Getting the balance right between working and studying

Taking on a masters while working will be a reality for many students. While it can be a challenge, it is very possible to balance both.

One of the first things to consider when thinking about working and studying is whether you want to do your course full time or part time and the pros and cons of each.

Full-time or part-time study?

If you're already in a full time job and looking to upskill or even change career, while at the same time balancing all other aspects of your life, then a part-time option may be the most suitable pathway for you given its flexibility. Part-time course options may be held on a physical campus, be fully online or a blend of both. "Studying on a part-time basis doesn't require the workload of a full-time programme so that should allow you more easily to adapt your life to fit in study," says Dr Fergal O'Brien, assistant dean of graduate and professional studies at the University of Limerick. Online options in particular can offer a lot of advantages in terms of being able to study without it having much of an impact of your work productivity. "When you're doing a programme online there really is no timetable except your own," says O'Brien. "There might be occasional times when you have to be online for an assessment or whatever, but (outside of that) it's very much up to you - if you do it at two in the morning of if you do it at two during the day, whatever fits into your work schedule and your own personal schedule."

If your post-grad is related to your work, have a conversation with your boss or human resources department to see if there is the option of any study leave or other such supports available to you during the duration of your course. While you may not be entitled to any leave, getting the support of your employer for your course is important as even if they can’t give you time off, they may, when needed, be able to give you greater flexibility in terms of a different start time or allowing you to swap shifts with a co-worker etc.


Be clear on your availability and know your red lines

For students on a full-time masters, the clue is in the name and your course should take priority. It’s important to really examine your timetable at the beginning of the year and know how much time you’ll have available for your part-time job, while being cognisant of all the other elements outside of your classes such as reading your course materials, assignments and any exams. Once you get a clear handle on what your workload is looking like, be open with your employer from the start about what your availability is. “The timetable at the university should inform your availability to work as opposed to being available to come to college depending on the hours your employer allocates,” says O’Brien. “It’s really, really important to get your classes, meet your assignment deadlines and sometimes you’re working in a group and you can’t be a freeloader. It’s a question of communicating with your employer, saying during your masters you are available for work in the evenings and weekends for example, but here are some red lines in terms of when I’m not available.”

Organise your time

Now that you’ve got your university timetable and your work hours, it may be useful to make a separate timetable showing both, along with slotting in your library time, social, extra-curricular or sports activities so that any one time you can easily see how your day/week is panning out. There is nothing like having a lot on to really focus the mind and making out this timetable and sticking to it as far as it possible will help balance your work and study demands. Always try keep an eye to what’s coming up, so if you know you have an assignment due in four week’s time, make sure you include some time for this in the week’s prior to it. That way, when it comes to the weekend before your due date for example you’re not feeling stressed about having to work while also trying to magic hours out of nowhere to work on your assignment.

Study in comfort and eliminate distractions

In balancing both work and study, discipline is key. Don’t squander any of your study time. Find a place you know you can work in effectively, be that the library or at home but make sure it is somewhere you can sit comfortably where you aren’t likely to be interrupted or distracted by others. If you prone to checking your phone, put it on flight mode and out of reach in your bag. If find yourself googling unrelated course material or checking your social media while on your laptop, use apps such as Self-Control to blacklist all those site distractions for whatever length of time you are studying for.

Join a study group

While this may seem like yet one more thing to add to your timetable, joining a study group may actually prove very beneficial to balancing work and study. O’Brien says many students find they will develop naturally into small study groups or sometimes may be forced into them as part of their group assignment. The group should use itself to its full strengths, are there people in the group who are strong on areas you struggle with? Instead of allocating three hours of your time to figuring it out on your own, they may be able to help you get your head around in 30 minutes - just be sure to return the favour!

Ask for help if you need it

Third level institutions are well aware that students will need to work while studying and O’Brien says that if you find yourself struggling, or need extra time for an assignment, go and talk to your course leader and ask for it. “I’m a course leader myself and what I say to my class that are at orientation and at our induction process is, if you’re struggling come see me. That’s what course directors are for, they are there to try and address the problems that students are experiencing. They are there to listen to those problems and provide solutions where appropriate.” Also keep in mind the many other student supports that are available to you from counselling and medical support to financial and technological support.

Staying healthy and well

Being healthy and feeling well will really help you to keep on top of this busy time. Eating well, getting enough sleep and exercising may seem like things that will just drain more of your time but if you’re tired, hungry and run-down, everything will just take longer. Batch cook healthy meals, take time for physical exercise and get proper sleep will all pay off when trying to juggle all the demands on your time.

Nora-Ide McAuliffe

Nora-Ide McAuliffe

Nora-Ide McAuliffe is an Audience Editor with The Irish Times