Despite the somewhat romantic notion I had about enjoying a leisurely time after finishing my degree, it has worked out to be a bit different. This summer I have had very little break time between interviewing for new opportunities, IT repairs, a 180-degree shift in a work project, finishing my home redecorating project, and preparing to enter a new academic program. You would think I could see all of that coming, but, unfortunately, no. What managing it all helped me realize is that reading and studying has been a kind of stress management tool for me, in addition to being something I really, really enjoy. Studying as a form of stress management might sound unusual to you. It certainly sounds unusual to me, but while managing all the rough and tumble of professional life this week, I realized that having my reading and intense engagement with English studies is an excellent stress management tool and helps me maintain a helpful perspective on other projects.
Grades were released for the BA English last week. As you can imagine, the event generated some excitement in our student chat areas. For yours truly, it is an enormous relief to have the marks and know where I stand, so to speak. For me, this was a challenging year with greater work and study responsibilities than ever before. Revising for exams was a worrying time, managing professional projects and trying to have some kind of personal balance. This year, like other years, the link to grades arrived in my inbox just at the time I settled my thoughts about each course and started thinking realistically about the exam. I like that process because self-assessment is an important part of our study skills in distance learning, and because it is an excellent validation of some complex thoughts and feelings.
It is the first week of a very hot summer here in Pennsylvania. Jelly Bean and I sit in the shade of our enormous maple tree for our favorite activities. She indulges me in one of my favorite activities, reading and we wait for a chance to indulge in her favorite activity, romping with her canine playmates as they come by on their walks. Now that I have no specific course to study for, I am suddenly aware of how much reading I have been doing over the last several years and how much I enjoy reading with a plan and a purpose. Even without preparing for a course of study, since May, my reading list surprised me: two novels by Hilary Mantel, one by Rushdie, Malory’s complete works, and Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain. Right now, I am back onto Victorian poetry. I wondered what I would choose to read without a syllabus or course goals for structure. How much our course of study has affected how I read is a constant, pleasant surprise. How did this happen, exactly? Other students seem to be curious about this too, according to conversations in our student chat areas. Many wonder which texts on the recommended lists are the best aids to degree level study. How I read now has been influenced by some helpful texts.
Some readers have asked what it is like to study English in our distance learning program. I have been thinking about how to describe the experience, and what my practical approach to degree study would be if I were starting the program today. For me, the program has been such a marvelous experience that starting over today would be a delight. The required courses are very interesting with the opportunity to focus on such a variety of texts that reading them again would be very interesting work. Although the advanced courses I selected were my first choices there are several others I would enjoy reading. The process of studying in this program is very rewarding and offers a treasured opportunity. Here are some notes about what to expect.
During the time I have been studying for my degree I often wondered how my course work would affect my leisure reading and other work. Until last week, there has not been much time for leisure reading over the last year. My leisure reading time has been so limited that my treasured subscription to The Economist lapsed without my even realizing it. The stack of New York Times newspapers have been nothing but recycling material for some time now. Instead of a holiday, my post exam relaxation is hugging Jelly Bean, rearranging furniture, and leisure reading.
For the last week, I have been reading some texts that even I, with my liberal definition, might think twice about calling literature. Surprisingly, now that exams are over and I just might have completed my degree, my personal reading has, well, blossomed in ways I did not expect. It surprised me to find arguments and rhetoric jumping off the page in a completely new way. This changed the experience of reading a little. While I thought it might be a distraction, the opposite is really the truth of it. It is quite nice to trace the hand of the author in the work.
Phew! It has been a three-week whirlwind of exams and work and not much else. Despite having back-to-back exams for my last two papers, I somehow did two all night study sessions and lived to tell the tale. Although just a week has passed since my last exam, it feels like much, much longer. Now we begin the wait for our results. It has taken a few days to recover from the all night exam preps, a hectic work schedule, and the intensity of exam days. Now that Jelly Bean and I have had some good long naps, a few hikes in the park and have caught up on professional projects, we have started putting our ‘Exams and Results’ folder in order.
My ‘Exams and Results’ folder is a handy file where I keep things that are helpful when grades and Examiners’ Reports become available a few weeks from now. Things like my candidate number, the questions I attempted for each course, a summary of my answers and notes about how I wrote essays and structured arguments. I also make notes about how I revised for each paper. Writing these notes makes resources like the Examiners’ Reports much more useful. It is also helpful for planning next term’s study strategy.