RE: Write
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RE: Write

Going Back To School As An Adult

An exploration of expectations and goals the second time around.

Photo by Deleece Cook on Unsplash

When exactly do we become adults?

I’ve heard that our internal self never really grows old. You could be 100 years old but still feel that your spirit is 25. Perhaps we don’t ‘get older’ we just grow more mature. Our understanding of the world becomes more robust and our expectations become more refined.

I am not late in life. In fact, I’d say I am early on in my life journey. Mid-twenties with a lot of learning and growth still to be had. However, since beginning my first semester of graduate school I have been able to reflect on my personal goals and expectations in contrast to my undergraduate experience.

Heading back to school after a few years in the real-world hits a bit different than before.

When I joined the STCM program at CU Boulder I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. In a way, I intentionally created this environment for myself. In the past, I have put expectations on events and often times am left feeling underwhelmed or dissatisfied. I had heard that graduate school is very different from an undergraduate experience. I was prepared for that. What I was not prepared for was how much ownership I would put into my education.

In undergraduate education, there was a sense of putting in the work to get the degree. Today, I don’t feel that motivation. In fact, I am not motivated by the prospect of having a ‘graduate degree.’

Over the course of my first semester in graduate school, I have learned many new skills, creative processes, and collaborative methods. But, something that has surprised me the most is my own mindset and how my current educational journey varies drastically from my undergraduate experience.

I’d like to write about a few personal developments I’ve been noticing in myself over the past few months.

Personal ROI.

Money is important.
Money is a motivator.
Money influences how we experience different things.

I feel more invested in my education considering I am using my own money to pay for this program/experience. This graduate program is not cheap and I find myself motivated to take full advantage of my time here. In my eyes, yes a degree is important and will help differentiate me once I leave school, but what I’ve gravitated towards most is the overall experience.

Getting to connect with peers and professors.
Asking questions to industry professionals.
Utilizing the studio space that I am paying for.
Investigating the projects I am most interested in and digging into what I want to learn more about have all been things I’ve been leaning into over the past few months.

One of the biggest differences for me in contrast to my undergraduate experience is the emphasis put on content. Yes, there is a lot to learn, but I am encouraged to gain more knowledge in the areas that I find to be the most interesting. There are many skills that I will take from this program, but it’s up to me to investigate and internalize the skills I am most excited about.

In my Design Leadership course, we talked about juggling balls. And, how when we are busy we must assign each ball (task) a material. Some are made of glass, others of plastic and still others of rubber, etc. My time here in the studio has felt like a practice of juggling and assigning value/priority to different tasks. I recall the first day I was too overwhelmed to dedicate enough time to each assignment. I took a step back and asked myself which assignment required the skills I was most interested in developing, and that is how I decided which project to focus on.

It felt revolutionary for me to decide what I wanted to learn. To take a big picture view and really look critically at what I wanted to get out of this program.

I trust the process of this program. I also hope that I feel as fulfilled and satisfied with my return on investment at the end of the program as I do today, at the end of the first semester.

Moving along.

Are grades important?

Grades are something I never considered for this program. Are they really all that important or are they more of a ‘behind the scenes’ necessity?

Personally, I didn’t think about grades until one of my fellow classmates asked about them during class. Our program is fairly divided between people recently out of college and people who have had a few (or more) years in the real world. That being said, grades seem to be on the minds of people recently out of undergrad.

This is a mindset shift I didn’t really recognize until it was laid out before me. Grades do not determine how successful we will be outside of school and therefore I am not concerned with my grades in this program. I am motivated to do the assignments/projects because I genuinely want to gain the skills that they require. Being motivated by skill instead of a number is so much more rewarding in the long run. Additionally, I find myself internalizing all of the information because I want to, not because I have to regurgitate it on an exam down the road.

I want to learn.
I want to get better.
I am not focused on ‘just’ graduating.

The bare minimum is not enough.

At the beginning of this program, people outside of school kept asking me for things; to go on a trip, to help them with a project, to give them more of my time.

I kept telling myself I am not in school to do the bare minimum.
I am not here to just get by.
I want to thrive.

Having this mantra set in place has been a constant reminder of why I am here, and a good excuse for me to say ‘no’ when people ask for more of me.

In undergrad, I remember just doing enough to get by sometimes. This wasn’t ideal but sometimes the busyness called for it. Other times it was out of pure laziness and lack of respect for my own education. This time around I feel differently. I don’t want to do things just to get them done. I am interested in doing more research, reading more books, utilizing new processes.

I am here to learn and I have been committing myself to that. I don’t feel bad saying no to things because I have school. I am finally taking a step forward for myself and I am not going to apologize for that.

The first few months of this program have challenged me, but not in the way I expected. Yes, the workload is a lot and the content is challenging, but most of all I have pushed myself to recognize that I deserve to be here. I want to be here.

Emily McCammon asked at the end of class the other day if we were all ready for the break. I had mixed feelings. Sure, a break sounds nice, but I am loving learning so much that I want to keep going. I hope my interest in learning only continues to build over the break.

First semester in the book.
I am already ready for the next.




Thoughts and stories from Studio, a product design masters program at CU Boulder, dedicated to re:working, re:designing and re:imagining the world of design and technology.

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Heather Kraft

Heather Kraft

Designer. Strategist. Innovator. Wondering why the first questions we often ask people is, “what do you do?” Currently being educated @ The Studio (CU Boulder)

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