What I Learned in Grad School

It would seem that my graduate school experience is over. I say this as though this last semester wasn’t a whirlwind of student teaching, regular class work and general personal life insanity and that I hadn’t spent the 4 semesters before that working my butt off but hey, I worked REALLY hard for these rose-colored glasses.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not at all regretting my decision to go to grad school or even doubting that my experience was good, just that I have a tendency to immediately forget how hard I worked the second it’s done with. And it IS done. I graduated. I finished all of my requirements for the program and can officially call myself a librarian.

So now I’m left with the question, what did I learn, exactly? I know that I know a bunch more than when I started but it’s really hard to think back and realize exactly what it is that I know now that I didn’t know before. In order to really explain what I feel I learned, I’ll first explain that I’m going to be dividing this up into categories: personal, professional, interpersonal. You’ll understand why in a moment, I swear.

On a personal level, I learned a tremendous amount about myself — what I can handle, how much I can do before I burn out, how to listen to my body and realize when I’m sick or in need of extra sleep, how to get that laundry to last much longer than it should. Okay, so some of these are more noble than others but in all seriousness, there were times that things like vacuuming and doing laundry took a backburner to sitting on the couch with my boyfriend and allowing myself to relax. I’m admittedly bad at relaxing so this, in and of itself, was a huge lesson. It was also a necessity because giving myself a break here and there rather than pushing through and getting everything done that I was “supposed” to do honestly would have killed me. The things that were essential got done and those that could be spread out ere and every now and then some questionably clean socks were worn.

Obviously, on a professional level, I learned a tremendous amount. Each of my classes left me walking away with (at the minimum) a piece of information I didn’t know before. As much as  I hate to be cliche and give in to what everyone has been telling me from the beginning, I’m going to have to – my field work and practicum experiences were the best part of my grad school experience. Here I was able to synthesize all that my professors and classmates taught me and could put it to work in a safe environment with an experienced librarian so that I was able get a feel for what it would really be like to be a School Media Specialist.

I feel that tie iSchool’s organization and understanding of information professions has really helped to guide me to create my own graduate experience that not only gave me the most bang for my buck, but the best possible education that will open many doors and opportunities for me. Am I petrified that I won’t find a job? Absolutely, but I’m sure that with my skill set even if the economy isn’t giving way to school librarian positions immediately, I’ll be an invaluable member of any organization. This isn’t just because of my dark sense of humor and clearly out-of-control ego, but because if I don’t know the answer, I now know sooooo many ways to find the proper resources I could make an undergraduate’s eyeballs pop before I even mentioned Google.

What I’ll refer to as “real-life” relationships suffered a bit during grad school. I couldn’t always go out to a party, I couldn’t always be there for my friends, and I couldn’t always go to a movie with my boyfriend. What I could do, however, was apologize and make promises to set aside time once a month for those people I cared about. My best friend could talk to me, my boyfriend got a date night, my mom got to ask me all kinds of questions about whether or not I was taking care of myself and I was able to do a little bit at a time without feeling like I was neglecting anyone important or neglecting my school work.

I can’t control others’ reactions, only my own. Yeah, this sounds a lot like a mantra for an anonymous group of some kind but after spending a good 30-40 hours online a week reading posts from classmates, I found I sometimes had to repeat this over and over again. Not all information professions are going to be librarians and not all feel the need to uphold the ALA’s Bill of Rights. That said, no librarian is truly without bias. Given these truths, I found my most frustrating class was one that dealt with information issues on a global scale and put students from all different walks of iSchool life in the same discussion, not just those of us who have had it ingrained that every patron is entitled to those rights afforded by the ALA. At it’s best it was interesting and eyeopening to see how many different points of view there could be on what rights to privacy a citizen has; at it’s worst it was hard not to start a flame war over whether or not the government should block any website deemed pornographic. I had to bear in mind that my peers couldn’t see my expressions or hear my tone (which was sometimes an advantage) but that I also couldn’t see theirs. Sometimes it was helpful to have a friend in the class read a response to see if they read the allegedly insulting classmate the same way. Other times, it was helpful to walk away and reply the next day. Still others, it was best not to reply at all because if I couldn’t say anything nice…you know the rest.

All in all, everything I learned while attending SU has helped me to excel as a student, as a professional, and as an adult in a simply chaotic world. Finding the right balance between all three types (personal, professional, interpersonal) of relationships and perspectives has helped me to realize how to best balance my life in a way that allows me to use my information literacy skills and knowledge to their fullest. What is information, really, if not for having people to share it with?

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