Midterms – already?!

As unbelievable as it may seem, my first set of midterms is already upon me and I’m studying hard for them. As to be expected, I’ve had a huge amount of reading and a tremendous amount of other work. With the exception that my personal life is so chaotic (will someone please wave a magic wand and make it go away), I am really enjoying the experience. Just the same, I’ll be glad to make it to the end of this week – when my first two midterms will have been completed.

Again, this past week was extremely busy and I had far too much to do (besides UCR). I would greatly like to devote 100% of my time to UCR but, alas, that is not currently possible. As I’ve previously reported, all of my classes are fascinating and, fortunately, they take turns frying my brain each week (I wonder if they’re planned this way).

While I’ve got to get back to other matters, I did want to mention that one of the most fascinating things I’ve noted about my personal experiences at UCR (besides meeting a lot of extremely fascinating and  intelligent people) is that my perspective of the way in which I look at my studies is very different from when I was younger. Sure, I’m a lot older and wiser (hopefully) but that has also given me a very different view of the material discussed in most of my classes – I have far more biases and experiences to draw upon which makes everything so much more relevant. As an undergrad, as well as a grad student (twenty years ago), many things which seemed entirely theoretical are now much more than that.

Taking a break from my reading

. . . to update this blog. Last week was one of the most hectic and excruciatingly stressful weeks I’ve had an in a very long time but not due to my studies at UCR. As a result, I didn’t get a chance to write much (at least not here) so I’m going to catch up today. The personal matters I’m dealing with have been simply overwhelming and I’m fighting to keep my head in my books. My classes at UCR; however, remain extraordinarily enlightening and I’m absolutely thrilled with the quality of instruction.

It’s been a long time since I’ve taken so many classes where the instructors (in this case, real professors) can not only chew gum and walk at the same time but are; indeed, brilliant individuals who have no need to pontificate on their own virtues. Each course is very dynamic and I walk away from each with a few million more questions than I had when I entered the classroom (which, is actually a good thing). One of the  things that strikes me as being very different than when I earned my Masters Degree is that the matter of “statistics” is now dealt with in a completely different manner. I can remember sitting in previous classes working over piles of statistical problems in order to understand the concepts (surprisingly, I haven’t forgotten everything I learned 20 years ago) while now, much of the work is now left to (or blamed on – ha, ha!) computers.

Mentioning computers – wow! How things have CHANGED over the past twenty years! I completed my Masters on a Commodore 64 using a word processor that I manually entered into the machine from magazine (and, for my BA, I had to use a typewriter <GASP!>). Now, I bring my laptop to class, do all of my work on a computer, e-mail my professors, even register for parking on the Internet. The young “whippersnappers” (a term that I’ve been using with increasing frequency) have no IDEA as to how much technology has enhanced formal academic pursuits. This does not mean that things are now “easy” (they’re not) but that much more attention can be provided on meaningful things – such as learning.

To emphasis this point, some of my fellow-students were “whining” that they had to manually enter data sets into a computer program for analysis (gosh, imagine that) and our instructor has now sent us files with contain the raw data so we don’t have to worry about such things. Okay, I admit, I’m getting spoiled too – I like it when those materials are provide to us. Just the same, entering data into a computer program and letting that construct pretty charts and graphs (not to mention, do all of the number crunching too) feels like a luxury compared to doing everything by hand. Ah, life is good!

Well, almost good. Aside from the ongoing personal trauma (again, unrelated to UCR), I’ve also come to temporarily HATE my computer. Actually, I don’t really hate it, I just hate Microsoft and friends. When school began, in addition to buying a few million books and other supplies, I had to get another computer. I’ve had my home PC for a very long time and it’s been trying to give up the ghost for at least a year – something that absolutely can’t happen during the middle of a quarter. As a geek, I knew that now was the time to get a new computer (if I want to survive) and got a great deal on a new system. While the machine is fabulous, setting it up and transferring data is an entirely different matter. To compound the situation, I’ve learned that it is now essential to keep everything backed up on redundant hard drives (through a system of networked RAID 1 drives) to prevent total meltdown. Case in point – I nearly killed my Commodore 64 (twenty years ago) when I stayed up all night (not an uncommon occurrence) finishing up a paper only to have the blankety-blank thing lock up on me when I hit “save” in order to preserve my document on a cassette tape. (Remember those? That was in the days when the pterodactyls still ruled the skies and even floppy drives hadn’t been invented yet.) I ended up having to re-write the ENTIRE paper which was not a pleasant experience. Not wanting to ever deal with that type of situation again and due to the fact that it is now relatively easy (did I say that?) to use networked drives in order to save my precious data from a computer meltdown. Getting back to “easy” – well, let’s say that it took me nearly an entire week and a half in order to get the blankety-blank thing working. Not only did I have to completely restore my new computer to its original state (I really did) but also spent endless hours on the phone to various tech support people in India who also couldn’t get things to work. Did I mention that this was a genuine nightmare?! I really don’t understand how anyone could deal with these issues if they weren’t fully computer literate.

Okay, I’m beginning to break out in hives from all of the stress just thinking about the computer mess – most things are working splendidly now so I can get on with my studies. Back to the books. . .

Happy as a clam

Well, I’ve got to admit, I’m extremely impressed with all of my courses at UCR, as well as with all of the professors. It’s a wonderful environment to be in and certainly one that lives up to the fact that it is a 1st tier research institution. I’m pleased with the professionalism of all of my instructors and am also awed by their humility. At some institutions, the professors tell you how wonderful they are and expound upon their reputation as “scholars” – at UCR, not one of my professors has done that; rather, they speak very humbly while, at the same time, their expertise shines through via their lectures, presentations, class notes, and openness to questions. Granted, I’ve only been in school for a week but it doesn’t take long to realize that academic quality and the continual search for whatever that really means is at the core of what is expected of all.

On a more personal note, I’m experiencing “flashbacks” to my years of experience as a teacher and am excited to read about all of the research that has occurred over the past twenty years which, for the most part, substantiates quality pedagogical practices that good teachers had previously used based upon their intuition. Of course, a huge amount of research remains to be done but it is still quite exciting to observe how things have progressed over a relatively short period of time. Other matters within the field of education, of course, still need to be addressed but I’ll save those things for later.

I’m also very pleased with the essential role that preparation for the future (i.e., what to do after being piled higher and deeper) is being given at this early stage of the game. One seminar is being devoted specifically to this topic and we’re exploring various possibilities that may be available to us after graduation. Clearly, UCR is a school that is not only concerned with bringing students into their programs but is concerned with the future of their graduates. Very exciting. Very professional.