Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Slow Adjustment

J.C. Saunders posted A Slow Adjustment on Accepting Differences

So two months have passed by since I started graduate school in pure math at one of the best universities for it in Canada and probably North America: University of Waterloo. You want to know how I’m doing? Well, you can either have the short answer or the long answer. The short answer is the following:

Ack! So much work! How can I keep up with it! And how on earth am I supposed to schedule in writing novels and developing friendships and a social life (not to mention that’s difficult enough given that I’m autistic)?!

Okay, that was a bit of an exaggeration. But, yeah, graduate school in math is a lot of work and does take a bit of adjusting to it even for someone who’s good at it like me. While the number of hours I’m putting in is still relatively the same as I put in as an undergraduate, the intensity of the work has increased. While almost all of my undergraduate courses were certainly challenging, the challenge is on a whole new level in graduate school. And while I was aware that a graduate course is more challenging than an undergraduate course, I didn’t realise that that meant I could still get so bogged down in it, given that I’m only taking three of them.

There were ten classes to choose from and during the first couple of days of classes, I sat in on all of them. I remember being really surprised at how difficult a lot of them were to understand. And this was only in the first class as well. I quickly got it narrowed down to four from which I was to choose three. I then felt my passion for philosophy rise again and made a snap decision to take a philosophy course and got permission to take it as part of my degree so I only had to choose two out of the four math. I decided to just sit in on all four of them since the deadline for choosing was still weeks away.

So what happened? Well, I tried doing stuff for each course and then quickly got bogged down. I realized I couldn’t keep up with the work for all four math courses so I decided to audit two of them and continue to work hard on the other two. Well, because I had taken a bit long to decide on the courses, I ended up procrastinating on both the first assignments for the two math courses I chose to take for credit. I seriously worked my butt off in the last two days one of the assignments was due. And for the other assignment, while I did hear it mention in class, I forgot to pursue and only seriously found out about it 4 days before it was due! I did the best I could with it, but couldn’t really get anywhere with a few of the questions and actually went to the professor the day it was due and got him to help me. It turned out I lacked some of the background in algebra that was needed for the assignment and as a result, the professor extended the deadline for four days for me.

While I did get it done in time (and I now have both assignments back and know now I did great on each one), the professor really had to guide me through the solutions (without giving them away, of course).

After the assignment was passed in, I just had to breathe a sigh of relief and immediately dropped entirely the other two courses I was auditing. But lo and behold one assignment from each course I was taking I discovered had been thrown at me. I had developed a lot anxiety at this point. I kept on wondering when the madness would stop. On one of the assignment I actually ended working on it with another student from the Sunday afternoon before it was due until two o’clock on Monday morning in my office!
But then the bomb went off when I actually failed the midterm for the first course. I got 29% on it, although the average was pretty low anyway 63%.

At this point, a whole range of emotions entered my head. I felt fear, anxiety, and dread. Graduate school just wasn’t fun. Certainly not as fun as I had anticipated anyway. I had trouble comprehending that midterm score because of being a perfectionist. The only other time that I failed a midterm was in first year undergraduate, but it was still about 20% higher than this one and the course had an optional marking scheme that completely discounted the midterm. What happened to me just didn’t make any sense at all. I felt like I had fallen through the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland.

Having to deal with these issues as well as still getting used to a new place with a bigger university really made me just want to explode. I may have been able to cope with the work better and not get so anxious about it if I was back at my old small university Acadia in Nova Scotia with the same old professors and the same old group of peers. The number of times I got overwhelmed with work there was uncountable, but it rarely felt like anything I’m feeling now.

And because I’m in such a new place, I don’t really feel I’m taking the time to develop any friendships. I’ve developed acquaintances certainly, but nothing that I would call a friendship yet. And everything is still a little overwhelming for me, even though I’ve been without any math assignment for nearly a week until yesterday.

Adjusting to a new environment is certainly rough for me. I think I’m gradually getting the hang of it, however. I’ve just been given another assignment, although I’ve started work on it immediately even though it’s not due for another two weeks. And I’m starting to continue on with my fiction writing passion again as well since that was certainly thrown to the side. So it seems that things are slowly settling down.

I like to compare it to jumping into a body of water for a swim. When you first jump in, the water just overwhelms you and you shiver because of the coldness of it. After a few seconds, however, the water starts feeling warm and comfortable to you and you can enjoy an exhilarating swim.

I think I’m going to enjoy the exhilarating swim of grad school in math.

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