A postgraduate degree is exceptionally hard work, even if you do have every waking moment free to study. How then do students manage to balance their time between this work and other, even more pressing needs, like caring for a child?
When you first begin your course, they will often try and scare you into how many hours a week you should be studying. But you have to be realistic- not every waking moment can be spent studying. That’s true for all students- not just the ones with a growing family.
While caring for a child, obviously lots of your time will be spent on family commitments and outside of those times, children have an uncanny knack of entering your life whether they are asked for or not. In between the crying and the feeding and the cleaning, you will have to make the effort to concentrate. The reality is that you are going to have to cram in your study time wherever you can, even if it’s just for ten minutes here or there.
You also have to justify what you should be doing right now. That nagging voice that says this should be cleaner, or this the laundry needs to be done, or I should just send that email, or look this up online- you have to train yourself to avoid listening to that voice and concentrate on your work. OK, your house may not look as perfect as you always hoped it would, and you may have to put aside everything for a little while, but unfortunately that’s just a part of studying. It’s all about sacrifice.
And to be perfectly honest, those are the easy sacrifices. Each person will have to forgo something of their own in the effort to successfully complete a postgraduate degree. It may be your social life, a hobby or perhaps even your hygiene routine (though hopefully not by too much). Your life will feel a lot fuller than usual and unfortunately, something will have to make way.
Admittedly, it will take a lot of strength and resilience to work through this period but things do get easier. You will get more stamina and become more efficient. If things ever get too difficult remember that what you’re going through is making you a better person and importantly, never be scared to ask for help if you feel it’s necessary.
Most universities are very experienced in having students and researchers with young children and have crèche or nursery facilities for staff and students though we do suggest that you apply early for these facilities as they frequently fill up very quickly.
If not, make use of your friends and family. Even if it’s just for a few hours here or there in which you can concentrate and get some work done, you will realise just how valuable those times are.
You should also be aware of the opportunities universities and the government present in terms of scholarships and bursaries. Of course, these will vary depending on your circumstances, so we recommend that you check your university and government websites for what could help support you. These structures are in place in order to help you. Make use of them. You will be thankful you did.
Choosing the right course is vitally important. Being able to manage your time beforehand can be of great use further down the line as, chances are, you won’t have too much opportunity to do that once you get into the thick of your work.
It’s useful, therefore, to find a course which requires as few in-class hours as possible- if you can work at home, even better. It’s also useful if your course days are longer but fewer. It’s far easier to manage a single day full of lectures and seminars that comes once a week or two than the occasional lecture scattered throughout the week. If your university is unable to support you in this way, don’t be afraid to ask for a different way you can study. Most universities can provide video recordings of lectures, or a different course schedule, breaks between modules, things of that nature.
If you intend to find a job at the end of your course, it can also be of enormous help to pre-plan the structure of your course, both in topic and focus. By doing so, you can avoid a lot of heartache and stress as your course nears its end and the prospect of re-entering the workforce looms. A good strategy can be to focus your projects on elements that you believe will be of use in employment, rather than ones you are a little more personally interested in.
If you are especially diligent and lucky too, you may be able to receive a sponsorship for your degree from a company or business that will hire you once you pass. Stay on the lookout for yearly schemes, try and find opportunities on graduate recruitment websites and contact businesses directly, even if there isn’t an opportunity advertised! You may just impress them enough and who knows, you may just find yourself in your perfect role, meaning you can keep your focus limited to your family and your study.
Carrying out the work necessary for a postgraduate course with the work required to support a child is a massive commitment but it’s not impossible. Ultimately it will depend on your own personality, will and of course, your child.
Some will sleep more, some less, some will be loud, some quiet, some demanding, some patient. They are the ones who will have the biggest effect on how you study and how much work you will be able to put into your degree. Over time, you will get to understand their rhythms and needs a little better and you will improve, not only educationally, but emotionally and spiritually.
Making your course a success will depend on how you react to those moments when it is easy, when you have time to study, when you feel rested and eager, but more so it will depend on those times when it is hardest, when you can’t face getting out of bed, when it’s easiest to not go to that lecture. So much of success in life is dependent on just being in the right place and if you set out your life with the right preparation and the right mind-set and acknowledgement of what you need, you’ll be halfway to making both your course and your family a success.
A moment will come during your course in which your colleagues and fellow students will complain about lack of sleep, about feeling stressed, about not having enough time to do it all. You will have to resist the urge to laugh. Consider how lucky you are to have the opportunity to study something you enjoy, to be one of the best in the world at something and how strong you are for having done an even more challenging version of it than anyone else.