Thursday, May 19, 2011

Master of My Domain

As some of you may know I have been pursuing an advanced degree over the last three years. For those of you that were not aware of this I know what you’re thinking: “Daniel P., you already know everything there is to know about practically every subject imaginable. Why would you possibly need another degree?” Well, my loyal followers, although I like the way you think the world has a funny way of throwing bullshit challenges at you for no reason…especially the business world. Without getting into to many of the gory details suffice it to say that my place of employment required another piece of paper from me in order to get me into the Engineering VIP room. They agreed to pay for it and afforded me time during the day to attend classes, so I am grateful for that. Truly, I am. However, I have serious problems with the way “corporate” America today classifies people based on how large their student loan debt is. Rather than go into some long diatribe about worldwide corporate policy and the exclusionary hoop-jumping, spanking-machine, Fraternal Order of Water Buffaloes nonsense that requires people to obtain more and more pieces of parchment in order to ensure inclusion into a narrow segment of wage-earners let me sum up my feelings on the matter in a single sentence (I know, it’s not very Daniel P. Daniel of me to avoid a long diatribe): Knowledge and experience are not the sole property of academia. What do I mean by that? I believe that I can learn any subject just as well (perhaps better) by purchasing whatever texts I need and reading them. It’s a novel concept, I know. I don’t need to pay some self-centered, socially-inept elitist to stand in front of a white board and mindlessly flip through PowerPoint slides of material contained within said texts in order to master a subject. Why? Because I already know how to learn, Jackass. End of discussion.

Having said that, I’m glad to have the whole process finished so I can hang up my silly square hat, tassel and hood and be done (hopefully) with academia for my foreseeable future. Three years is a long time to juggle kids, wife, work, social life, school, blog, and world domination. Actually, I initially thought that it would be longer than that. Since my first degree was not an engineering degree I assumed that I would have to go through some sort of accelerated undergraduate curricula before jumping into the graduate fray (if at all). So I dutifully went to the office of the undergraduate advisor with my transcript in hand to try to lay out a reasonable path forward. Little did I know how difficult that would turn out to be. Our conversation went something like this:

DPD: In light of the classes that I have on my (ancient) transcript what subset of the undergraduate classes will I be required to take in order to get an engineering degree.

U. Advisor: All of them.

DPD: “All” is not a subset. Perhaps you should sit in on a few classes yourself. Surely I don’t need to take these elective courses.

U. Advisor: We believe that the elective courses are very important to broaden the educational horizons of all of our students.

DPD: Bullshit. Look, Mack. If my horizons get any more broad I’ll be able to see the back of my own head. Plus, I’m qualified to teach several of these classes. Now, let’s take a better look. Shall we? Which of my math/physics/English/other courses can transfer over?

U. Advisor: Well, we might be able to knock a few of these off, but all of OUR physics classes are calculus based. So you’ll still need to take 30 classes.

DPD: First of all, all physics is calculus based unless there is a “Physics for Home Ec” class that I don’t know about. Second, with all my other responsibilities it will take me ~15 years to complete 30 classes. I’m not some 17 year-old kid that you can bully into paying the university for 150 credit hours of time-wasting nonsense just so I can “broaden my horizons”. Now take a look at that transcript again before I shove it…

At this point the noise from our discussion must have disturbed the slumber of the graduate advisor next door, and she barged in before I had a chance to leap across the desk and beat the undergraduate advisor about the ears and face.

G. Advisor: What’s going on in here?!?

DPD: Larry here is totally incapable of doing his job, and he hasn’t looked up from his desk once in a half an hour which makes me believe that he knows it. Either that or he’s undergone a seriously botched cervical fusion operation recently.

G. Advisor: What are you even doing in here? Leave poor Larry alone and come talk to me.

After a brief conversation in her office the graduate advisor agreed to throw me into the Master’s program on the spot to let me sink or swim. No tests. No applications. Sign here and you’re in. Done. Sometimes it pays to be blessed with a silver tongue. This time it knocked 30 classes down to 10 and got me out of the classes with the bugger-eating teenage masses. Here are a few of the highlights:

First Class: The Physics and Chemistry of Materials – Boy, this one was a snoozer. There was some good information there, but it turned into an Idiot’s Guide to Chemistry for Engineers…not very useful when you’ve taken as many chemistry classes as I have in the past.

Hardest Class: Advanced Engineering Mathematics – Great googly moogly! Not only was the last real math class that I took 15 years ago, but this one was taught by an insultingly condescending Russian douchebag. I feel like I may have learned a lot, but I immediately blanked it out of my memory like a Hanoi Hilton survivor.

Easiest Class: Wind Energy – This class had a lot of great information, but it was also my last class. So I couldn’t be bothered to do shit. I literally didn’t even open the book once. Money well-spent.

Best Class: Anatomy and Physiology for Engineers - This class was right in my wheelhouse. It covered a lot of great information, and left me with some actual useful knowledge without the unnecessary busywork and trauma. This was one of those classes that the professor got out of the way and let the students learn the material. Top marks.

Most Bullshit Class: Graduate Seminar – Oh…my…holy…Christ… This may have well been called the Captive Audience class. No homework. No assignments. Mandatory attendance. Bull-effing-shit. I even lobbied the department to allow me to pay more so that I wouldn’t have to be there. Sadly they didn’t go for it.

That’s about it. Now I am done, and I am free. Everybody says, “Well I’ll bet you’re relieved to have that done!” Yes and no. I’m glad that I don’t have to deal with the scheduling nightmare anymore. I’m glad that I have the paper that explains the nuances of the secret handshake. But all that this school experience has left me with in the near term is work. Work to recover things that were put off until this trial was over. I’ve got to work to get back into shape. I’ve got to work to catch up on all of the chores around the house that I’ve been putting off. I’ve got to work at re-cultivating a relationship with my wife and my friends. Work. So, no, I’m not relieved to be done. I'm not proud of my accomplishment. I’m pissed that I had to go through the hazing ritual to begin with, and I probably won’t be relieved until I emerge like a phoenix from the ashes of my life that this experience has left in a pile. Make no mistake, Daniel P. Danielites, I will eventually feel that relief even if I have to crawl out of purgatory to experience it. Then I'm comin' to get ya. Stay tuned.


Sara said...

What? I didn't become a master of my job due to my master's degree? *cough* Bullshit *cough* I wish you could get all the PhDs we work with to read this.

That being said, I think I took differential equations from a insultingly condescending Russian douchebag too. Maybe the same guy?

Wendy said...

Perfectly stated my friend! Some of these "classes" that are "mandatory" actually have had the effect of making me feel dumber for having spent my valuable time on. I am all for education, but sometimes, a working education is much more valuable than a book education. I am almost at the end of the tunnel...