Epidemiology at 48: Oops, make that 49!

LSHTM logoSo a lot has happened in the past 10 days. I turned 49, my husband Craig and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary, and in there somewhere I sat three exams. Fundamentals of Epidemiology (EPM101), Statistics with Computing (EPM102), and Practical Epidemiology (EPM103). There’s not much point in reflecting now on what I might have done differently, since I don’t know how I did: results are due in August and it’s really only then that I’ll have a sense of how effective my revision strategy was. That said, the exams are fresh in my mind so now is a reasonable time for a few minutes’ reflection, regardless of whether I passed or failed.

I made a crazy decision the week before exams. In the midst of full-on revision, with my husband carrying the full weight of family duties as I hunched over my computer hour after hour, I decided to join a gym! I could have waited until the week after exams, but thought I should take my own advice and carve out some time for myself. This move was partly born of necessity. I didn’t turn 49 for nothing—my body is speaking up in ways it never did, to tell me that sitting for hours on end in front of a screen is not the way it wishes to be treated. I am sure that my handful of pre-exam workouts contributed to any success I might have had during exam week.

I also let go of lots of standards to focus on what I felt was essential. For instance, my family has been eating lots of frozen meals in the past 6 weeks. It’s not going to kill us and it gave me a precious extra half-hour each afternoon for revision. We also practiced a more active than usual “laundry reduction program”—I felt no qualms about fishing a pair of basically-clean jeans out of the dirty laundry basket for my eldest son to wear again.

In a bizarre way, it felt great to sort of bury myself in epidemiology for the past 6 weeks. It’s a fascinating topic, for starters. And it always feels good to give your all to something, even for a brief period. What was best about revision, though, was how much I learned. Somehow, sitting the practice exams, putting my notes together, then copying them again, and again, exchanging questions and answers on the discussion forums, and reflecting on each course as a whole, gave me new insights. For instance, revising statistics helped me to have a tiny bit better understanding of the basic scenarios that are presented throughout the course, and how they interrelate. Like anyone, I don’t love sitting exams—but I have to say I am grateful for the way they forced me to concentrate.

I didn’t really find any surprises in the exams, and as I mull over the mistakes I’m sure I made, I comfort myself by considering that exams are really supposed to be a record of what I do—and don’t—know. If I didn’t know it well enough to put down the right answer, in a way that’s fine, because my grade will reflect the true state of my knowledge.

Anyway, real life has reasserted itself. I’ve started the fourth course for my certificate, Writing and Reviewing Epidemiological Papers, and am already enjoying it and learning a ton. I’m hoping to switch my registration to the MSC in epidemiology later this summer if (fingers crossed) I passed my exams. Meanwhile, I have a work deadline to meet, a family vacation to prepare for, kids to shepherd through the last 2 weeks of the school year, and a husband to relieve of his excess familial duties. Best of all, last night my boys and I re-started our nightly read-aloud sessions. They help me keep everything in perspective.

Susannah is studying for a Postgraduate Certificate in Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine through the University of London International Programmes.

6 thoughts on “Epidemiology at 48: Oops, make that 49!

  1. well done, can I ask, how tricky was it tacking 3 modules in one year part time?
    I know i/t’s difficult to answer, but what was the hours per week you had to devote to your studies

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  2. Hi Glad you liked the post. During the main part of the year, I had no trouble keeping up with both kids and studying, mainly due to creating a schedule for myself that I could see would enable me to submit homework assignments on time and be done by June exams. I scheduled holidays off in the fall and winter, but otherwise I probably spent a couple hours a day studying. However, for exams, I spent the entire 6 weeks prior studying, probably 12 hours a day 7 days a week. It was exhausting. I was lucky to have my husband there to keep the kids going! And, all this should be said with a big caveat–I didn’t manage to get to the fourth class at all before exams. Right after exams, I had to spend an intensive month catching up and completing those homework assignments, which was also exhausting. In retrospect, I would have tried harder to finish the first three classes much earlier, and also started preparing for exams much earlier, to take the pressure off May and June.

    Good luck, Susannah

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  3. Hi Susannah,

    I was just accepted to the PG certificate (in hopes of transitioning to MSc) and came upon your blog. Thanks so much for being so insightful and honest about the ups and downs of your studies. I’ve been out of school for about five years now so hearing your study scheduling and juggling work and family on top of that gives me the extra confidence I can do this. I look forward to checking in on your journey and hope to share my own story in the future.

    Thanks,
    Kelly

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  4. Hi Kelly, I’m glad my stories of how I’m managing (more or less!) are helpful to others who are also a little nervous about going back to school after a long break. Good luck in your studies! Susannah

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