I've been thinking about my varied career academic career. Two things have conspired to send my thoughts wandering and wondering about the various graduate programs I've been enrolled in. One was reading my autobiographical entry on this site and the other was a note I received from Jen.
Last night I updated my autobiographical entry . I had written the original in 1996 and, although much has remained the same (obvious past history doesn't change), still my children are older, my wife has changed career, etc. Jen's note was in reply to a note I had sent her to let her know that I had listed her site on my page about online journals. On that page I recalled having read her journal a few years ago when (I thought) she had been in a master's level program in Massachusetts (she's now a biologist) working on Ph.D. in California) but she told me that since her undergraduate major had been Slavic literature, she had actually been taking undergraduate science courses to get the proper background for her graduate program in biology. I thought that was very interesting since my undergraduate major was English and I had done a lot of graduate work in English before making a career switch to computers. My wife, who was a math/computer science major as an undergraduate, and who has a master's in systems science (we co-authored our master's thesis), later earned a master's in education and switch from information technology to middle school math.
This started me thinking about the varied majors I've had and the different programs I've been enrolled in at various schools. A little rough calculation (I've not bothered to try to dig up transcripts; in fact, if I need to see them it would probably be easier to order new copies that to try to locate my copies.) indicates that I've probably taken at least as many graduate courses as undergraduate. Hmmm, probably at least fifty actual grad courses. Figure forty or so courses for a B.A., so that is more. (Plus I've taken various undergraduate courses at various times since getting my B.A., often just for fun.)
I attended C.W.Post College (of Long Island University) for my freshman and sophomore years of undergraduate education. (Remind me to tell the tale, sometime, of how I came to attend this school in the first place.) Yes, the school was named after the guy who started the cereal company; their main campus was based on what had been his Long Island estate. C.W.Post would probably never be confused with Yale or Harvard, but I did have an excellent teacher for freshman lit & comp (although most of what he taught has gone by the wayside as my writing has deteriorated over the years). My major was social psychology.
I transfered to SUNY/New Paltz. (SUNY=State University of New York.) The New Paltz campus was based on a state Normal school (one that trained teachers in a two or three year non-bachelorate program) that was founded sometime back around 1880 or so, had been expanded into a state Teacher's College following World War II, and in the 1960's was undergoing rapid expansion as Governor Nelson Rockefeller pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into the SUNY system. [The 1960's -- a time of incredible social/legal/cultural changes on American campuses as well as in society as a whole; that would be another whole essay to even begin to explain the changes. Some of those changes are still echoing today. As an example of an echo of those changes, consider the changes in the standard dress code in the workplace in recent years: four years ago, as a professinal level employee of a company known for its formal business dress code, I wore business suits to work; today, working for the same company, I am wearing blue jeans and sneakers, not just on Fridays, but everyday. When I began my college career male students had to wear jackets and ties in order to be admitted to dinner and female students had to wear skirts or dresses. Females also were not allowed to wear shorts in any of the academic buildings. A relatively few years later there were no dress codes, and the in loco parentis rules had been replaced by coed dormitories.] I started at New Paltz intending to become an English teacher, but I was not impressed by the education courses I took and majored in liberal arts English. Of course a B.A. in English is not of much use in and of itself. (There's a rant for another time, the way corporate executives extoll the virtues of a liberal arts education, claiming that's the perfect background for business, but they never seem to make their personnel departments aware of those sentiments.) My plan was to go to graduate school and eventually to get a Ph.D. in English and become a college professor (unless, of course, I became a successful novelist in the meantime).
At that time New Paltz granted master's degrees in education, but they announced plans to offer an M.A. in English very soon and when the M.A. did begin, English courses taken as part of an M.S. in secondary education could be counted toward the M.A. That sounded good to me. I could start graduate work there while I decided what I wanted to do and maybe even end up with two master's degrees. I took courses full time and then, after getting married and ending up teaching high school English after all, as a part time student. Eventually the M.A. program started. I went in to say okay, now I'm ready to receive my M.S. degree and start my M.A. using these siz or seven English courses from the M.S. And they said, oh, no, you can't do that, the M.A. program has now started. It seems that if I had completed my M.S. the previous semester, then I would have received my M.S. and I could have used those English courses toward an M.A. However, since the M.A. program had now started, if I received my M.S., those classes would only count toward the M.S. and I would have to start from zero on the M.A. So I said forget the M.S., I'd rather get an M.A. and I was halfway there. Okay, six courses later (about a year and a half later) I have applied and been accepted into a doctoral program and I go in to do the paperwork to receive my M.A. All requirements completed -- oh, except, of course, for the foreign language requirement. But wait, I had French as an undergraduate at this very same campus and the regulations said that met the requirements. Oh, sorry, but too much time had elapsed since I took my last French course, so I would have to be tested to see if I still qualified. Uh, yeah, but that's exactly right, time has passed since I took my last French course, and I don't know if I could pass an exam. But less than a year had passed between when I took that last French course and when I entered the graduate program. Oh, that was the M.S. program but I was asking for an M.A. degree and more than the maximum time had elapsed between that French course and my switch from the M.S. program to the M.A. program. Yes, Dr. Something-or-other was the only person who could give a waiver for this but he is on sabatical this semester. Quick phone call to the school where I would be going for my Ph.D. -- do you guys care if I have an M.A. when I enroll? -- nope, I'm accepted in the program, they couldn't care less if I have my M.A. or not. Okay, hey, New Paltz, you can keep your M.A., yeah, and your M.S. too.
So I go off to the SUNY University Center at Binghamton (or Binghamton University as they have since taken to calling themselves). Two years as a full time graduate student at which point I escape screaming for freedom. One problem was that it was the wrong program for me. I was interested in the 20th Century American Novel (most particularly in the Contemporary American Novel, e.g., Ken Kesey, etc.) but the program was very generalist program where each particular subset of the department got to name a requirement. I had studied the Restoration Poets as an undergraduate. I had studied them as a graduate student at New Paltz. I enjoyed reading their work but I did not want to take another Restoration Poets class. I did not have twenty thousand well chosen creative original words of literary criticism to type out about them. I love Shakespeare. I had already concentrated all the effort on Shakespeare that I could. I did not want to read Thomas Carlysle's Sartor Resartus (I thought it sucked!) and have to cope with a full professor who thought Carlysle was the key 19th century writer. My wife (uh, my first wife) was a medieval scholar. In her Ph.D. program she concentrated on medieval study (her doctoral dissertation, which she never completed, was on child-rearing practices in medieval England as revealed in the multi-generational collected letters of some family that is famous among medieval scholars but whose name I have totally forgotten); she did look at Roman history and its contributions to medieval society, but she did not have to take courses in Colonial Latin America or China During the Ming Dynasty or History of the Boer War. My advisor was the closest to anyone having an interest in the contemporary novel; he was a Hemingway and Fitzgerald expert who also taught a course in The Jewish-American Novel. So, that was kind of a major problem for me. My second problem was that I really didn't want a Ph.D. more than anything in life. As my advisor said to me when I came to discuss my thoughts about bailing out of the program: getting your doctorate has to be the most important thing in your life. And I had to reply that it did make my top ten list, but it wasn't at the top. He offered me the chance to convert my studies thus far to an M.A. by taking one or two more courses (to meet distribution requirements, etc.) and I said no thank, in fact, I didn't think I would complete the courses I was currently enrolled in. [A number of years later, when I brought my eldest to college for his freshman orientation, I saw my old professor. He was now the President of SUNY at Purchase... and not only recognized me, but really remembered me.] So there I was, 29 years old, a gazillion graduate hours, but only a B.A. degree.
Fast foward a few years. I had gone back to teaching high school English and I had some tuition waivers from a SUNY school for having served as master teacher for one of their student teachers. A friend said he was going to take some computer classes. Hmmm. My brother was into computers. He had gone from computer operator to computer programmer and was now teaching programming for IBM. He really enjoyed his work. Because I came from a liberal arts background I had to take some pre-requisite courses in order to get into the graduate program. So I took PL/I, APL and Numerical Analysis.... and then entered the master's program in systems science. At the same time I became a computer operator, met Nancy (who was a college senior when I met her -- yeah, I'm twelve years older than her), became a programmer, and got married. Nancy and I took courses together. In 1982 our daughter was born. That fall we began researching and writing our master's thesis as co-authors (Human Factors Engineering and the Design of On-Line Computer Application Systems) and received our M.S. in Systems Science degrees in the spring.
And I've taken a number of undergraduate courses since then, everything from "Architecture and Public Space in Broome County" to "Studies in Operations Management." Oh, and any number of non-credit art courses: photography, drawing, watercolor, figure drawing...
I have toyed with the idea of getting a Ph.D. in an information technology field. I am not a computer scientist. I am not a math wizzard. Finite automata theory is all well and good, but it doesn't ring my chimes. At one point I began taking courses in the School of Information Science at Syracuse University but the program I was in was only master's level and they didn't seem to have any doctoral programs that fit what I wanted. I then thought of getting one from Binghamton University -- they had an interesting joint program between their Thomas Watson School of Engineering, Applied Science and Technology and their Graduate School of Management but I couldn't seem to find an advisor (a mentor, a guru, somebody to chair your committee because you will get no where without one)... The professor who had chaired our master's thesis committee was ready to retire. My second choice was considering leaving the school. There was a new hot shot coming in from California, maybe I should contact him once he gets settled in. Never mind.... My wife, meanwhile, earned an M.A. in education. We moved to Rhode Island. I took a grad course in adult education at the University of Rhode Island. What I do is essentially adult education -- training programmers on the use of some complex solutions architectures -- so I have thought about getting a doctorate in adult education. Two problems with that: most adult education programs seem focused on an entirely different population than I work with and the adult education specialty at URI is only at a master's level. Yes, there are other graduate schools in R.I. but -- at this point in my life -- by the time I could get a doctorate I would be at least sixty years old... and just how much use would I get out of that degree? It would be of no use to me professionally (that is to say, financially) in my present line of work. All it would really do for me would be to give me the credentials to teach in a college. Well, even if I could find a full time college position (despite the way colleges are trying to get by on the cheap by hiring part time staff and adjunct faculty), at this point I would be taking a big pay cut to make that move.
So, I think at this point in my life I doubt that I will attempt to earn a doctorate in anything. I guess I've grown accustomed to having taking huge numbers of courses but only having a B.A. and a single M.S. I will keep taking classes. I've been taking an online course about teaching. A few weeks ago I completed a series of courses at Roger Williams University's extension program in Providence, making me a "Certified Training Professional." I'll probably take more URI courses. And, of course, I am continually busy with technical learning. Just after Thanksgiving I took a course in java in New York (my 12/01/99 entry) and I have signed up for classes in UML and Introduction to Rational Rose and I need to sign up for a follow-on java course and... And so it goes...
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