Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Back to School

After I quit my paper job but before I left Hi-Z and joined Qualcomm I decided to go back to school. As long as the education was useful to Hi-Z they were willing to pay for my tuition so how could I not accept such a wonderful opportunity? The problem was that while they would pay the tuition I was still expected to put in a full work schedule. In addition to that I had six kids at home who also demanded a lot of attention. I decided that I really wanted to do it and even if I only took one or two classes a semester I figured it would still only take four or five years. The way I looked at it was that in four or five years I would still be four or five years older but this way I would have a graduate degree.

It is very different going back to school as an adult. First of all, the classes you take are ALL interesting. No more nonsense such as "fine arts", "history" or "English". They were all fascinating classes such as neural networks (my favorite) and stuff like that. The other difference is that after fifteen years of working a full time job I had figured out how to work. While taking classes along with working full time is challenging, taking one or two classes at a time means a lot less homework so it was easier focusing on the classes. I settled into a routine that went roughly like this. Get up at 5:30 with the kids going to seminary. Drop them off at seminary and go into work. Do my homework from 6:00 until 8:00 when my day job starts. Do my day job until classes start. Work overtime to make up for the time I missed in classes. Go home and be with my wife and children. Go to bed. Repeat.

When things got tough however was when I started at Qualcomm and started traveling. It is very difficult to travel all day long and then get motivated enough to do homework in some motel room. To make things worse, UCSD is on a quarter system and each quarter is only ten weeks long. If I missed a week of classes because of a business trip that was 10% of my entire semester. That made it very stressful at times but the professors loved the fact that they had a student who was already in a career and they worked with me.

In spite of the tough schedules and all I still managed to pull off a 4.0 GPA, at least until statistics. I was maintaining a perfect average until then. I don't know what it is about statistics but I can't get an A in that class. It isn't all that hard but I just can't get an A. The biggest problem in this class was one of those famous "group" projects that Alycia talked about recently. The group had this stupid idea for a project and I really thought it was dumb but I was outvoted and we ended up with a poor grade on it. That was a big factor in my B. After that I always tried to do group projects by myself and in the cases where I had to work with a group I always told them I would do the project by myself first and then if wanted to add to it we could talk about it. In every case they made very little changes to my original work.

Finally I finished all of my classes except my thesis. I just couldn't find the time to work on it. I had hoped to graduate with Kira when she graduated from High School but I procrastinated my thesis so long that she graduated by herself. Finally when I was in jeopardy of ending up with an ABT (all but thesis) I knuckled down and got to work. I decided to work on one the professors favorite topics. It wouldn't have been my first choice but I figured I would get more help if the professors was excited about it and it was a very wise move on my part. I worked my tail off on the thesis and came up with some pretty unique ideas. When it came time to defend my thesis I went to put my panel together and my prof insisted that I include this real mean, grouchy professor from the computer department. I didn't want to make this any harder on myself than I had to but I complied.

I had been warned by many people (including my adviser) that no one ever passes on the first try. It was a matter of honor that they find something wrong with your work and make you go back at least once. When I presented I thought things went quite well. When they grilled my about my work I thought I addressed their questions properly but when I was sitting in the hallway waiting for them to make a decision I was very nervous. I was tired of school and I really wanted to be done. I didn't want to go back and do more research. Finally the door opened and they called me in. The first thing my adviser said to me was, "Well, I guess I was wrong. You're the one exception, you passed." The grouchy professor then said to my adviser, "Roger, if all your students work had been like this one I think your program would have been more successful".

I floated on air and the relief was overwhelming. I was done. I felt dumb walking with all those young guys but after all that work I really wanted to. It made me feel good that Lisa made a really big deal out of it too and as I walked into the room my entire family was right there on the front row and they were yelling and screaming. I felt good.

I've always wanted to get a PhD but after the masters I decided that I will wait until the kids are all gone and then I'm going back. My masters was in the Electrical Engineering department and it was focused on Advanced Manufacturing and while it was very appropriated and useful for my work I really want a PhD in quantum mechanics. It will only be for my own enjoyment and won't be at all useful for my career but someday I'm going to do it.

Many people over sixty are immune to the swine flue leading the experts to believe that something very similar has been around before.


Lynn said...

Good for you!!! Awesome goals!

Oh by the way. Dean LOVES statistics. He took that for two years at BYU. He was going to be a statistician until I came along. : D He then decided that he would be better off married and living back in Canada. LOL!

Justin, Kira and Evan said...

Isn't that wait in the hallway terrible?? The guy who went before me didn't pass!! That only made me more nervous!

Lisa L said...

I think one B in your graduate degree isn't that bad and had they listened to you on that group project you said the group would have had an A and they even apologized to you afterwards. Would that A on the group project have made the difference on your B? Maybe. I'm excited for you to get your PhD because it's something I know you've wanted to do for a long time. To some degree I feel like I earned that masters degree as well :)Did we ever get that thesis bound like we did your bachelor's thesis? I know we did for the panel but what about for us? Of course we were proud of you and made a big deal out of it. You are amazing to do what you did and when you get your PhD we will make a big deal out of that as well and have a big party :)Love you!

Trevor and Alycia Crowley said...

You know what kills me...how one day mom said, "We are going to your dad's graduation." And I was like from what?! haha I had no clue you were going to school, THATS how good you were at still being that great dad who would come home and help me with my math homework for hours and stay up late with me and everyone. I am literally AMAZED and thankful, LOVE YOU.