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Balancing work and work on an MA

Jamie Waller – Journalism MA

For most people at University, life is divided between assignments and leisure time. However, others have to balance these demands with a paid job as well.

There are plenty of reasons someone might have a job. They might like the financial security, they might need it to make ends meet when Student Finance can’t, or they might want to continue a career whilst studying. These are all valid reasons, but it’s not always easy to juggle both commitments.

As an MA student, my working week is divided up into three days of paid work and two days of studying. Here are some of the best tips I’ve found to manage this balance.

Setting limits

I’m fortunate to have a very flexible job where I can work as many or as few hours as I need from home. This is useful for when I have other demands on my time, but it leads to a mental tug-of-war: whenever I’m doing my job, I feel guilty about not spending more time studying, and whenever I do Uni work, I feel bad about not earning more money.

The solution I’ve found is to set limits for myself. I try not to work more than seven hours in a day. If I feel like doing something else productive, I’ll move onto Uni work rather than getting carried away with other things. This way, I can’t neglect assignments by making the excuse that I’ve got a job to do. It can be tempting to accept as many shifts as possible, but limits can help you to pay attention to your other responsibilities.

Explaining your situation

Not everyone’s job might be as flexible as mine, but explaining what’s happening to your boss is never a bad move. Let them know when you’ve got deadlines coming up and when you’ll be unable to do extra work. You might be surprised by how accommodating they can be. Many workplaces are used to employing students whose free time waxes and wanes as term goes on. If you are worried about how University will affect your job security, try having a frank conversation – many places would rather keep on experienced people than bring completely fresh ones in.

Creating ‘you’ time

We’ve all been in those situations when it feels like Uni work takes up every hour of the day. This can be even worse when you’ve got a 9-5 job as well. However, it’s important not to constantly bounce from one form of work to another. Every so often, you need to take a step back and do something that you find relaxing or enjoyable. It’s impossible to work non-stop for long periods – your results will eventually show this.

Counting the cost – and the benefits

One of the most wonderful things about University can also be one of the biggest problems – it’s so much more than just your lectures and seminars. There’s loads of work experience opportunities, workshops and guest lectures to get involved in, that’s if you’ve got the motivation and the time. If I counted how much work I’ve given up by taking these extra opportunities, I’d probably have a much friendlier bank balance, but far less experience to fall back on.

The way I look at it is considering what I hope to get from all these extra opportunities. By giving up a certain amount of work, I’m trying to increase my employability in the future. All those extra-curricular activities could be the difference between success and failure in getting the career I want – and that makes the hard choices a little easier.

Hopefully, these pieces of advice have been useful. People shouldn’t be put off from working while they study as it can open a lot of doors.

This article is featured on Learning at Lincoln.

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