I spent the whole of the four-day Easter bank holiday weekend sitting at the kitchen table staring at my laptop. I was on a mission: to complete the final piece of coursework for my Postgraduate Certificate before my husband and daughters returned from visiting my in-laws.
When I enrolled on the PGCert last September, I felt excited to be going back to uni as a mature student. The course was part-time and involved six teaching blocks of three days, with practical coursework-based assignments in-between and one written exam. I was confident I could fit my studies in around my part-time job (three days per week) and looking after the kids.
But I’d be lying if I said it was easy. So here are five lessons I’ve learned over the past year and my top tips for juggling work, life and study:
1) There are never enough hours in the day.
OK, this wasn’t really news to me but studying took up far more time that I’d anticipated. I ended up doing most of my reading and research after the kids had gone to bed, which meant I was studying between 8pm and 10pm when I was at my tiredest and least productive. As a result, I often felt like I was behind on my studies compared to the full-timers on the parallel Masters course. So, I discovered that you have to…
2) Buy extra time.
I was lucky enough to secure a bursary that helped towards my tuition fees. I used the money I ‘saved’ to pay for an extra half-day of preschool each week for my toddler. This was money well spent because it gave me one morning every week to work quietly at home. Even so, there still weren’t enough hours in the day, so in order to find more extra time for studying, I found I also had to…
3) Make sacrifices.
Although it was a tough decision, I gave up the three hours of solid ‘me-time’ I looked forward to every week. Singing with a local choir has been my hobby since I finished my PhD but I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up with rehearsals whilst doing all the work for the course. So, I took a sabbatical and counted down the days until I could get back to doing what I loved. Which brings me on to…
4) Understand your motivation.
I had very clear reasons for going back to uni: to learn new skills and earn a qualification so that I could get a new job on a different career path. But I also knew that studying was aspirational – I’d already spent seven years at uni and could continue in my job without getting extra degrees. I knew how much time and energy I could commit to the course and what I wanted to get out of it. And this helped me to…
5) Set realistic expectations about the outcome.
Since I was paying a couple of thousand pounds for the course, I wanted to get a good Pass (preferably a Merit) but I never held any desire for a Distinction. I’d have had to stop working and/or neglect the children in order to put in the hours needed for top marks! So, I focused on choosing the modules I was most interested in and on giving my best to the elements of the course that reflected my future career goals.
So, whilst it’s been a steep learning curve (no pun intended), the PGCert has been immensely rewarding. I’ve discovered a passion, made friends and left my old job to take the first step on a new career ladder. All that’s left is to find out if I get that Merit, and pick out an outfit for graduation!
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I’m 39 years old, mother of two girls, wife of one bloke and owner of one cat. I like singing, step aerobics, stationery and organising stuff. When I grow up, I’d like to write science books for children. Find out more on my website and you can follow me on Twitter