Saturday, March 29, 2008

Mid-life Crisis

The response to a mid-life crisis varies significantly from individual to individual.  Some people have affairs, some buy expensive cars, some take extreme risks in new adventures, some get depressed, etc. I still haven't figured out what my full response will be, but it doesn't likely include any of the most common responses. I did recently take a significant step down at least one path which could be considered under the "mid-life crisis" banner.

A few weeks back I officially applied to Boise State University for a second Bachelors degree in Biology with an emphasis on Ecology. This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who regularly reads my blog.  I post very little in the area of my original degrees - Computer Science and Mathematics, while focusing a great deal on birds, wildlife, conservation, evolution, etc. While Hewlett-Packard has been very good to me over the past 20 years, I don't see myself working there for another 20 years. I'm in no particular hurry to leave, but I do feel I should prepare myself for a time when I am no longer employed by the company. I feel the need to pursue activities more in line with my personal interests - environmental and wildlife topics.

I searched a broad range of approaches that would allow me to get started on the degree path while continuing with my full time employment. There appears to be a lack of credible programs available for distance learning in the physical sciences, likely the result of the heavy laboratory requirements for the education. Boise State University rated well during my evaluation for the local convenience, support of evening classes (at least for classes where multiple sessions are offered), some distance learning classes for the base requirements, and a strength in Ornithology (they even have a graduate program in Raptor Biology) which is a potential emphasis area for me should I continue beyond Ecology.

I described my interest to my advisor in exploring macro ecosystem concepts. I am interested in trophic cascade, predator-prey relationships, and interdependent species evolution. These concepts are well represented in the Ecology Emphasis in BSU's Biology program. The program offers significant content in both micro ecology and macro ecology, the later is where I will likely choose most of my electives. If I only take 2 classes at a time it will take 3.5 years to complete the degree, although I might at some point find more time away from work to accelerate my progress. 

My program kicks off in the fall with General Biology lecture and lab. It's offered in a convenient evening time slot with labs immediately following the lectures. I am also looking at completing one of the communications course requirements as most of the other classes I need have General Biology as a prerequisite. I am still working out this part of the schedule.

The real challenge for me now is to relearn how to be successful in college coursework.  While I have had ample continued learning opportunities in my career, it has been over 15 years since I have taken a mid-term or final exam. My role at HP, at least for the last 15 years, has had a broad focus without a lot of attention to detail. I expect the coursework to take me in the opposite direction.  This will likely be a challenge as well.

I am excited to get started on this new endeavor. In preparation I have stepped up my reading of textbooks by reading Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Handbook of Bird Biology and on ecology by reading more of one of my regular blog carnivals Oekologie.

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Wordsmith said...

Good luck. There are so many things, marvelous things I'd love to study, embark on, etc., but I gotta narrow the focus.

I'm going to link to your story 'cuz I made some major decisions regarding my life as well.

slfisher said...

Go for it. I started my Masters in Public Administration in 2003 after getting my BS in computer science in 1981, and got my degree in December. It's one of the best decisions I ever made in my life.

wolf21m said...

Wordsmith and slfisher, Thanks for the encouragement. I am very excited about the opportunity. I can't wait to start.

April said...

wow, that sounds exciting and ambitious. good luck with lab---that was my least favorite part of science classes.