Epidemiology at 49: Year one ends, year two begins

September 6, 2013

LSHTM logoLast Friday, I submitted my final assignment for the postgraduate certificate in epidemiology, an “Assessed Assignment” for EPM105 (Writing and reviewing epidemiological papers). So much for a summer break! I did manage to squeeze in family holidays, to the detriment of my studies, and fear that I ended up spending more time on the assignment than I had on the class itself. Time will tell whether that was a wise allocation of my study hours.

In mid-August I finally received my exam results and was very happy that I passed all three. I felt that the big investment of time—on the order of 12 hours a day for 6 weeks with few breaks—had paid off. Exams were a true learning experience for me despite the pain.

With these two events behind me, I’ve made the decision not to stop. Sometime this week, I hope to formalize my decision to switch from the postgraduate certificate to a full MSc in epidemiology. This is a different animal from the one I encountered last year. Simply put, it’s more time, more money, and a longer commitment to being a mainly one-income family of five. Not a decision to take lightly, and I don’t.

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Epidemiology at 48: Oops, make that 49!

June 13, 2013

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.

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Epidemiology at 48: My top 10 exam tips

May 14, 2013

lshtm_logo_blackSo the topic of this month’s blog post must obviously be the exams. Is there anything else?

Actually, there is. My eldest son took his younger brothers to town on their bikes for the first time ever, just the three of them. My middle son started learning to barrel race (yes, there are cowboys in New Jersey!). My youngest son is simultaneously learning some new soccer moves and putting the finishing touches on Mozart’s “Turkish March.”

But still—let’s face it. EXAMS. June 3, June 5 and June 7, conveniently scheduled the same week as my 49th birthday and my 15th wedding anniversary.

Here are my top 10 tips for prepping:

1. Still finishing the courses themselves? Your synapses are frayed. So outsource your brain: Take. Good. Notes.

2. Get enough sleep. Don’t even bother cracking the books if you can’t get at least 7 hours.

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Epidemiology at 48: Any different this time around?

April 19, 2013

lshtm_logo_blackThe first time I was a full-time university student, I was all of 17. The last time—other than now—I was 28. This time around, I am nearing the half-century mark. What’s different, and what would my advice be to someone my age contemplating a return to school?

I don’t recall having a physical problem with being a student in my teens and twenties. But the first thing that comes to mind when I consider student-hood at 48, unfortunately, is “aches and pains.” I have osteoarthritis in both hips and left the gym long ago to save time and money. The combination with seven months (and counting) on a secondhand chair in front of my computer is not pretty. If I do my daily sit-ups, push-ups and stretches, I get by with minimal twinges. The best help, though, is my daily walks to and from my sons’ elementary school. The younger one complains vociferously and begs to be driven, but I am adamant. Bit of advice #1: Stretch your legs every day.

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Epidemiology at 48: Solving the kids-and-studies equation

March 21, 2013

When I asked my eldest if he saw a down side to my studying, he sweetly said that “it keeps you away from time with your kids, but … if you’re helping hundreds of thousands of people, I suppose it’s okay.” Wow! So…if I’m not helping hundreds of thousands of people (and I hasten to state that I am, unfortunately, not), I should stop studying and focus on my kids?!

It’s so hard to get that balance right. But I wouldn’t be effective as a student or a mom if I didn’t take time for all the other stuff.

My husband and I had an unwritten prenuptial agreement: we would take turns as stay-at-home parent. Some friends predicted failure, but we are now in round three, and after five years of work in New York City, I’m back at home. This time, I don’t have to contend with breastfeeding or playgroups: I’m 48 and my sons are 12, 11, and 9. Everybody is in school: surely a recipe for chaos! But I’ve made it halfway through the school year and we all seem to be thriving. I asked myself how we have (so far) avoided an implosion. Read the rest of this entry »

Seizing the day: Epidemiology at 48

February 15, 2013

lshtm_logo_blackHello, I’m Susannah, and I’m studying for a Postgraduate Certificate in Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) through the University of London International Programmes.

Why epidemiology? On July 13, 1999, my world split in two with the full-term stillbirth of my first child, Wilder Daniel. The pregnancy was perfect, the outcome tragic. Somehow worse was the fact that no cause was found.

At the time, I was based in Vietnam, heading the local branch of Oxfam Hong Kong, a charity that works to improve livelihoods. Later, I returned to the U.S. (where I’m from), taking up a position with another non-profit called Trickle Up that works to reduce extreme poverty in India, West Africa and Central America.

Gradually I began to sense I was not quite on the right path. To borrow a line from Tolkien, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” Easier said than done! So in 2011, I quit and moved with my husband and three sons, then aged 7-11, to the woods for a year. We wanted to be surrounded by nature, and I wanted to seek my path.

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