Guest-written by Tiffany WiedemanIn a few months, a new cohort of graduate students will be starting their academic journey during the COVID-19 pandemic era. This past year has presented a myriad of challenges, whether it’s transitioning to remote work, taking college classes online, or adjusting basic travel and daily tasks. Although the pandemic forced people to reconsider a wide variety of practices, I was determined to find ways to continue working towards my goals both professionally and academically. As a full-time employee at Merck and graduate student at Saint Joseph’s University, it was difficult not to be overwhelmed with daily responsibilities, work projects, homework assignments, and exams over the last three years. I am often asked, “How do you balance full-time work, graduate school, volunteering, and enjoying your mid-twenties?” I believe there is no one-size-fits-all answer to succeeding at both work and school, but I am happy to share five tips I have discovered along the way. 1. Maintain Flexibility in Your Schedule It is one thing to hear well-meaning advice about working full-time in grad school, but it is another thing to live it. Since no one can be in two places at once, it is important to research programs and find one that fits your needs. In addition to location, tuition cost, and curriculum, consider applying to programs specifically designed for working professionals. These programs generally offer flexibility in terms of class format, program start dates, and program length. As a two-time graduate of Saint Joseph’s University, I was drawn to the flexible, accelerated graduate offerings taught by prominent leaders in various industries. Whether you prefer in-person, online, or hybrid courses, SJU offers a format suitable for every student’s learning needs. I was able to tailor the number of classes each semester according to what worked best for my lifestyle. Online education allowed me to work full-time in the pharmaceutical industry while taking classes to fulfill two master’s degrees. 2. Utilize Campus Resources Attending graduate school opens a myriad of opportunities to seek help and make it easier to obtain your degree. Whether you are taking classes on-campus or online, it is important to familiarize yourself with your university’s resources and take advantage if needed. At SJU, I utilized the Haub Advising Center to connect with an advisor for scheduling advice and learn about course options in both graduate programs. I met with my advisor via Zoom multiple times throughout the year to ensure I was on the right track to complete my program. She also provided helpful tips on when to incorporate elective courses in my plan of study. Other resources offered by SJU include Career Counseling, Financial Aid, Health & Well-Being resources, Tutoring, and the Saint Joseph’s Writing Center—these resources are offered to support students both academically and personally. Attending graduate school in Philadelphia introduced me to various network and volunteer opportunities. 3. Invest in Self-Care Splitting your time between the demands of a full-time job and graduate education can be hard to balance, but not impossible if you take the necessary steps to set yourself up for success. Investing in self-care is crucial to keep your head above water during a high-stress time. First, create a designated workspace—such as a study space at home or a table at the library—and prioritize time and organization. Establish a schedule that works best for you and rely on tools such as planners, Google Calendar, or mobile apps such as RescueTime and Toggl. Second, good health is essential to maintaining a positive mindset and will allow you to be more productive during your study hours. Listening to lecture recordings while going for a run or reading chapters during mealtimes were effective ways of multitasking. Finally, rely on your support system. I was incredibly blessed to have a support system to motivate me throughout my journey. I would not be where I am today without them! 4. Network with Classmates and Professors I am sure this isn’t the first time you’re hearing about the benefits of networking, and it won’t be the last. Graduate school presents a unique opportunity to be surround by a plethora of networking opportunities to invest in your professional growth. I took advantage of networking with professors, administrators, and classmates who worked in both similar and different fields of interest. By communicating with others, I was able to develop professional relationships and learn to navigate the challenges of graduate school. At SJU, I learned to treat my professors as partners in education rather than people who are responsible for teaching me material. During my academic journey at SJU, professors provided support and guidance to help me get to where I wanted to go. I am thankful for the ability to seek their help both during class and office hours. One professor introduced me to additional opportunities after graduation and helped me review one of my offer letters. Three years later and we are still in contact. 5. Believe in Yourself and Reach for the Stars Whether you are thinking about graduate school or have already been accepted, you are about to embark on an incredible journey. While it may not be easy to accomplish, it is important to remember nearly all of your classmates are in the same position as you. Students choose to pursue graduate school for the love of learning, while others are looking to better position themselves in their career path. Earning a master’s degree can help you build on your current abilities, gain analytical skills, and make it easier to transition into more senior positions. By managing your time and getting involved, you’ll be able to apply your studies to real work experiences. Best of luck!
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