Epidemiology at 49: Getting back on the horse — every single day

LSHTM logoSo the second year of my expected three-year course of study has officially begun. I successfully switched my registration from the one-year Postgraduate Certificate in Epidemiology to the MSc, and registered for four classes this year—the same load I was able to manage last year. Due to course requirements and the due dates of various assignments, I am only working on two classes from now through mid-December: Statistical Methods in Epidemiology (EPM202) and Epidemiology of Non-Communicable Diseases (EPM303). By the New Year I will have to add the remaining two courses.

I had a lovely month off from studies in September, which gave me time to catch up on my research (on stillbirth and neonatal death classification systems) and help my three boys with the start of the school year. Though I received all my course materials well in advance, I decided not to open them until the official start to the academic year, on October 1.

The morning of October 1 was both relaxing and exciting, as I uploaded my CAL materials to a new directory and labeled notebooks for each class. The afternoon, when I buckled down to make a study schedule for the entire year, was not! This year the Moodle has a helpful new feature—the key dates for each class (when FAs and AAs are due, etc.) are given on the class home page. It was very nice not to have to scramble to find them. But I therefore realized much more quickly that, in order to complete my four classes by August 2014, I would have to get serious about studying immediately.

Now, nearing the end of my second week of studying, I am already behind on my optimistic schedule. Other things keep taking higher priority. First one son was home sick, then another needed to go to the doctor’s. Then there is preparation for my upcoming trip to Vietnam this weekend, for a conference of the International Stillbirth Alliance at which I’ll be presenting my research as well as telling the story of my first (stillborn) son Wilder, to provide a “parent’s perspective” to the otherwise mainly academic proceedings. Work deadlines and my children’s needs automatically get top billing on my to-do list.

I find it is easy to get discouraged when, seemingly over and over, I fall behind in studies, or lose sleep to meet a deadline, or lose my temper with my kids. I wonder whether I will end every day this year feeling disappointed that I did not satisfactorily achieve everything on my too-long to-do list. I suspect I am far from the only person in this situation. How do we make it all fit? And how do we keep from getting so disheartened that we feel like giving up?

Here is my view: The only way to make it all fit is to have less “all”. Look at your to-do list in order of priority. Now cut everything in the bottom ¾! Then, in order to feel okay about doing that: Remember why you’re doing the things in the top ¼ of the list. Trying to take pleasure in the little things—the wind in the trees, the smell of rain, something your kid said that was nice or funny, finally going to bed at the end of a long day—also helps.

But most of all, get back on the horse. Every day. Does everyone out there know that phrase? When you fall off a horse, it can be scary, and it can hurt a lot. I know; I broke my shoulder that way as a girl. But you just can’t let it get you down. Sometimes it feels as if I fall off the horse every single day. The trick is, to be willing to get back on that horse, every single day.

Now I am going to go study the assignment I was supposed to complete two days ago.

Susannah has just completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Epidemiology and is now continuing on to the MSc Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine through the University of London International Programmes.

3 Responses to Epidemiology at 49: Getting back on the horse — every single day

  1. Peter Simpson says:

    Hi Susannah

    I enjoyed reading your blog entry – best wishes for the new academic year.

    I will be completing the PG Diploma in Public Health this year and am thinking of studying EPM202 as a standalone module next year. I would love to hear your views about this particular module as the year progresses. I did well in both my epidemiology and statistics core modules.

    Kind regards

    Peter – aged 60!

  2. Juliana Chua says:

    Thank you for your post, Susannah! A real motivational boost for me today. I sure feel frustrated trying to manage my time properly, too; good to know we’re in the same boat with lots of other students!

    All the best!

  3. shleisher2013 says:

    Hi Peter, Thanks for this long-ago comment. When I received it I hadn’t really gotten into 202 yet. Now, I have finished going through the course once, and am working on the FA and on writing up my study guide for the exam. I am also just starting 304 (and near the end of 303 and not touched 201 yet).

    So far I have to say that 202 is inferior to 102 in terms of the quality of the written instruction. I really loved 102. The 202 CAL was full of bugs and I found the second half of the course to be very hard to understand, which is why I am already starting to write up the exam study guide-it’s a way of trying again to learn the material. Oddly, the FA focuses only on the first 2 sessions which are a review of 102, so don’t reinforce any of the new material in 202.

    On the other hand, I’ve just finished the first session of 304, which is a review of 202, and I find it to be much more clearly written than 202. It’s just the first session but it’s a good sign.

    That said, my issues with 202 may be particular to my brain, and 202 is the next stats course after 102 and does introduce regression which is key. I know they have already released an improved version of the CAL with many of the bugs corrected so that’s good.

    Overall, despite the quality issue, I’d certainly recommend continuing with stats as it is clearly critical to understanding and working in epi. Let me know if there’s anything specific I can tell you. Good luck and happy New Year!


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