Planning Poor Does Graduate School

In 2008, during my last year of undergrad, my aunt Deena and I were on the phone discussing finding a first job and whether going to graduate school was important. I don’t remember the specifics, but one thing she said that has stuck with me all these years was, “It’s so much harder to go back.” In other words, go to graduate school right after college, because it only gets harder to do so the further you get from that moment.

And while the rest of my friends were indeed going to graduate school right after college (in part because the recession had sucked away any jobs they might have applied to), I just didn’t think this was the best choice for me. I understood that going to graduate school just for the sake of going to graduate school was a poor financial decision. If I were ever going to get a Master’s degree, I wanted it to be for something that would accelerate a career I loved. In other words, I didn’t want to plunge into graduate school and then be forced into a career I had to choose based on the degree I earned. For me, it had to be the other way around.

(And, had I gone to graduate school straight away, I would have been pursuing an MA in English in the hopes of going on to a PhD program. Needless to say, it would have been a disturbing waste of loan money.)

Despite her sage wisdom, and despite the Great Recession, I started my first job 3 days after graduating. The only thing I felt was super pissed at not having one more summer vacation before diving into the adult world and never having one again.

Fast forward 6 years. It’s April 2015, and Kevin is debating a monumental life change. He’s 3 years out of law school, and despite having a stable—albeit time-consuming—job as a lawyer, he’s dissatisfied. Lawyering is not what he thought it would be. He expected a career that offered endless variety and intriguing intellectual challenges. Instead, it had become monotonous.

He began to work on automating some of the repetitive parts of his job and found that he loved the challenge of programming. Around the same time, he had been reading books about math and information theory (nerd!) and found the subject fascinating. But he knew there was no way he could practice law and formally study computer science. His plan: Retire from law, find a part-time job, preferably in his new field of interest, and return to school.

Step one of his plan would be easy (in theory—it’s never easy to say goodbye to great coworkers); steps two and three, not so much.

Dobby helping me study for Accounting.

If one thing has been said about me, it’s that if you’re looking for a job, I’m the person you want to tell. Over the course of my life I’ve signed up for so many job-alert emails that I’m practically a mini work-placement service. So when Kevin told me he wanted a job in tech, my challenge began. I sent him job after job after job, all the while keeping his spirits up because he was losing hope.

“Who wants to hire a lawyer for a part-time IT job?” he would ask. “You never know until you try!” I would tell him.

As it turns out, the University of Florida did. On his first and only interview, Kevin landed a part-time IT job working for one of UF’s many entities. And working at UF, even part-time, would allow him to easily run around campus to attend classes in the middle of the workday. Steps two and three: Check!

It was around this time of change that Kevin helped me realize that my own situation was not ideal. (Either that, or he just didn’t want to be alone in his educational endeavor.) For years, he had been urging me to go back to school for something—anything!—citing that I was too smart to be doing what I was doing. (#humblebrag) While I would have loved to have gone back to school, I never wanted to take out more student loans or stop making money. (And this is what my aunt meant by “it’s hard to go back.” Money is like a drug; it’s hard to stop making that paper once you start.)

But one of the benefits my employer provides is free school: the company will reimburse me for up to six credits per semester of graduate work that I successfully complete with a C or better. What’s more, a friend at work had told me about a business Master’s degree at UF that had an IT focus: the Information Systems and Operations Management (ISOM) program. It was as if all the stars were aligning: this was the perfect program for me, as it would allow me to gain more technical skills while polishing the business skills I had acquired through 6 years of employment.

With a new goal in mind (and probably the first real goal I had set in a very long time, besides “convince Kevin to marry me”), I immediately began my plan of attack. With applications due June 1, I had just under 2 months to study for the GRE, take the GRE and receive an acceptable score, write a cheesy admissions statement, solicit three letters of recommendation, get my boss’s support and approval for going back to school, and plan how I was going to attend school part-time while continuing to work full-time.

Having planned our wedding in just 2 months, I knew this would be a piece of pie compared to that.

And to make a long story short, it all worked out (somehow).

Fall 2015 was our first semester as a husband/wife team of working graduate students. And despite work, despite Kevin getting converted to a full-time position, despite both of us also being on the board of directors for a local non-profit, despite being at work at 7:00 AM and staying until 5:30 PM to make up lost time—we both made straight A’s. (#notsohumblebrag)

I have made so many friends, most of whom are from other countries, through ISOM. Here is a group of us at an international potluck and game night.

I know, you must be wondering: How did our personal lives not fall apart? It’s funny, I had the same reaction. I thought for sure the schedules we now keep would put a huge strain on our relationship, but in fact the opposite has happened. Kevin and I are in the best harmony we’ve ever experienced. We communicate and plan way more than we ever have. If I have to work late for class or can’t make it home at a reasonable hour, he knows to let the dogs out and start dinner without me. Likewise, on days that he has to work late, I know I need to take care of things at home and fend for food myself (i.e., hello, Panera Rapid Pickup!). Neither of us has ever been especially emotionally needy, so seeing each other for only an hour a day doesn’t bother us much. Sure, we may miss each other, especially during exam weeks, but neither of us has the time to break down and cry about it—not that we would.

Plus, it has been so rewarding to go through this together. Our programs of study tend to complement one another, and our classes have led to many an interesting discussion. We don’t get flustered at the other’s schedule because we understand it. And we love to talk about the future: Where will we be when our degrees are printed? What does the future hold? It’s an exciting time in our lives; who knew such excitement could exist after 25?

One of the most comical parts about going back to school as a “non-traditional student” (i.e., a student who goes part-time) at the ripe age of 28 is that nearly all of my classmates are in their early 20s, and because ISOM offers a combined-degree program, some of them are still undergrads. In group-project situations, I tend to be the one with the sage life advice, and everyone I meet gawks when they hear I’m married. On the plus side, I never get tired of hearing that I don’t look my age.

Business graduate school is all about the group project, which means many a long night in Hough Hall working together. But at least I can capture some nice sunsets now and then.

When I first started, I thought it would be difficult to compete against these full-time students who had nothing to do with their time but study. I had promised myself that I would be a better student in graduate school than I had been in undergrad (e.g., not waiting until the night before to write a 10-page paper, reading chapters as they are assigned instead of…well…never), but that still didn’t seem like enough to do well. How could I possibly put in the hours they must be putting in to earn better grades than theirs? (All of business school is graded relative to your classmates’ performance, so to get an A, you have to prove that you’re better than they are.)

But as I got to know my fellow students and their sometimes nonexistent study habits, I realized that my age actually afforded me the hindsight that these younger students had not yet had the chance to acquire: I know the value of my time, and I know how to be disciplined. If I have to spend 40 hours per week at work, you better believe I’m spending the rest of my free time as wisely as possible. So when I’m not at work, I’m at home reading my textbooks and doing practice problems. Plus, I don’t have to worry about who has a crush on me (Kevin does), if I’m eating well (Kevin feeds me healthy things…usually), or if I’m running out of money (never!), all of which I worried about as an undergrad. Instead, my mind is free to learn about encryption, UML diagrams, and, my favorite class so far, finance!

And when my friends complain about their grades or say they don’t have enough time in the day, I casually remind them that I work full-time, am in class 8 hours per week, and am doing just fine.

Speaking of friends, ISOM has been an incredible experience personally. The majority of my classmates are international students. At first, this intimidated me, but I soon learned that my classmates are some of the friendliest, most welcoming people I have ever met. I’ve made friends from India, China, Taiwan, and several South American countries, and I know that some of my new friends will be friends for life. Learning is great, but being able to make global connections with such kind people is priceless.

I’m not sure where my or Kevin’s Master’s degrees are going to take us, but I know they will keep us in the technology sector, a field that is always changing, which means there will always be something new to learn and new problems to solve. As people who require intellectually stimulating careers, this is perfect for us.

 

The Name Game: To Change or Not to Change?

Oh, look, a poem!

A long, long time ago
In a classroom far away
A child hated her last name
And she hoped that, some way,
She’d meet a man who’d save the day
And her surname would finally change.

But instead she met someone
Whose last name was a conundrum
She married him despite it
Now her last name, she can’t decide it

And everyone keeps saying go
To change her name to match her beau
But her mind keeps swaying to and fro
Should she be a Roach or Hublou?

(That should be sung to the tune of American Pie by Don McLean OR The Saga Begins by Weird Al Yankovic. And hopefully you now know how to pronounce “Hublou.”

In case the poem wasn’t clear enough, here I am, four months after marriage, still debating whether I should change my surname. For many a girl, this is an easy choice: either she chooses her spouse’s last name or she keeps her own (because her spouse’s name is terrible and her name is significantly better, or because she is famous).

If I were 8-year-old me (8YOM), my answer to “Should I change my last name” would be an emphatic YES. 8YOM would be like, “Girl, are you crazy? We have waited YEARS to be rid of the Roach, and now you’re having an existential dilemma!?!”

But while jokes like, “Is your dad Papa Roach?” and “Oh, look, I stepped on your cousin!” bothered me in second grade, I actually relish them now, because most adults are too afraid to be little kids again and it’s refreshing when I meet someone who is fearless (or ballsy…either one).

To make matters worse, my sister (onto whom the universe never ceases to bestow its luck and fortune) wormed her way into a perfectly spell-able, pronounce-able, quite frankly beautiful Italian surname. For her, there was no debate; as she put it, she couldn’t get to the Social Security office fast enough.

But my choice is complicated by the fact that both names are terrible!

So I’m reaching out to my blog readers (the few, the proud) for advice.

Let’s play the name game! I’ll present you with the facts, and you can vote for what you would do if you were me.

Last-Name-Change Facts

Hublou Pros:

  • Originality. Google “Carly Hublou” (with the “”) and you will discover that only two results return, both of which are me! (I locked down carlyhublou@gmail.com as soon as we were engaged. Some of the many other Carly Roaches claimed carlyroach@gmail.com and c.roach@gmail.com before I could, and I wanted to make damn sure that that couldn’t happen again!) Same for Kevin. Everywhere I go, I will always be the only Carly Hublou.

    I could be the one and only.

  • Memorable. Even if you can’t spell it or pronounce it, you will remember that girl Carly with the funny last name.
  • Conversation Starter. There is a lot you can talk about here: How to say it, relationship to the watchmaking Hublots (please, please, please can we be related to that empire??), origins of the name (Belgium/Germany), Belgian waffles are yummy, etc.

Hublou Cons:

  • Originality. I might be the only Carly Hublou, but maybe I don’t want to be found so easily. Even though there aren’t that many Carly Roaches, I can at least hide behind the few that exist and retain some anonymity. There is no such veil as Carly Hublou.
  • Tons of Work. Come on! No one gets excited about going to the DMV and/or the Social Security office, calling all of the credit-card and insurance companies, etc. And yes, there are companies that will make the changes for you for about $28, but I’m not the type of girl who pays someone to do something that I can begrudgingly do myself.
  • Potential to Become a Joke. While some people may remember it for its originality, others may be so frustrated with saying/spelling it that it becomes a joke. When I first met Kevin, I called him Kevin Hullabaloo. If I am to be a professional female who is taken seriously, I don’t want people referring to me as Hullabaloo or any of the other potential bastardizations of the last name.
  • Potential to Become a Distraction. Let’s say I’m in a professional setting, like an interview. I can pretty much guarantee you that every interview will begin with, “How do you pronounce your last name?” followed by various iterations of “Oh, wow, I feel sorry for your daughter(s)!” This already annoys me; I cannot imagine how much it will annoy me 20 years from now.
  • My Children Will Hate Themselves. Roach was bad to grow up with, but at least it didn’t sound like “you blow”….

Roach Pros:

  • Semi-Originality. Original enough to be memorable yet common enough to retain some anonymity.
  • Easy. Everyone (except one substitute I had in 9th grade) can pronounce and spell Roach, and if they can’t, I follow up with, “Just like the bug.” (For the record, the sub pronounced it RO-ATCH.) This would not work with Hublou, at least until someone invents or discovers the hublou, whatever that may be.
  • Nothing to Do. No paperwork to fill out because I wouldn’t be changing my name!
  • Credibility. I’m already known as Carly Roach, and everything that I’ve ever done is under this name — from academics to blog posts written here and for other sites.
  • I’m the Last One. My dad and all of his brothers created girls, all of whom have changed their last names. Like the Mohicans, I’m the last of my people! (But, as my sister said, why is Roach worth saving? I guess I’ve lived with it and its jokes for so long that it has become a sort of warm, comfy blanket to me.)

Roach Cons:

  • Tradition. Most women change their names, and people raise eyebrows (yes, even in 2015) if your last name doesn’t match your husband’s, no matter how much bling is on your ring fing to prove you’re married.
  • My Children Will Hate Themselves. Either their last name will not match mine (because they will take Kevin’s) and they will hate explaining the whole story to their friends, or their last name will be hyphenated, in which case I should just count on them never speaking to me again and hiding their emotions behind heavy eyeliner and trench coats. (Can you imagine going through middle school as “Child1 Roach-Hublou”? This is why hyphenating is out of the question for me, too.)
  • Kevin Might Care. He says he wouldn’t, but I think he would care (but just a smidge) that I chose to forgo his family name.

Some women wait months or years to change their names, but I feel particularly rushed. As I approach the start of my graduate school years (during which I will be figuratively building a name for myself as well as interacting with professionals and professors with whom staying in contact could be beneficial to me), I feel obligated to decide on a name immediately. I don’t want to switch names halfway through and then have to explain myself to everyone who met me before the change. I don’t want my emails to be signed “Carly Hublou (née Roach).”

So, here’s your chance to play the name game:

[poll closed]

Have more to say than this poll allowed for? Leave a comment below!