November 20, 2014

Victoria Watkins

After 10 years of watching students of Osgoode’s Professional LLM bring their kids to graduation, on November 18, I finally brought my kids to my own graduation.

It took me seven years to complete what is a one year full-time Masters of Education in Leadership, Higher and Adult Education. That may be some kind of record. The academic administrator in me rolls her eyes. But the lifelong learner in me says, “Yes!”

I think I took as many semesters off as I took courses. Sometimes I planned a break, other times I dropped a course mid-way through. A senior team member went on maternity leave and I couldn’t replace her, so work expanded. My father-in-law developed a terminal illness, and died. My daughters had international dance and choir competitions, in the same month. We moved, and renovated.

I had no particular career objective in mind when I started. At the time, I was new to working in Higher Education and wanted to learn more about it. But more than that, I wanted to know if I could still write a scholarly paper, and if I could still really think. Years of law practice and the business world had stripped my writing down to plain language contract drafting and bullets for PowerPoint. I wasn’t sure I could still create and communicate something with more substance.

Turns out that years of “stripped down” writing – not to mention my addiction to The New Yorker – made me a better academic writer. And a good thing too, as scholarly research had changed dramatically with the Internet. It took me a while to learn the new skills you need to find, store and retrieve the vast quantities of knowledge available to students now.

I researched and wrote papers exploring the different governance structures in Canadian Higher Education institutions and how those structures affect their ability to change, the student experience of international students from China, academic freedom in professional faculties, the teaching and learning of professionalism and competencies in professional education, a case study on implementation of internationalization strategy, and much more.

Papers were only one type of work product, however, and it turns out they were the easy part. Adult pedagogy circa 1980s law school had changed, at least in my program. Creating learner-directed activities, making multi-media presentations, creating visual representations of concepts, role playing, posting comments to chat rooms, and, yes, the dreaded group work (avoided completely in law school in the 80s) were all part of the requirements. I learned more about using new software and technologies in my studies than I had in years of work. In all, a much richer, challenging, and sometimes humbling array of assessments.

The biggest difference between being a student in my 20s and in my 50s? Back then, law school was law school. The job came later, and one didn’t have much to do with the other. This time around, the two were so closely intertwined that I managed to turn work projects into credits for independent study, with better outcomes for both. Scenarios from work were part of class discussion, for all of us. And this time, I learned as much about myself and my classmates as I did about the curriculum.

A degree is a significant undertaking. I missed a lot of weekends, and my family missed me. But with family support, some juggling, and a flexible program, you’d be surprised to find how relevant, and deeply satisfying it can be to be a middle-aged student. And at the end, you go to graduation, with your partner, and maybe with your kids.

PS. Thanks to my former and current bosses, Patrick Monahan and Lorne Sossin, who talked the talk and walked the walk on lifelong learning. Thanks to the team at OsgoodePD who cheered me on. And my deepest thanks and love to Rob, Maddie and Roz, who were unwavering in their support, and were OK with me missing stuff.


Assistant Dean and Executive Director, OsgoodePD