To Drop or Not to Drop, that is the Question.

posted Sep 20, 2012, 4:57 PM by jj pionke
Graduate school, especially in a place like this, is as much about the classes as it is about opportunity.  Opportunities for student jobs to get the 2 years of job experience that most starting jobs want you to have or to meet Big Name People in your or related fields or to just have conversations that allow you to expand your horizons.  In a place like this you talk as much about classes and homework as you do about networking and opportunities.  When I first started here, I was asked what it was like to be back in school and I said it was like taking a deep breath of fresh air after only being able to shallowly breathe for years.  Going into my second year, it's like I am drunk on fresh air and don't know what to do with myself.  So, here's my problem.  I am taking 5 classes.  I also have other commitments.  I am a TA.  I have a few presentations to give here and elsewhere.  I am applying to Ph.D. programs which means not only writing the application essays but also researching institutions and meeting with professors for advice.  I also have a bunch of other stuff going on.  Needless to say, dropping a class would be A Very Good Idea.  It would allow me to not spend three hours in the classroom along with however many hours I would have to spend on homework each week.  Of the 5 classes I have, 3 of them are non-dropable for various reasons.  That leaves 2.  1 class is incredibly useful and the other class is incredibly fun.

Common sense would say drop the fun and keep the useful.  Past experience says that the fun class has an excellent teacher and I will get more than I bargained for out of that class for all sorts of reasons.  Useful class will be useful whether I go into the job market or a Ph.D. program.  Fun class is more work than I even want to think about in terms of time commitment.  Useful class isn't that much of a time suck and I am actually learning stuff out of that class that I had never even known existed.  Which brings us back to opportunities.  By keeping 5 classes, what opportunities am I missing?  Will I be able to pass everything (let's not even talk about getting As in everything)?  To make the course load and do everything else, will I have to sacrifice 8 hours of sleep a night and cut it down to say 6?  2 hours doesn't seem like much but 2 focused hours in my hands is like 10 in other people's.

All of this is going to come to a head pretty quickly as the last day to drop classes is Monday, a few days from now. 

I explained my quandary to a professor friend of mine and he had some interesting advice.  He said to pull out a coin and just flip it and the answer I was looking for was in what I was hoping the coin would be when it landed.  I tossed the coin up into the air and was hoping for heads, the side I had designated as drop the useful class.  I got tails but I guess I have my answer.

Grad school is about choices.  Many people come in with a very laser like focus on what they are going to do and then there are many others that just meander their way through.  I was and am a wanderer.  I took a preservation class and was seduced by it's siren song and found myself adding the preservation of information specialty to my library science specialty.  Doing my global internships really reiterated the preservation stuff but also drew me more strongly towards archives as well.  Choices.  It's too late to add the archives specialty.  It's not too late to apply to Ph.D. programs or do other things like attend guest lectures and make connections.  Opportunities.  In a place like this everything is a trade off and learning to accept the trade can be a hard lesson sometimes.  I haven't dropped useful class yet (though I will shortly, along with sending a brief note of regret to the professor) and I already find myself missing it, second guessing my decision, and wishing I had made a different one, even as I know I am making the right decision.  I am here to be challenged, to grow, to learn, to lead.  I am not hear to be driven into the ground.  To drop or not to drop - I will have to drop that class, but oh do I wish I didn't have to.