…by Aurelia / from the UK / studying MSc International Animal Welfare, Ethics and Law / Postgraduate Online Learner
Whether you study full time or part time, face to face or online, at undergraduate or postgraduate level, balancing your studies around the rest of your life is a challenge. But, overcoming this challenge is key to your success. Here are some tips I have picked up from my study experiences so far.
What Are Your Commitments?
Whether you are just starting to plan your studies, or are part way through and maybe feeling a bit under pressure, a useful exercise is to lay out all your commitments. This helps you visualise the studies in the wider context of your life, as well as making sure you have enough time to study.
You might want to make a simple list to start with: do you work? have kids? what are your hobbies? how do you like to see friends?
It may then help to note down how much time each week or month these activities take. Alternatively, if time is no issue but you are thinking about how to motivate your studies, put your commitments on a scale of most to least important to you. Then ask yourself, where do my studies sit here?
It is easiest to study, especially part time or by distance, if you are really passionate about the subject. If your studies sit high on your priority scale and you have plenty of time available this is a good start. But what about when you feel under the weather, or have a few deadlines/events clashing? In those times you will find it a lot easier to sit yourself down to study if you really love what you are studying.
So, you may want to think carefully about your module choices, if you have any. If you are studying for career purposes, you may need to chose modules that will give you an advantage in the sector. But be careful to make sure they also relate to your core interests, or you will find the assignments hard work! Be sure to look at how the modules are assessed and their full descriptions; will you enjoy discussing the topics covered? will you be learning new skills and are these relevant to your goals?
You can also help yourself by ensuring you tailor your assignments around your interests. Where possible, choose topics for your work that are really interesting to you and that you want to learn more about. This makes research easier. Where possible, push yourself to learn about new things through your assignments too. But, if you are finding the module challenging this could be a sign to base that assignment in your comfort zone and wait to study something really new on a module where you are really confident.
Know Your Why
Crunch time! You have an assignment due, your friends want to see you, you’re a little tired and work has been busy all week. This may be a familiar feeling to many of us since coming out of lockdown. How do students stay on top of it all?
One really useful exercise can be to “go back to your why”. Why did you start studying? You might be trying to improve your career prospects, aiming for a particular goal, or just love the subject. It doesn’t matter what your “why” is, but reminding yourself of this could help you avoid procrastination and keep going.
Don’t forget to acknowledge all your hard work, and all your achievements big and small. You are probably studying for a few years, this can feel like a long time sometimes. Help yourself stay motivated by rewarding yourself for the wins!
Rewards could be a straightforward “I submitted my work after a really long week, so I’m allowed some chocolate today. But you can also reward yourself with breaks. Even when the whole world is clamouring for a bit of your time, remember to take time to pause and enjoy having finished a task. Whether it’s five minutes with a cup of tea in your favourite chair, or a whole evening just to yourself with a good film or book, breaks are important for you to stay productive.
Through your studies you may meet other students who always seem to be doing that little bit more, are further ahead or manage to balance a bigger workload. While I firmly believe a little healthy competition is a good thing to push yourself to be the best you can be, don’t try and study like someone else. We all have our own best ways of learning and working, and our own sets of commitments to balance.
You don’t have to be a hyper-productive, always able to just crack on with the task kind of person to be a good student with a good study balance. Set your own personal goals and reflect on your own progress regularly, rather than comparing yourself to others. Did you do better on this assignment than the last? Do you feel more understanding of the subject than you did at the start?
Saying that, don’t be afraid to try new strategies either. If you think something isn’t working for you, try changing it up and using a different way of working. You just might find it helps!
This blog was originally published on the ‘Chat to our students’ site here: https://www.ed.ac.uk/studying/postgraduate/student-life/student-chat