airport. I'm not looking forward to having to haul so many books to Colorado, but considering I have fallen behind from the start, this is my opportunity to catch up. Getting ahead isn't likely, but one can hope. As long as I have hope, the odds will be in my favor.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Day 2.75: Sound Advice or It's Okay to Freak Out Sometimes

Today ended up being an overall success, but it didn't look that way initially.

Last night was great! Movie was funny, adventurous, and it was wonderful being with my crew and providing important bike-related commentary throughout the movie. Not sure how much the rest of the theatre appreciated it, but it was a riot all the same.

Sadly, things started slipping south after we left the theatre. We gathered outside for our usual group photo, when my friend jumped into my arms. My phone flew out of my hands and hit the ground, breaking into its three usual pieces (phone, battery, and back cover). Considering I drop my phone all the time (and have YET to put a protective covering on it), I wasn't too worried. But of course, the one time a friend would be the cause of the phone explosion, it would be the time that my screen shatters. Phone is still functioning now, but it was fairly blitzy immediately after the crash. I had a hard time getting ahold of necessary people and that's when all the cursing and muttering under my breath began.

I had arranged to meet up with my friend Rob to give him his boom box yet. When I got to his place, he could tell I wasn't too happy and he gave me his usual enveloping hug. I collapsed on his couch and as soon as his cat jumped into my lap, I just started bawling. "What am I doing? Is this even right for me? How am I going to manage all of this? I'm broke as shit." So many questions flowing, just as fast and numerous as the tears.

Rob held me and explained that grad school is going to be like this. That it's the toughest two years of school, but there's a little bit more slack given than undergrad. With undergrad, he told me, they weed out who is lazy and who is willing and wants to go the distance. He said that professors are more forgiving than during undergrad. The best thing he told me is that professors, even if we fall on our faces the first time around, are there to help us and train us, that we are the cream of the crop and the prodigies of their field and without us as students, they wouldn't have anything to do. We are no longer subservient in the academia hierarchy, but we are peers, intellectual equals that will carry on the knowledge.

I went back home, still worried about my first day of Mills classes, but knowing that no matter what happens, I have this great support system. I'm also reminded that "Hey, you may be 23. But it's okay to cry sometimes!"

Day 2: Weighing My Options or Pick a Buddy & Stick With Him

So, this is not REALLY day 2 of being a graduate student, but for the sake of organization, it's easier to keep track of the number of classes I've been to.

Today was my orientation for Mills MPP. It was great seeing old friends and new colleagues. We did an icebreaker which consisted of explaining what made each of us embark on this journey we call Public Policy. I talked about how I seek to increase accessibility for non-auto users. I even warned them that bicycles would be a regular topic with me. After the ice-breaker, there were faculty and staff introductions, along with explanations of the classes in the curriculum. Probably my favorite speech was Dan Ryan's, about how the grading works in MPP but more importantly, how grades don't really matter. It confirmed what I knew all along and how I've been living the last four years during school-- that the grades don't matter, as long as I understand the material.

It was informative, but all-in-all, I could have gotten away with skipping it and instead spend the time reading for Transportation & Land Use Planning ("TLUP" or 213). At the break when everyone was heading to the barbecue, I had to head over to the M Center to pick up my cross-registration paperwork. Monk was there, so we chatted a bit while we waited to be called. When it was my turn and I explained I was picking up paperwork, I nearly shit a brick when the lady tried to tell me it would be TWO business days. I calmly told her that her information was incorrect and that her colleague was explicit about a 12pm pick-up. She checked the file folder again and found it. Certainly a relief, but it reinforces that the M Center* and the bureaucracy needs some serious reformation.

I got in the car and headed home to make some lunch & swap out papers, books, and other necessities. I'm in the process of getting back into the groove of things, which normally happens pretty quickly, but since I'm taking classes at two separate institutions, there's a bit of a trial period to see what works and what doesn't. Already, I have found a route to Cal that I much prefer and will better serve me, even when I'm running behind schedule. Today found me riding through Temescal, past the Claremont DMV, and catching College Avenue at Rockridge, all the way into Upper campus. Fifteen minutes, door-to-bike-rack. I'll start Strava-ing it next week, so I can track my training.

Now that I know about Berkeley time, I can better manage my time before class. I spent today sitting on a bench beneath a tree, trying to skim the readings in time for class. Not beneficial whatsoever, I got a zero on the reading quiz. Luckily, Chatman drops the two lowest grades. Not that excuses really matter (or get you anywhere) in grad school, but even in expediting all my books when I ordered them 10 days ago, I still haven't gotten many of them in. Thus, some classes I just won't be able to read for at the moment.

But not all was bad! Being the witty, charming woman that I am, I struck up conversation with a man I had noticed the previous class, sitting just two seats down from me. Good small talk about our interests and getting to know one another. Best part: we're study-buddies! Or, somewhat. For now, Daniel is hooking me up with notes for the classes that I will miss this month due to travel. As far as I'm concerned, he is a godsend. In addition to that, Chatman and the GSI (Carrie) are posting the lectures on bSpace. So even if Daniel ends up missing a class, we're both covered. Lecture was great (as expected) and my paperwork got signed! We'll just have to see if the M Center can't fuck up this one too.

With class done for the day, I cruised down to work to see if I had any other books delivered. After I had a textbook stolen off my porch last fall, I decided I wasn't taking any chances and have since sent all books and other ordered material to work. Even if I'm not there often anymore, it still gives me peace of mind and a sense of security. No books arrived, so I don't have to feel so guilty about not reading for my classes tomorrow. I think I can safely go to the 'Premium Rush' dinner and viewing with the gang tonight.

For now, I will finish getting ready for classes tomorrow, before I roll over to Emeryville for dinner and the movie. It's truly my last night of freedom for a LONG time, so what better way to spend it than heckling the hell out of a movie that will probably serve to spark the interest of people and encourage them to get a bike. Let's just hope that these people who jump on the trend don't go and make the rest of us look like a-holes.

Until tomorrow!

*For those of you unfamiliar with Mills, the M Center is the registrar office and is responsible for pretty much EVERY piece of paperwork for every single student that is enrolled at Mills. It is notorious for long lines, crappy hours, and losing all sorts of paperwork, which often sends each of us into a tizzy and into a dinnertime tirade of how we could do a better job of running the M Center.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Day 1: Graduate School Isn't as Scary as I Thought or, How I Managed Not to Cry

When you've been working full-time all summer, school sneaks up on you. I at least started a list of books I need to buy, but when I woke up this morning for work and school, it still hadn't dawned on me that I am a college graduate and starting my masters program.

Instead, I was having to ride through a cloud to work with no appropriate gear and traumatized by the fact that there were already assigned readings and there was no conceivable way that I was going to get them covered before my class at 2 o'clock! I was scheduled at the shop from 7.30am-1pm but I was so nervous & burnt, I had to clock out early. Thankfully, my manager gets it and was cool about it. He and my co-worker could tell I was visibly upset and nervous. They ended up talking me down, which helped significantly.

I left work and got to campus about 40min before class was to start. I went up residential streets on my bike, to avoid all the walkers on campus. Hauling up Channing on a fixie and 20 extra pounds on my back was no easy feat, but I figure I'll become stronger and faster after a few rounds. When I got to campus, I locked my bike outside the building but stupidly left my helmet hanging out on my handlebars. It wasn't until a good 20 minutes later that I realized I didn't have my helmet and I almost flipped out. Turns out, it was still hanging where I left it, but I will NEVER be doing that again. I blame my shaky nerves for my carelessness.

I ventured inside Wurster Hall, which is the College of Environmental Design, but also where the City & Regional Planning department is located. I found my class, with another class in session, so I went back out to the main lobby. Looked around at the various postings and maps, trying to focus on anything that might continue to keep me calm.

It got to be 1.55pm and I was getting nervous because the previous class was still in session and there was no sign of other students waiting around for the class. Joke's on me, Cal runs on "Berkeley time", in which all classes start 10 minutes past the hour. Why they won't switch the schedules to reflect that is beyond me, but it's nice to know there is that little window, since most everyone (except me) runs late.

Class was a breeze, the usual review of the syllabus and urging us to get the books for the sake of our brains and our learning. The professor is AWESOME! I found myself thinking that he is very much "Mills material" and this very well could have been a Mills class, save for the many, very fine looking gentlemen in my class. I've yet to learn anyone's names, but I will be sure to change that. I contributed to the subsequent discussion and realized that "Hey, you really know what you're doing".

When I realized this, I knew that this semester was going to be great, even with the $350 in books that I'm going to have to read. I'm finally getting to study what I love and set myself up for the rest of my life.

And that's how I managed not to cry on my first day of graduate school.

A Different College Experience, or Why I'm Doing This to Myself

Against my better judgment, I have decided to start blogging about my graduate school experiences. I figure with all the readings and the writing I'm going to be doing, I better get in the habit of doing it all on a regular basis. I tried this during my undergrad, but that failed miserably. Hopefully, I will do a better job this time around.

A little about me: I just finished my undergrad at Mills College in Oakland and received a B.A. in International Relations and minored in Economics. Now, I'm continuing my graduate studies in Public Policy, also at Mills. How do the two relate, you may ask? Answer: they don't. I don't plan on using my BA for anything except to pad my resumé and joke that the reason I studied this was so that I could have international affairs. Instead, I found my new love in Public Policy, specifically transportation policy and planning. In a perfect world, I would be a bicycle/pedestrian planner and work to make riding bikes everywhere increasingly more desirable. For now, I will focus on the general studies and then hone in on the skills, possibly go back to grad school for City/Regional Planning. But for now, the economy sucks and I need to get through this masters program first.

I hope to post daily (which will probably turn into weekly) updates on my experiences, thoughts, comments, complaints, and questions regarding this new chapter in my life. If all goes well, this will be my outlet to bitch and moan, instead of my friends having to listen to me. They may not be in grad school, but they also have their busy lives. I figure this is a way to spare them.

So, enjoy! Feel free to ask questions, tell related stories, offer advice. All of it is welcome & I'll do my best to respond accordingly and in a timely manner. Because remember, school first.