Eight Tips For Going Back to School

Sarah Veale GraduationLast week, I finally graduated from York with an honours bachelor’s degree. Moreover, I graduated in the top 3% of my faculty, and received the the highest honour in the Canadian university system, Summa Cum Laude. After five years of hard work, it was nice to go out on a positive note!

Rather than detail my experiences as an undergrad or whatnot, I thought I would provide some quick tips for those who are thinking of going to school. York is not my first school; it is the fifth post-secondary institution I’ve attended (sixth if you count a non-credit course at Ryerson). I was 35 when I began classes, and I’m 40 now. Like many of you, I’ve had an nontraditional educational trajectory, but I’d like to think that my experiences contributed to my success. So here are my tips for going back to school and getting your degree:

1. Start Where You Can

Reviewing courses with the Husband at York.

You don’t have to look at going back to school as a massive project that gets done all at once, just put one foot in front of the other and see where it goes.

Older students often have obligations that younger students don’t have, like work and family, which means you may have to take it slow and there is nothing wrong with that. (In my case, I worked at a law firm while going to university and picked up side work as a research assistant to pay the bills.)

Classes add up. So even if you can only fit one in here or there, eventually you will reach your goal.

2. Have a Big Goal and a Small Goal

I went back to school with two goals. The first was simple: get my degree so that I was more competitive on the job market. The second, larger goal, was to go to graduate school. The big goal helped me set my long-term approach to my studies. But my small, attainable goal ensured I stayed focused when graduate school seemed far away, and reminded me of my basic reason for going back to school.

Relaxing in Gothenburg after ESSWE4.

Relaxing in Gothenburg after ESSWE4.

3. Find Like-minded People

It will help you greatly if you can find people who work in areas that you are interested in. These people may or may not be your professors, and they may or may not be your fellow students. The good news is that even if you find yourself alone on campus, the internet provides a ton of ways to meet others. Contact some folks through academia.edu. Join a professional society. Attend local (or far away!) conferences. These days, there are so many ways to get involved that you don’t have to toil in the darkness.

A typical bus ride home from school.

A typical bus ride home from school.

4. Don’t Compare Yourself To Others

While it’s good to have goals and look to others for how to progress through your academic career, it’s easy to look around you and feel like other people are getting advantages or moving ahead while you are stuck in place. I know I often looked at my fellow classmates who received student funding or lived at home with their parents and got insanely jealous that they didn’t have to spend three hours a day on a jam-packed bus or reduce their course-load when home emergencies cut into their savings, as I had to do on a number of occasions.

Obviously, this sort of attitude can easily lead to bitterness and resentment, which is certainly not productive or healthy. Conquer the green monster by focusing on your game. The only person you should be measuring yourself against is you! It may be difficult to do at times, but the best strategy is to be happy with small victories, focus on your work, and ignore the rest.

5. Try Community College

I am proud to say that my first degree was from a community college! Forget the naysayers and look at the benefits: the courses are cheaper, the schedule is flexible, and often you can transfer your degree to a four-year university without issue. Bonus: Your local community college likely offers the same core curriculum as a big name university for a fraction of the price.

6. Avoid Debt

Sure, the promise of a fancy education sounds great, but the truth is, despite the promises of recruiters, there may not be a similarly fancy job waiting at the end of the rainbow. Rather than pile-up the student debt, be smart. Work your way through school, and pay cash for your classes (and everything else!). You might not be living the life of luxury (I know I’ve eaten my fair share of pasta dinners over the past few years!), but you’ll be happy when you have the financial freedom to chart your own course post-graduation.

7. Do Something You Love

Presenting on John the Baptist at the CSBS. (Photo by Tony Burke)

I’m not going to bullshit you with the old adage, “Do what you love and the money will follow!” Let’s face it, that is not a realistic approach. If it were, I would be getting paid to eat burritos and sing advertisement jingles.

Right now, academia is a bad place to be. Good jobs are disappearing and being replaced with bad ones, and cut backs mean that there is a lot of competition for the few positions that do exist. Why mention this? Because this dim scenario is all the more reason to do something you love! The skills you learn in university are definitely transferable to the private sector, so you might as well spend your time working on things you find interesting, and building your skill set that way, rather than slaving away towards a profession that may or may not exist in ten years.

8. Be Grateful For Your Support Network

Although going to class, studying, and writing research papers is 100% on you, no one works in isolation. I was enormously lucky to have a husband who encouraged my studies. Having his support made everything much, much easier. I was also fortunate to have professors who encouraged my work and provided me with amazing opportunities, friends who offered timely advice, colleagues who helped me grow as an academic, and a boss who gave me the day off if there was a big test that needed studying for. All these people contributed to my success in one way or another, and I am eternally grateful for that.

Going back to school isn’t always easy, but with a little determination it can be done. If you keep your goals realistic and take things one step at a time, you’ll find yourself succeeding in ways you never imagined sooner than you think!

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Mysteria Misc. Maxima: June 19th, 2015

Mysteria Misc. Maxima is a weekly feature which brings together links on religion and esotericism from around the internet.

Photo by Paula Soler-Moya.

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A Few More Awards…

On Tuesday, I will be graduating (finally!) from York. This will bring to a close a chapter of my life that was an enormous amount of work but also enriched my life in so many ways.

Before I leave the campus for good, I want to share with you some good news: I received a few more awards in conjunction with my academic work. I anticipate this will be the last stretch of awards for a bit, so if you don’t mind, I am going to enjoy the moment:

1. The Vanier Convocation Prize in Religious Studies/The Vanier Convocation Prize in Classical Studies.
Technically two awards, each award is given to a student graduating Summa Cum Laude, who has the highest GPA in each specific major. Since I am a double major of both programs, I was able to hog both awards this year! Don’t let anyone tell you that hard work doesn’t pay off!

2. Vanier College Council 50th Anniversary Award
This one was a bit of a surprise as it’s given to a student who has demonstrated commitment to the student body. Sure, I was a peer advisor, but I was honored when this came through the door. My thanks to whomever put me up for this award!

3. Vingt-deux Master’s Honour Roll
Being a “Vandoo” means that you are one of the top 22 graduating students in Vanier College, a college which encompasses fifteen programs and has a student body of around 7000.

My thanks to everyone who helped to make my time at York a total success—I have been very lucky to have been surrounded by so many supportive people who encouraged me to produce my best work. Huzzah!

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Mysteria Misc. Maxima: June 12th, 2015

Mysteria Misc. Maxima
is a weekly feature which brings together links on religion and esotericism from around the internet.

Photo by Jiří Zralý.


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Mysteria Misc. Maxima: June 5th, 2015

Mysteria Misc. Maxima is a weekly feature which brings together links on religion and esotericism from around the internet.

Photo by ZeePak.

Posted in M.M.M. | 4 Comments

The Return of M.M.M.

In early 2014, I made the decision to suspend my weekly link round-up, the M.M.M. (Mysteria Misc. Maxima). It was a bit of a bummer for me, and I know as well for a lot of you out there. I had many reasons for doing this. Some were logistical; putting together the MMM took a fair amount of time each week, time which was slipping away as I finished up my time at York. Others were more personal; the last couple of years have been filled with massive changes and I needed whatever personal space I could get to recharge. The other part is what any blogger or writer faces over time: Burn out. Doing the MMM was no longer was fun, and rather than phone it in, I needed some time away to reassess the whole situation.

This week I will be in Ottawa, co-presenting on John the Baptist with Tony Burke at the CSBS Conference. But I am happy to say that next week I will be bringing back the MMM—at least for the summer. I can’t guarantee that it will be around forever (Grad school isn’t far off, you know), but I have some time over the next few months, and maybe this will be good for both of us.

So hold tight, MMM will be back next week with everything noteworthy and notorious in the world of religion. Huzzah!

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Mad Men, Religion, and Why We Need to Talk About More than Don Draper

Exodus  With Mad Men wrapping up, the media has been buzzing, not just with dissecting the series’ ending, but also about the religious overtones of the final episode: The show’s lead, Don Draper, winds up at a meditation retreat and maybe finds inner peace. (I say maybe because I watch Mad Men on Netflix and have been trying like hell to avoid spoilers for the second half of season seven!)

While this episode (or what I know of it from various pictures and headlines) certainly memorializes America’s shift into New Age/Eastern practices, it is not the first time Mad Men has incorporated religion into the show. In fact, the series has examined the intersection of religion and modernity throughout its run.

OlsenPriestBoth regular characters (Peggy Olsen, Michael Ginsberg, Paul Kinsey) and tertiary figures (Rachel Menken, Sylvia Rosen) have brought religion to the fore front of the show. Menken, in conversation with Don about “What Jewish people want,” notably described herself as Jewish—but not that Jewish. A move which highlighted the cultural, rather than religious, dimensions of faith. Rosen, citing Catholic values, criticized Megan Draper (Don’s second—or is it third?—wife) for considering an abortion while carrying on an affair with her husband behind her back, evoking a number of tut-tuts from viewers who already knew she was selective in her interpretation of religion.

Take it Break It Share ItThe early seasons of the show illustrated the tension of Olsen’s Catholic upbringing and her desire to unshackle herself from past values and chart her course as a professional woman. Not only was this overtly seen in episodes wither her family or parish—uncomfortable exchanges which had her confront the priesthood and her family head-on, but this was also expressed in her approach to advertising, which often highlighted the ritual dimension of activities. Her pitch for Popsicles featured a mother dispensing treats to her children in a Virgin Mary-esque pose, and her pitch for Burger Chef was centered on the idea of breaking bread—the central eucharistic ritual of the Catholic mass. The incorporation of faith into Olsen’s character both professionally and privately illustrated how intertwined religion was (and is) with other areas of life, both as a social practice and collective mythology.

Ginsberg, too, was a character who was compelled to redefined religion in a changing world. His biography seethes with adjustment: born in a concentration camp during the holocaust, he had a difficult relationship with his conservative father, and was acutely aware of his outsider Jewish status. Nevertheless, no matter how much Ginsberg rebelled against his upbringing, he still played the role of dutiful son, skillfully blending time-worn values of faith and family with his success in the secular world.

And, of course, there was that time when Paul Kinsey had joined the Hare Krishnas.

KrishnaMad Men portrayed religion as both a cultural touchstone as well as an institution in transition, as a new generation redefined their relationship to ideas of the past. Mad Men has always looked to religion to provide, if not its main story line, fill in some of the details on the people who inhabited the show’s world, enriching their characters with a personal depth that mirrored the complexity of the relationships on the show.

So sure, Don Draper went to Esalen (or somewhere similar, from what I hear). Like other treatments of religion in Mad Men, it was a way of reflecting the rapidly changing times. Religious themes, expressed through the character development of both key figures and walk-on characters, brought into the open the assumptions, entrenchments, beliefs, and prejudices which surrounded religion both new and old in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Posted in Culture