My Grade 7 calculator.

Two things to know about the picture above. First, HJHS stands for Highland Junior High School; second, the handwriting you see is my mom’s. Incredibly, this calculator is the one I acquired at the start of Grade 7(!), making it something of a relic (this was back in the days before “Internet” was a household word). I grabbed it from my basement just before I ran out the door at 3:30 a.m. the morning we hopped a plane to London, having an inkling that I might need it.

It took me a good two weeks to get back into the groove of being a student again. In some ways, I don’t feel like I ever left school. Thirteen years of public education, four years of undergrad, four years of med school, two years (and counting) of residency and a year-in-progress of grad school does put me, after all, in Grade 24. The self-directed learning and inevitable encroachment of studying on my evenings and weekends are very familiar to me. What I haven’t experienced for a long time are the crazy perks of being able to head out the door wearing jeans, running shoes and no make-up ; being at home many mornings and afternoons since I have less than three hours of class per day; having lots of flexible time for independent study (mostly at home, in my pyjamas) and generally being accountable to no one but myself if I don’t show up to class. Sometimes I feel guilty, like I’m too old to be allowed to have this lifestyle. Sometimes I feel I’m too old, period, possibly confirmed during orientation week when I overheard a young woman behind me say breathlessly to her equally unseasoned seatmate, “I’m so glad I found you, I thought everyone here would be, like, 30.”

The upshot about being a student when you’re, like, 30, is that you probably earned your tuition money yourself and as such you’re pretty hell-bent on making sure you extract as much value from every last penny of your fees as possible. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve averaged one to two hours per night trying to sort out and select my courses for the coming term, and only partly because I’m trying to put together a schedule that will maximize our travelling opportunities (hello three-or-more day weekends! Sadly, I don’t think this will materialize.).

Instead, what I’m really trying to do is think carefully about what I want to learn, what I need to learn, what I want to do, and the skills I need to do it. With Allan and me together paying an exorbitant amount in tuition (think two mid-range cars), we’ve decided to really nerd it out this year and maximize our educational opportunities. That means staying on top of the classes we’re enrolled in, auditing extra classes that we’re not, taking advantage of all the math/library/computing/research/essay-writing sessions being offered at our schools and attending additional lectures  on topics of interest like global health, development, conflict, human rights, etc.

In general, I’ve decided to try and take more quantitative courses than qualitative ones to come away with some concrete skills, even though the classes might make me want to tear my hair out and/or cry. Which brings me back to my calculator, which was a good call to bring with me, as I will need it for courses with such terrifying titles as “measuring performance,” “cost-effectiveness analysis,” “statistical methods,” and “analytical models.” Wish me luck! And if I’m bald the next time you see me, you’ll know why.

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