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: Introducing Carly R.R. Hublou

Well, I did it; I changed my name.

Surprisingly, the feedback from my blog and Facebook polls was quite helpful. Some of my friends changed their names completely; some kept their maiden names in some form. But the option I liked best (which I had not considered previously) was my cousin Tammy’s suggestion of keeping my last name as a second middle name. That way, it would always be there and I could use it if I wanted, but my legal last name would match Kevin’s. This really appealed to me and seemed to be the most elegant solution to my self-imposed problem.

Another interesting tidbit I received in response to my last post was from my father-in-law, who explained to me the origin of the surname Hublou:

If you change your name to Hublou then people will ask you “What’s the origin of that name?” or “What nationality is that?” That’s when you can be totally cool and say “It’s Flemish.” The looks you get are unforgettable because no one knows what Flemish is. Then you can say it’s from “Flanders” and once again you get that awestruck look. They’re spellbound. Then you can get into a real conversation that it was absorbed by Belgium, but today there is real talk about a movement to secede. You can start talking about Flemish painters like Rubens, and my personal favorite Bruegel. It’s endless.

Thanks, Dad. (<– very, very weird to say!)

Sometimes you just have to write it out 7th-grade-crush style to make a decision.

Sometimes you just have to write it out 7th-grade-crush style to make a decision.

After writing my name out every possible way, I finally decided on my cousin’s suggestion. Plus, this option allowed me to stylize my name as Carly R.R. Hublou, which is awesome, albeit a little pretentious. (And I’m still deciding whether I like the periods.)

So I took an afternoon off from work, rounded up my paperwork (marriage license, birth certificate, Social Security card, driver’s license), and headed to the happiest place on Earth, the Gainesville Social Security office (SSO).

No, I’m kidding. It’s actually the most depressing place on Earth.

When you are a bride-to-be, or a newly married woman, you have this unrealistic expectation that everyone around you is also farting flowers over all of the wonderful things you are doing to prepare yourself for your new life. The first time I realized this was not true was when we filed for our marriage license, when the notary lady and Kevin sat there stoically as I beamed from ear to ear and was so giddy I could hardly sign my name.

Papers in hand, ready to go!

Papers in hand, ready to go!

The most recent time I realized this was when I went to the SSO to change my last name. When I walked in, I was greeted by a Mall Cop-esque security guard who gave me a once-over and decided he didn’t need to search me (even though the signs at the entrance insisted that I would, in fact, be searched). I thought this was strange until I entered the waiting room — a cold, windowless square with two groups of chairs awkwardly facing each other — and realized that I, along with only two other women, were not the usual clientele of the SSO. Whereas I was clean, healthy, and not holding a screaming child, nearly everyone else was either dirty from a hard day’s work, unfit for work due to injury and/or drug addiction, and/or unable to work because of said screaming child. Thus, what I thought was going to be a pleasant experience — in which I skip into the SSO wearing a crown of tweeting birds — was actually quite depressing and lonely. No wonder Kevin gave an emphatic “NO” when I asked if he wanted to join me.

With no book to read and my cell phone nearly dead, I had no choice but to watch the other people, watch the weather-only channel playing on the TV (which, to my relief, showed the number of the current customer being served…until I realized it never changed and I had no clue how long I would be there), or read pamphlets on how Social Security Can Work for Me!

After an hour of waiting (during which I came to feel extremely humbled and grateful for all of the good things that have happened in my life, including not having a screaming child), the powers that be finally called me forth, and, as expected, my conversion from CRR to CRRH began with: “How do you pronounce the new last name?”

Once I escaped the talons of government, I was hoping I could breeze over to the DMV and get a new license, but, alas, no; you can’t move forward with any other name-change activities until you receive your new Social Security card.

So I waited…and was pleasantly surprised at how quickly my new card arrived, which was several days sooner than the promised date! At least I now know that some things can move through government relatively quickly.

20-year-old me and 28-year-old me.

Me at 20 and 28 years.

With my new Social Security card in hand, I visited the DMV, where I had a very pleasant visit. Alachua County allows you to make an appointment online for the DMV location of your choice, and if you have an appointment, your wait time is virtually zero. I arrived early for mine, but I was still served right away and assigned to the happiest government worker I have ever met. He made the process a breeze and even let me take my new license photo a few times (which was a cinch for him after the wannabe-beauty-queen before me insisted on about 10 photos before feeling satisfied with her new mug shot). After the disaster that was my previous photo, I really wanted to get this one right. I even made an appointment for a haircut and style right before the DMV appointment so that my mane would be on point. The results made me very happy. Oh, and I’m now an organ donor!

After the DMV, I drove to the voter-registration office, which was the last physical stop on my journey to becoming Carly R.R. Hublou.

The following week, I used my new email address (Finally! My email address is my first and last name!) to send a barrage of emails to:

  • My employer, to update my W4, work records, benefits, etc.
  • My bank.
  • The IRS, to update my Employer Identification Number (for my side businesses).
  • My clients, to update the name they write on my checks.
  • The manager of my student loan.
  • All of my many credit cards.
  • My investment accounts.
  • My homeowner’s insurance.
  • My mortgage lender.
  • My car insurance.
  • The post office (but I don’t know why…the mailman clearly doesn’t look at names, judging by the volume of mail I receive for humans other than Kevin and myself).

All of them had different rules for which documents I had to show to prove my identity. Some required an official signed letter; some were fine with just an email. The process was exhausting and inconsistent, but I am, for the most part, finally done. (I still haven’t tackled changing my name at UF because the process sucks and I don’t want to change it halfway through a semester.)

The best thing to come out of this process, though, has nothing to do with my name. Remember several blog posts ago when I  said that Kevin and I wanted to get married for financial reasons? Well, those reasons are starting to come to fruition. While filling out my new W4, I realized that I had not been claiming enough exemptions, which is why I always get such a big return at the end of the year. (And this is BAD, people. If you are happy with a “big return” at the end of the year, you do not understand the time value of money or the fact that you are giving the government a year-long, interest-free loan!) I thought as a single person the only options were 0 or 1, but in fact you can also claim 2! And now that I’m married, I can claim even more! That’s significantly more money per paycheck! I was so excited about my new exemption status that I nearly tripped skipping out of HR’s offices.

Another financial benefit: cheaper car insurance. That’s right! When you get married, you are required to report your spouse as a named insured on your personal policy, even if their policy is with a different company (and Kevin and I have separate policies). I was nervous about doing this because I thought my premium would increase. But, in fact, the opposite happened: my 6-month premium became $50 cheaper! Why, you ask? Well, insurance researchers have found that married people tend to be in fewer accidents than their non-married counterparts, saving me $100 a year in insurance premium. Score!

So, to conclude this saga, you can now address me as Mrs. Hublou, our future child(ren) will be made fun of but at least have the same last name as their father and mother, and I will be pronouncing/spelling my last name for the rest of my life, like some bizarre act in a really terrible variety show.

And, just in case I ever run for political office, I’ve already developed by campaign slogan: ‘Blou your vote on Carly!

Rebuttal: A Fairy Tale

For those that read Kevin’s version of how we met, I think it’s clear that he may have over-exaggerated a few details. This is the tale of what really happened.

For a few weeks, I had been planning to attend UF Law’s Music Law Conference—not because I am a nerd but rather because I am a lifelong lover of learning and music. And at the time, I was considering going to law school. Like all things that require me to show up at a specified time, I promised myself I would wake up early and be there on time. But it was Saturday, and even for a working woman who is used to 8:00 AM starts to her days, 8:00 AM on a Saturday is just cruel (though it probably didn’t help that I had gone bar-hopping with my co-workers the night before). I’m still not sure how Kevin managed to be there before noon.

Of course, I was late, but not by much. I arrived around 8:10, furious with myself but prepared to issue the appropriate apologies as necessary. Besides, being a little late doesn’t really matter when you look as cute as I thought I looked. I was wearing an adorable new dress, and my bangs were nearing perfection. And I was newly single, so I was ready to go full-concentration mode on this seminar. The last thing I was going to do was scan the room for datable men.

The cost for attending this event included breakfast and lunch. As I was approaching the entrance, I noticed two men walking parallel to me, their arms full with breakfast supplies. Suddenly, one of them dropped a gallon of milk. Again, newly single and working on my kindness towards others, I saw this as my opportunity to get a good deed in for the day. I hurriedly changed course, scooped up the milk jug, and locked eyes with the non-dropper. Though his arms were overflowing, he managed to offer me his little finger and said:

“Here, you can put that on my pinky.”

Guys, for real, it was like meeting Gaston.

Note: Kevin is not roughly the size of a barge.

“No, it’s okay, I can take it for you,” I said.

So I followed them to the breakfast area, only to find that I was the first one there (aside from those hosting the event). I guess 8:00 AM means something else in law school.

Having earned 10 karma for my good deed, I then focused on making breakfast for myself. I toasted a bagel and waited patiently as the coffee was brought in (catered by Panera). One of the event staffers noted that Panera had only brought one bucket of decaf. In a booming voice loud enough for all (and by all, I mean the six people who were there “early”) to hear, that same non-dropper guy gawked, “Who drinks decaf!?” (I should also note that he made eye contact with me during this interjection, which I interpreted as his version of flirting.)

Sheepishly, I raised my hand.

What followed was a never-ending silence that I had to break, so I said, “I have issues with caffeine.”

Finally, someone else said, “No problem, here’s the decaf!” and I felt slightly less awkward.

Decaf and bagel in hand, I sat alone, eating, observing, and waiting for the event to begin. Perhaps because I had kindled his curiosity, or perhaps because he felt sorry for the girl sitting by herself who had been damned to a life of decaf-only coffee options, non-dropper guy came and sat with me. He introduced himself (“Hi, I’m Kevin”), and the conversation flowed easily as we discussed our pets, my half-blue eye, our shared love of coffee and bagels, summer jobs, fire-bellied newts and the fact that they can regrow their limbs, and probably Harry Potter (I don’t remember, but knowing us, I feel like it happened).

Eventually, the event began, and though it was interesting, I caught myself glancing over my shoulder occasionally, curious as to Kevin’s seating location. In true Kevin fashion, he skipped about half of the morning lectures and finally appeared (and sat in the back) for the last seminar of the morning.

When the lunch break came, I made myself a plate and again sat alone, observing other people and lazily reading a book. I noticed that Kevin was sitting at the check-in table several yards away, and I noticed that he was checking my whereabouts every so often, and I noticed that he noticed that I noticed him noticing. But I am a dreadfully shy person, and there was no way I was going to just walk up to a stranger and start talking. And I was newly single and not looking for anything…remember?

After what seemed like hours of Twilight-esque glaring at each other, Kevin finally approached me. He asked me more serious questions: what was I doing here, what did I do for a living, what did I go to school for. We chatted for about 15 minutes before he said he had to go; he was heading to the springs with some friends. (Are you keeping track here? Kevin only attended one hour of the morning lecture and was completely skipping the afternoon series! Later, I would discover that this also happened to be his general approach to law school.)

“But can I have your number? We should get coffee sometime.”

I hesitated for what felt like forever. Yes, I would love to get coffee! This Kevin guy was charming and handsome, and I was completely surprised that he liked me and wanted to see me again after only speaking with me for maybe 30 minutes. Let me be clear: this had never happened to me before. Up to this point, I had met all of my boyfriends at school, band practice, or work, so giving my number to a random guy (while I was sober) was a very new experience for me.

But I was single and not looking to date anyone!!!

Alas, I replied, “Sure,” and pecked my specifics into his BlackBerry.

Too excited to sit through an afternoon of boring lectures, I too snuck out and went home, giddy with excitement and the idea of new beginnings.

 

A Fairy Tale

I told you in my last post that I would tell you the story of how Carly met Me. This is that tale:

Θnce upon a time there was a little girl who lived far away in the magical land of Gainesville. This little girl was not a normal little girl; she was a type of magical fairy-girl known as a “Nerd.”

Nerd Carly.

The little Nerd girl was very sweet, but also very strange. She refused to dress like normal girls and insisted on wearing nothing but large sacks! And, fortunately for her, she also liked showing up super early for boring lectures put on by the great wizards of the exquisite University of Florida Levin College of Law.

On one such occasion, the little Nerd girl decided to attend the Mystical Music Law Conference. The sign-in time for the conference was announced by the town crier as 8:30 AM, but the little Nerd grimly determined to arrive an hour early, even though the arcane lectures did not actually begin until 9:30. So on that cold and frosty morning, before the sun had even peeked over the horizon, our little Nerd donned her second-best sack and set out on a grand adventure.

Angry coffee!

As the intrepid Nerd left her hovel, trouble was brewing (quite literally) at the College of Law. The coffee elf was late with her magical energy potions! As everyone knows, wizards lose all of their powers and turn into angry trolls if they don’t drink their coffee potions regularly, so this was a BIG problem. Fortunately for everyone, there was a dashing knight working at the College that day.

The courageous knight was also an amazing wizard, and he used his magic mirror to find the lost coffee elf in the eternal desert of the Parking Lot. He waved goodbye to the college courtesans and gallantly rushed out to save the coffee elf, killing 14 dragons, 2 bears, and a cockroach along the way. Upon his arrival, the coffee elf swooned with delight at being rescued by the handsome knight-wizard, who had the strength of 10 men.

While the courageous, handsome, and amazing knight-wizard cared for the swooning coffee elf and began to load the heavy coffee-potion cases and milk jugs onto his pinky finger,

A courageous, handsome, and amazing knight-wizard.

the little Nerd girl was picking her way through the barren parking lot. Being sweet of spirit, when she saw the beleaguered coffee caravan, she rushed over to offer her assistance. The courageous, handsome, and amazing knight-wizard was touched by the little Nerd’s sweetness and pretended to drop one of the milk jugs hanging off the tip of his pinky so that the little Nerd would feel useful.

Even though it was obvious that he had the strength of 10 men and would never actually drop a milk jug, the courageous, handsome, and amazing knight-wizard possessed incredible subtlety, and he was able to trick the little Nerd into thinking that he needed her help! The Nerd picked up the milk jug (which took all of her strength) and began bouncing her way to the College of Law, large sack flapping in the chilly breeze. She was delighted at the privilege of helping the courageous, handsome, and amazing knight-wizard, and he smiled inwardly, enjoying his good deed.

Unfortunately, that smile would soon fade.

Upon reaching the College, the coffee elf cursed. In her excitement at meeting the courageous, handsome, and amazing knight-wizard, she had forgotten the de-energized “Decaf” coffee potions! The knight-wizard flashed his crystalline smile and smirked, “Who drinks decaf?!” mocking the very idea of such a fool. As it happened, the poor little Nerd girl was one such fool, and with a trembling voice full of shame and sadness, she whispered, “I do….”

The little Nerd was terribly embarrassed by her foolish love of decaf coffee potions, but she was even more ashamed that the courageous, handsome, and amazing knight-wizard now knew the horrible truth about her. You see, like so many others, she too had been enchanted by the courageous, handsome, and amazing knight-wizard‘s noble features and charming wit. The poor little Nerd girl turned bright red.

As he observed the Nerd girl’s shame, the gallant smile faded from the lips of the courageous, handsome, and amazing knight-wizard. He felt terribly guilty! Being a noble knight, he immediately decided to try to comfort her. Obviously, because he is amazing at everything, the knight-wizard succeeded.

Mandatory romantic picture.

The courageous, handsome, and amazing knight-wizard and the little Nerd girl exchanged noble tales and silly pointless stories (respectively), and the knight-wizard found the Nerd’s antics so amusing that he invited her to share a coffee potion with him later.

And they lived happily ever after…

Especially after the incredibly fashionable knight-wizard convinced the little Nerd to wear real-people clothes instead of large sacks!

Carly being fashionable.