A Master’s Degree isn’t the Only Thing You Achieve in Grad School

Graduate school is a big commitment — of time, money and brainpower. In hindsight, I may have made the commitment too lightly, but after six years of working my way steadily through the MLIS program at San José State University’s School of Information, I have to say that it was one of the most fulfilling, rewarding and enjoyable experiences of my life. I just graduated this May.

With one small child and the decision to have one more, I knew when I enrolled that I would not be blazing through my course work. I decided to take one class at a time, maybe two after I had a couple semesters under my belt. Life changed dramatically in the middle of my very first semester when I learned that the one child we had decided to add to the family was actually two. At the end of my second semester, with only two core courses under my ever-expanding belt, I gave birth to twins. So I took off the following fall semester.

To make up for taking the semester off to grow two infants and encourage my oldest through a second year of preschool, I took my final core course — Info 202 Information Retrieval System Design — and built a database and controlled vocabularies then dove right into a summer course. Even though I took my courses one at a time, I didn’t want to lose my momentum. If I took a semester off of graduate school to focus on raising my children, I still kept my mind involved. I was still looking at signing up for my next courses, trying to navigate the nearly endless combinations of classes I could take in any of the SJSU iSchool’s outlined career pathways. I was also doing my best to make my mark on the blogosphere by writing about local events and family activities as a mommy-blogger. It was neither fulfilling nor lucrative, but it was a job to put on my resumé while also working overtime as a mother of three young children.

In the summer of 2014, nearly three years since I embarked on my graduate school journey, I landed a job as a student assistant writing for the SJSU iStudent Blog — a weekly publication for students that highlighted the SJSU iSchool’s curriculum, career opportunities, and the achievements of faculty members, students and alumni. While my courses certainly opened up new worlds of information to me, having to comb through the school’s website, research career fields and interview faculty members grew my skillset and knowledge exponentially. I learned how to write interview questions that didn’t have the subject repeating website content. I learned how to email esteemed professionals and beg for their time when I had never spoken to them and they had never set eyes on me before. I learned about blogging platforms and content management systems, how to link other website pages and how to format images.

I could have bolted through my graduate studies, missing much of my children’s charming toddler moments and never doing more than merely passing my courses. I could have charged into the interviewing fray with degree in hand several years ago. I probably could have, but that doesn’t mean it would have been a good idea.

Instead, I was able to take a children’s materials class and read aloud with my kindergartener the choices I made for my final project. As I wrote a grant for the Alameda County Law Library in my Info 282 Grant Writing course, I had the time to make the half hour drive to meet the library director in person. Since his wife had previously been a children’s services librarian and he knew I had small children, we agreed that it would be a great project to research the need and viability of a family space within the law library’s Oakland branch. Through this project, I could focus my empathy for families and the unique needs of low income families into a school project. With my sincere interest and the ability to foster a relationship with my grant proposal’s client, I could see how my course work applied to the real world. I received an A in the class, most likely because I had the time and the combined interest and passion to care about my class projects. I put my whole self into that class and it showed.

As I approached the summer of my final year of graduate school, I reevaluated my commitments and looked for another way to get involved with the SJSU iSchool. I wanted to do something that both focused and diversified my interests and experiences, as well as adding something significant to my resumé. I nominated myself for newsletter editor of the SJSU iSchool’s American Library Association’s Student Chapter (ALASC) and was elected to the position. As with my work on the iStudent Blog, I refocused the newsletter format, increased the interest factor of the articles (and shortened the length) and added images for visual appeal. With the connections I cultivated over the previous two years writing for the SJSU iSchool, I reached out to faculty, librarians outside the SJSU community and to the ALA parent organization. Recently, I even connected with a photojournalist and successfully solicited a story and an image from him. During my tenure as newsletter editor, I honed my teambuilding and communication skills and even made a few career connections in the process. I’ve quickly realized a good relationship with course instructors turns into ready-made sources of recommendation letters.

In my penultimate semester, I took the SJSU iSchool’s Info 269 Early Childhood Literacy course with Beth Wrenn-Estes and combined my interest in home literacy environments to extend to my Info 285 Research Methods course. With my twins now in their second year of preschool, I was able to apply much of my research and class resources to raising readers. With both awe and excitement, I watched these early literacy components really work! As with my grant writing course, I put my passion and class resources into action in my life. It was a win-win situation for me, my graduate school course work and my preschooler-guinea pigs.

In April, I was honored to receive the Director’s Award for Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion. If I had sped through grad school with only a master’s degree as an end goal, I would have missed the opportunity to get involved, apply my writing experience, build my network, pave my career path, and be able to shine. It took me most of my oldest child’s life to work my way through graduate school, but the advantage is that my daughter got to see her mother work hard for something, put in a lot of time and sacrifice, and achieve a master’s degree and an award for excellence. Being an example of perseverance and the value of pursuing lifelong learning is the best achievement of all, and it was beyond worth it.