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Another serving of ambergris, please
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After floating and drifting for several months of forced leave from the corporate world, I’m feeling a bit at sixes and sevens. Because the job purveyors do not seem to be lining up outside my door, like those mortgage lenders in the TV commercial, it would seem time to do something with a tad more focus, a morsel of purpose. I could get a part-time job, but that would jeopardize the lavish unemployment payments I’m receiving. I could volunteer, but considering my general impatience with any sort of inefficiency that would probably not be wise. So I’ve been thinking about going back to school. If one cannot do, at least one can learn.

There are about 30 institutions of higher education within reasonable driving distance, and a plethora of online education options as well. After looking at a number of these, I’ve settled on the graduate division of my alma mater, Penn State. They have a graduate center about 10 minutes from my house and offer several programs I’m looking into – a certificate in web graphics design, another in IT business analysis, and a master’s program in instructional systems. I keep going to the information sessions, mainly because they give me a travel mug every time I show up.

The master’s program is the most interesting and would help me change my career focus from software development to corporate training. Admission to the degree program requires a couple letters of recommendation along with taking either the GRE test or something called the Miller Analogies Test (MAT). I haven’t taken a standardized test in a dog’s age, and since the enrollment counselor reported that the MAT is easier and cheaper than the GRE I’m MAT-bound.

Last night I decided to try the ten sample questions in the MAT booklet and was flabbergasted when I only got 6 right. 60%!? I haven’t done that poorly on a test since I failed the Dewey Decimal System in 6th grade library class. An example of one that I did not get right:

MOLLUSK : (a. fish, b. cell, c. plant, d. mammal) : : PEARL : AMBERGRIS

I might have at least been able to puzzle it out had I known what “ambergris” meant (“a waxy substance found floating in or on the shores of tropical waters, believed to originate in the intestines of the sperm whale, and used in perfumery as a fixative”), but that was missing from my vocabulary. It has now become my word of the day, so useful in situations where I want to make an observation such as “No thank you, I think I’ll pass on the tofu-supreme casserole. It reminds me too much of a lump of ambergris.”

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