A couple sit on Arthur's Seat with a view of Edinburgh at dusk.

Burning the Candle at Both Ends: Time and Money…

Rory working at a bar

…by Rory / from Scotland / studying MScR Biomedical Sciences / 1st Year

Strangely, this COVID-19 pandemic has reminded me of an aspect of my course I feel would be important to share. Although very few comparisons can be made about a busy MScR course and sitting at home day after day without a job, money (and specifically the lack of it) is a real similarity I can draw between these two contrasting times. As I’m being incessantly told by these entrepreneurial social media accounts I follow for some reason “time = money” and I feel that time is another important point to touch on when writing about money issues during the course and for the MScR in general.

As mentioned in my previous post, I hadn’t quite grasped just how time consuming this MScR would be. It is a master’s degree so I knew it was going to take up a lot of my time with both lab work and independent work, but I was a little shocked when I was told I’d need to be in the lab 10am – 5pm (at least) from Monday to Friday. Maybe I was being a little ignorant and everyone knew this already! Don’t get me wrong, I was incredibly excited to be able to gain that much experience in a lab environment, but it just meant I had a lot of reshuffling to do in my life. Most importantly, I had to find a new part-time job that allowed a little more flexibility and hours. Applying to and interviewing for part-time work at bars and restaurants was just an added pain when starting a master’s, but I finally landed a job as a waiter in an establishment that offered me 3 shifts a week and was almost exactly halfway between my flat and the lab.

Starting in the lab alone required a lot of brain power and energy to absorb all the new information and learn an array of new skills. But starting a new job at a busy, fast-paced restaurant at the same time was quite strenuous. However, it paid the bills and tips were great! The 3 shifts a week seemed feasible once I had learned the ropes in both the lab and my work, but as the months went on this started to change. When in the lab on a weekday with work at night, I would be working from 10am to 11pm (13 hours!) with lunch and the short bus journey as a break. My shift pattern worked so I would get either two shifts during the week and one at the weekend, or one shift during the week and two at the weekend. Both weren’t ideal because I had to choose between either two 13-hour days in the week or a week without a single day off. On top of this, some days I could be in the lab till 10pm! This wasn’t compulsory, and my supervisor would even try to persuade me to leave earlier and let him gather the results himself, but I was too invested in the project to let myself leave!

This routine had a big impact on my social life too. I think people would say I am quite a chatty and sociable person who’s no stranger to a drink in the pub, but during these few months I had neglected my social life and given up playing football which is of upmost importance to me. Even at my part-time job I felt that I was making no effort with my colleagues after long days in the lab meaning I would come across as shy or even moody, when in actual fact I was just tired (and rather be anywhere else in the whole world). I wouldn’t see my friends much at all either, just my flatmate or girlfriend who would often comment on how tired or crabbit I was! I tried to ask for less shifts which was swiftly denied as Christmas was fast approaching. I had been a waiter for quite some time beforehand so I was already fairly competent serving tables, but I noticed that I’d make some clumsy mistakes from time to time and to say that the managers were understanding and helpful about it would be a barefaced lie! As well as my waitering skills, my work in the lab started to be impacted from the tiredness and hours at my job and at this point I knew this couldn’t go on…

I ended up quitting my job and the immediate relief I felt was immense! I had more time to do just about everything, such as, socialise with friends, watch/play football, visit family at home, visit the pub etc. My lab work vastly improved and I’d show up early and full of energy instead of the lethargic drone that I had turned myself into. I inherited a small bit of money to get me by at least until my first project was over, however, I would not recommend counting on a family member passing away to get you through your money problems at university…

I hope this blog didn’t seem too whiney. I know there are a lot of people who have it harder than me with work/money/uni, but maybe I’m just someone who needs some downtime to work most effectively. If you’re like me at all here are the main points I’d like to get across…

  • Do not neglect your social life! Meet friends, go for a pint, have a kickabout. It’s easy to drown in a sea of work, but meeting friends can be a great comfort and put things into perspective that there is a life outside of work.
  • As well as time with your friends, try taking some time for yourself too! Relax and do something that requires minimal effort. What I tend to do is watch the same 3 tv-series over and over and over again…
  • Have your job situation sorted before starting the course. This course will take up a lot of your time and energy. Already having a flexible job you enjoy, where you have friends and you know how everything works is something I would highly recommend.
  • If money problems are really building up, there are some options out there. I would recommend speaking to The Advice Place who gave me excellent advice when I struggled for money before I found a job.

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