If you're thinking about continuing your postgraduate studies while you work, it’s important to understand the challenges you’ll be facing. Pursuing a postgraduate education while working can be rewarding, fun, and enlightening, but there’s no denying it can be intense. Often the most difficult part of the process is smoothly transitioning between work life and student life, an effort that can leave you stressed out and exhausted. If not approached properly, time and effort imbalances could cause trouble at work or with your grades.
Whether you’re about to commence postgraduate studies, or are simply struggling with your student-employee balance, here are some pointers to help you make the most of your time learning while you work.
Speak to your boss
If you’re taking time off to pursue your postgrad education, chances you’ve already spoken to management. But even if your student time isn't cutting into work time, the first thing you should do is inform your boss that you’re pursuing further education. This acts as a considerate and courteous heads-up to them and your team should you have to leave early for any education-related matters. It also helps you avoid pressure and guilt when you do have to leave early.
There are also major benefits in informing your employer that you’re using your own time to further educate yourself and gain more skills. You’re showing your dedication to self-improvement, a willingness to acquire knowledge and further yourself, and initiative and time management skills. And best of all, a higher-level degree opens up your ability to work more demanding projects and even gives you room for a promotion, thus increasing your value to your employer. Win-win!
Speak to your course coordinator
Your course coordinator should be your point of contact for all things related to your course of study. They are an invaluable source of information and support and can point you in the right direction should you need advice on how to best manage working with studying. Make sure your coordinator understands your situation so that should you need an extension on coursework or additional notes, they’ll be aware and available to help make it happen. Plus, it will give you a chance to speak to someone who can counsel you on a more relaxed level. They have after all met tons of students with work and other commitments. That prior experience is can give you some great insight into how others have managed this process in the past.
Be a time ninja
As a working student, you’re going to have to get really creative and extremely focused with your time. Unlike undergraduate study, postgraduate study is a lot more independent and self-driven. This requires that you become proficient at managing your time effectively. Proper scheduling, a well-organized calendar, and never forgetting to include down time can be the difference between a fun and challenging education and an unmanageable mess.
A major part of proper scheduling is flexibility. Most people go awry with their time management efforts by being too rigid with their time. They set out a schedule and follow it to the letter with no room in between. But not every day is the same, so don’t make the mistake of assuming your priorities will be identical.
Know exactly what time your lectures and seminars begin and end, budgeting travel time and squeezing in moments for rest. You’ll want to know how your course schedule interacts with your work life. Do you occasionally have to skip dinner for the sake of going to a lecture? Set a reminder to grab a bite to eat or bring extra food from home. Budget your study time as you need it and use any extra time to rest and take care of yourself.
At the start, this will already be a lot to take in and you might feel overwhelmed. Make adjustments as necessary if you feel work is being ignored in favor of school, or vice versa. Aim to strike a balance that lets you succeed in both areas. Once you’re used to your full schedule, your calendar will start to become a suggestion more than a must-follow task list. Until then, lean on it to stay on track.
Prioritize your wasted minutes
Juggling school requirements with work responsibilities takes smart prioritization, but it can be done. The way to make it easy is to look for those little bits of time you waste and making them work for you.
Find opportunities to get something important done while doing something mindless. For example, catch up on seminar notes during your work lunch break. Finish up that work presentation on your commute to class. Arrived before the lecture started? Go through your work emails or remote work on anything you left unfinished from the office. This frees up time later to do other things.
Be realistic about what you can get done and try not to get down on yourself if you’re unable to finish a particular task on time. Always look for windows of opportunity where you can to take care of loose ends so your student-worker life doesn't turn into a tangled mess. Use those little moments of wasted time finishing up small tasks and ticking off items on your to-do list. That way you’re less likely to feel overwhelmed and work won’t keep piling on.
Focus on the task at hand
In an ideal world, everything runs smoothly during work hours, which means you get to leave on time and head to class on time. However, there may be times when a meeting or other work related commitment cuts into class, library, or study time.
The first thing to remember is it’s not the end of the world. Focus on what you can do, rather than on what you can’t. If a meeting runs long and you’re running late for your lecture, don’t let it distract you from what’s being said. Instead, focus on what you’re doing now, get the meeting done, and give your colleagues the attention they’re due. Simply drop your professor an email to inform them you may be late or are unable to attend and would like to follow up on any notes or handouts you may have missed.
Many universities have online access to sites such as Blackboard where lecturers upload notes, presentations, and handouts for students to download. So rather than panic, look for these course resources and even connect with a classmate. If you happen to miss a lecture or seminar, you can catch up, read up, and prepare for the next class.
Be realistic with your social life
It’s important to not ignore social time in your time management efforts. Connect and reconnect with those important to you, especially during this rather important time in your life, as it will help you stay grounded and give you a chance to recharge your batteries. Yet, as important as social time is, there may be times when you have to be a tad selfish. Unfortunately, balancing studying and working may require you to cut down on how much of yourself you are able to give away.
This doesn't mean your relationships have to suffer. It simply means being honest with yourself and upfront with others by letting them know you're going to be less available for a while. You can still go out for after-work happy hours, but your colleagues will understand if you can’t on an exam week. You may have less time for long lunches, but you can bring study materials with you. You might have to study all weekend and skip the big party, but an hour or two for lunch or board games with friends will help you digest your learning and de-stress.
It’s important to explain to people what your priorities are on a given day. Explain why you may not be so available will help them understand your situation and respect your time constraints. Don’t simply disappear on folks - it’s not good for your mental health or your relationships. A simple explanation will suffice and means you can get back to them when things calm down or when you just need to get some rest.
Finally, it's important that you actually use any down time you may have as an actual opportunity for rest. Resist the urge to turn me-time into catch-up-on-errands-time, especially if they aren’t urgent. When you’ve got a big deadline or exam looming, you might need to spend a bit less time resting and a bit more time working, but never neglect getting at least a bit of downtime.
This should go without saying, but you’d be surprised how many people who juggle work and school neglect the importance of rest, whether it’s sleeping, daydreaming, putting your feet up, or even browsing Facebook. This can have a dire impact not only on job performance, but on grades as well. So do spend time with friends and family, do get a good night’s rest every day, and do use your hobbies as a way to relax. Your mind and body will thank you for it.
Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts when studying while working. You have to be disciplined and focused during this time. But don’t be too hard on yourself if you drop the ball every once in a while. Life can be unpredictable, so as long as you’re doing the best you can with the time you have, you’ll have a great time getting your postgrad degree while working.