Today was my first day of class for the spring semester at Bloomington. It was a lovely, typically Indiana winter day: cold, breezy, nothing but grey in the skies. I spent 45 minutes looking for a parking place (I was trying to avoid getting a campus parking pass by taking the chance of finding a spot on side streets and humping it to campus on foot) before I gave up and went to a parking garage downtown. Turns out you must have a parking permit from the city to park in residential areas near campus in Bloomington. Bummer. At least I allowed myself plenty of time so I still had 30 minutes to get to class (It’s roughly 75 minutes from our front door to campus).

I walked through the Sample Gates to symbolically begin my official days as a graduate student (the pic above is of the Sample Gates). A couple nice Mormon lads greeted me 50 feet into campus. I took a lap through the Union and saw a couple IU hoopsters hanging out. I’m pretty sure one of them was <a href=””>DJ White</a>, although I later heard that he had injured his foot for the second time this year and is out indefinitely, although I didn’t notice any crutches or braces or anything. Reminded me of my days as an undergrad when you spent the first several days of the fall semester looking for the freshman basketball players. I grabbed a copy of the student paper and was greeted by a headline announcing the assistant dean for IU’s College of Arts and Sciences was leaving to become the dean of KU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. I thought to myself, “That’s a pretty good trade: me for a dean!” Found my class, settled in for a few hours of academic fun.

As I expected, this semester will be dramatically different from the courses I’ve taken so far. I’m taking a Media &#038; Society course and a media ethics course. Neither class has any required textbooks or any exams. Both are high on the professor finding readings and either putting them on reserve at the journalism library, sending them out via e-mail, or distributing in class. I have to write three papers for the Media &#038; Society class, and then one small paper and one major paper for the ethics course. In fact, the ethics class does not meet for three weeks in March and April so that we can concentrate on our research. This isn’t going to be one of those papers I used to “research” for three nights then write the night before it was due. Our grade is made up completely of submitting a literature review in February, an initial draft in late March, and then presenting it in April and submitting a final draft by finals week. The professor said he wants these to be papers that we could submit to journals for publication, so it’s going to be pretty intense.

In the Media &#038; Society course, we’ll be looking at the media as a social institution and how it relates to government, economics, technology, etc. Our weekly topics include: New Media Malaise, The New Politics of Media Criticism, Civic Participation, Interest Groups, and so on. There are roughly 30 students in the class, as it is now a required course, and most are in their second semester of graduate school. There are a couple doctoral students in the class as well. Our professor has been at IU for something like 25 years, and seems like the stereotypical professor: laid back, slightly aloof yet warm and friendly, enthusiastic, full of information. If you saw him walking down the street, you’d think, “Professor.”

My ethics course has only 9-10 students in it. We have an opening month of ethics theory, then we’ll tackle some current issues that we each brought to class today (mine related to how the media operates in times of war when the government places more restrictions on the “free” press). Then we get turned loose on our paper. Both courses appear to have a lot of discussion, but this class should have especially intense discussion because of the smaller number of students and the nature of the subject matter. This professor is also super friendly, and a slightly more buttoned down version of the typical late-40s graduate course professor. I find it interesting the level of encouragement and attention I’m already getting compared to what I received as an undergrad. You obviously are getting the best professors in grad school, no graduate assistants teaching tuned-out 18 years olds, and they take an active interest in your progress. Where I felt stupid going to professors as an undergrad for guidance or clarification, they almost force you to talk to them outside of class if you have the slightest level of confusion in grad school.

Those are thumbnail sketches of my two classes. I’ll obviously be sharing more as the semester continues. It looks like it’s going to take a lot of work to do well, and tons of work if I want to maintain my 4.0. I don’t think I’ll be knocking out a book a week outside of class like I did last spring. But challenge is good. That was one reason for going to grad school: to get taken out of my comfort zone. To be forced to think in ways I’ve not thought before. To be challenged by others not because they’re trying to cut me down, but because we’re all trying to make each other better. It was a little intimidating to hear the kids who have already been through a semester talk. I don’t think I’m totally in that grad school mental mode, where you think deeply about every single issue and discuss them for hours on end. I’ll have to learn how to talk better, how to frame arguments better, how to accept criticism better. When I started my desktop publishing class last fall, I couldn’t see how I would get to the end of the semester completing all the assignments and getting good grades. But that turned out pretty well so I’m excited about this journey and ready to accept some small failures along the way in order to improve myself.