Doing a Master’s Degree as a “Digital Nomad”

Mike and I were talking about our Internet woes and he asked me if we were considered digital nomads. I had never heard of the term but it’s really just about what it sounds like. Digital nomads are people who make their living via telecommunications (generally the Internet) and can work from any location and generally lead a more nomadic life.

So yes, I guess that we are. Sort of. We are still locked into a set position during the academic year while Mike teaches and finishes his degree but we have a great amount of flexibility outside of that and there is always the potential for teaching online courses. So we are quasi digital nomads.

Some background on me (Katy)- I have a Master’s in Library and Information Science (MLIS, sometimes they use MLS which drops the Information part of the degree title- they are mostly interchangeable). It’s the degree required to be a librarian (shocked that requires a masters? so am I). Most MLIS programs are online nowadays. The programs that run like a traditional masters are few and far between. My program actually had digital classrooms and you had to log in, attend, and participate on a schedule just like in a regular classroom. Which was pretty cool. I’m not a huge fan of the module model of a lot of online classes where it’s mostly reading and, like, 1 discussion post a week where no one really discusses anything.

So I started my degree, online from Florida State University (I’m the 3rd generation of lady Noles in my family), in 2012. I moved to Texas in 2013 where I did my internship, moved back to Florida, did a month abroad, and in 2014 I defended my master’s thesis from Paris. So in this sense, I was a digital nomad for the entire duration of grad school. Which was awesome. Through Mike I had access to the entirety of the University of Texas library system and their very extensive Inter-Library Loan system. I was able to get books for my thesis that I had no access to in Florida- I did my thesis on the representation of death in award-winning children’s picture books from 4 different countries (it is surprisingly hard to get Australian picture books in the US). It gave me a lot of flexibility in my personal life. I could take trips as they became available as long as I was guaranteed a stable internet connection.

Finding an available internet connection as a tourist in Europe can be difficult. I assume that if you live there it’s a lot easier. I spent a lot of time struggling with hotel/AirBnB WiFi systems, hanging out in Starbucks (they always have WiFi but you have to buy something to get the password [and the bathroom code] and they frequently cap the amount of time you can spend with just one purchase. I remember getting a latte in Spain and getting 45 minutes), or hanging out in McDonald’s. I’m not a huge fan of Mickey D’s when I’m home but free public bathrooms and WiFi make it one of my most visited places when I’m overseas… It’s really for the bathrooms… I have a child-sized bladder.

Generally, even if my signal dropped and it booted me from my class it wasn’t a huge deal. Everything was recorded and the professors were generally understanding of unusual connectivity issues. It did mean that I could be attending a class at some ridiculous time like 1 am depending on the time zone but overall, it wasn’t a big deal.

Except for my thesis defense. I NEEDED my connection to be totally stable and very strong because it was a Skype call with my entire thesis committee. I couldn’t suddenly drop out in the middle of defending my research. Mike and I didn’t have phones plans that allowed for use outside the US so we couldn’t tether to a phone, the WiFi at Mike’s apartment (he was living there doing a semester at the University of Paris- Diderot) was terrible, it was going to be too long and I would be too loud to do the defense in a coffee shop or McDonald’s, and Mike had a final exam scheduled for the same time as my defense and I needed him to gain access to the university campus. I was freaking out.

We decided that we would just game the system a little bit. The university had these big private study rooms available but you had to be a student to get one. So we got there early, Mike got a room, we set up both of our laptops to make it look like there was someone other than just me so that if they asked I could say that Mike, the student, had just popped off the bathroom but that he’d be right back, Mike went to his final, and I started logging in and getting ready to defend. Nothing worked. I have no idea what happened but my laptop just would not connect to the network. Time is counting down. And I’m stuck. I jump to Mike’s laptop but can’t log in at all. Why didn’t I know his password?!

So I’m back to mine, fiddling and troubleshooting and having a massive panic attack. I had an older laptop at the time and it would sporadically decide that it didn’t like the internet and just not do anything. It had been a minor annoyance before but now it was a BIG problem. I think I finally got it to work with maybe 5 minutes- tops- to spare. It took me a half hour to 45 minutes and I still have no idea where the issue really was. I didn’t get to do my final prep and I was ready to cry before the damn defense even started.

But the connection held, I defended successfully even if I was so frazzled by that point that I made a few stupid mistakes, they gave me some minor changes to make and submit in a few days, and I was done. I passed my defense 4,522 miles away from my university and my advisor whom I had never actually met.

It was very… anticlimactic in the end. I cried (not happy tears just… stress tears), we got some wine and cheese, sat by the Seine, and drank until it got too cold and we left looking for dinner.

Digital nomading, it’s stressful, yo.

3 Comments

  1. Wonderful experience! I wish I had something similar! Congratulations on your degree! Now you can proceed with the PhD on the road…Hugs,

    • Thank you! It was a fun way to go to school. Maaaaaaybe there’s a PhD in my future, we’ll see- it seems pretty daunting!

  2. Your articles are so easy to read and love your videos. I’m not a patient person, but I watched all your YouTube videos. You both have real talent plus perseverance on top of humility. Best of luck to you during your coming adventures.

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