UL - Working during a masters – how to balance work with postgrad study

Last updated: 25 Jan 2023, 13:34

Can you manage your work-study-life balance? That’s the big question for thousands of postgraduate students in Ireland who take on the challenge of studying while working every year.


Can you manage your work-study-life balance?

That’s the big question for thousands of postgraduate students in Ireland who take on the challenge of studying while working every year.

There is a way to find a balance, according to Dr Fergal O’Brien, Assistant Dean of Graduate and Professional Studies at the University of Limerick. Here he sets out eight top tips for nailing the balancing act between working and studying for your postgrad.

1. Should I study full-time, part-time or flexible?

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.

If you’re already in a full-time job and looking to upskill or even change career and balance all other aspects of your life, then a part-time or flexible option may be the most suitable pathway for you.

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.

Online study options can offer a lot of advantages to study without it having as much of an impact on your work productivity. When you’re doing a programme online there really is no timetable except your own. 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 to work around your own personal schedule.

2. Can you get support for your postgrad from your employer?

If your postgrad is related to your work, have a conversation with your boss or human resources department to see if the company will support it with study leave or financial help. While you may not be entitled to leave, getting the support of your employer for your course is important. They may give you greater flexibility in terms of a different start time to accommodate your course.

3. Be clear on your availability

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. You’ll also want to factor in required work 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. It’s a question of communicating with your employer to let them know you are available for work in the evenings and weekends for example.

4. Organise your time in a master calendar

Now that you’ve got your university timetable and your work hours, it may be useful to make a separate timetable showing both. You should also slot in your library time, social, extra-curricular or sports activities so that any one time you can easily see how your day or 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 possible will help balance your work and study demands.

5. Study in comfort and eliminate distractions

Discipline is key to balancing both work and study. 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’re prone to checking your phone, put it on flight mode and out of reach in your bag. If you 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.

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