Grad School in your 50s isn’t as crazy as you think. Ask me, I’m living proof.
I never see barriers, just opportunities. I have bad days just like the rest of us, but I bounce back quickly. When I look back on my life, I never say regret. For me, I did everything in the right order.
My last child graduated from college in 2014. I was having a conversation with Stefanie Lindquist who was then the Dean of the SPIA School at the University of Georgia (She’s now at ASU) and I told her how I always wanted to go to grad school and she said, “Why don’t you?” I couldn’t come up with a good reason why I shouldn’t.
That began my quest to get a Ph.D. in Political Science focusing on American Politics, with a focus on women’s electoral success and polling.
First, I signed up for the GRE, even though I hadn’t taken a standardized test since 1975. As I started studying, Dr. Charles Bullock, one of the titans in the political science world, said, “Don’t worry about the English portion. You’ve been writing for 30 years. Focus on the math.” I hadn’t had a math class since 1976, so I think that was good advice.
I bought the book and loaded the apps on my phone. The great thing about studying in the 21st Century is there are so many ways to do it. Every free minute I had I would open the app, take a 10 minute timed test on my iPad, or pull the book out and do a couple of problems with pencil and paper.
Did I mention I’m a senior staffer for a United States Senator? Not much free time, but I’m pretty good at time management.
The good news is, I scored high enough to be accepted to the Master’s/Ph.D. program. I’m not sure what I am, really, as I am taking a few Master’s classes because I’ve been out of school for so long. As I go into the Ph.D. program., I will be studying GOP women’s electoral success.
I begin my second semester this month and I love it. I was always a reader and writer, but I’m on steroids now. I’m meeting great people and professors and learning so much. The ironic thing is the student I’m studying with the most is the exact opposite of me. She’s a second year undergrad student who has run out of classes to take at her level, so she’s moved on to graduate work.
While I’m a 50 something year old grandmother who hasn’t been to school in 37 years, I find my study buddy to be amazing and I’m learning a great deal from her.
I’m a GOP political operative, so being in a political science program during an election year was interesting. I didn’t want to talk too much (at the advice of my husband), but part of the grade was participation.
For me, the most interesting day of class was the Wednesday after the election. We got through the whole class when a colleague asked the professor, “Can you give us any encouragement?” After he explained Hillary Clinton’s loss, I raised my hand and gave my assessment that the election came down to a turnout issue in key states. Hopefully, one day, my colleagues will say, “I’m glad I had that old woman in my class.”
I’m not under any illusion I’ll be a tenured professor. I won’t live long enough to do that, but I do have a couple of books in me and would love to teach undergraduate students. The best professors I had were the ones who had been in the work world and the academic world and I’d like to be in that mold. I also want to get more women of all political persuasions elected in America. Women don’t all think alike and all issues are “women’s issues.”
Hey, I’m a former media person, former Congressional candidate and Senate staffer and have knocked around the highest (and lowest) levels of politics for more than 20 years. I think I’ve got something to offer to academic discourse.
If you’d like to learn more about my journey through grad school, visit www.marthazoller.com.
Martha Zoller is a former pundit, former candidate for Congress and current Senate staffer. She's back in grad school and blogs about it at www.marthazoller.com. You can follow her on Twitter at: @MarthaZoller