I’m gearing up for the start of another trimester of study in 2021 – I’m studying a Bachelor of Creative Writing externally through Deakin – and every year folk ask for advice about how to juggle uni/work/life as a mature age student. So here are some thoughts I’ve previously shared privately in groups and message threads that might be useful:
All of my study has been off-campus and on top of a full-time job, plus kids and a small business on the side over the past ten plus years (I was doing a Teaching Degree part-time through CDU before deciding to switch to Creative Writing at Deakin in 2019). So here are a few things that work for me (but of course everyone is different!):
- Ensuring all of my assignment due dates are clearly marked in my calendar. I have an integrated hardcopy calendar/diary for uni/work/life so that I can identify pressure points and plan accordingly. I stack the beginning of my weeks and leave buffer in the latter half of the week (work + uni) so that there is space for overflow if things crop up or I get behind on anything.
- Communication with my husband, kids and support people around pressure points. ie. letting them know when larger assignments are coming up and what support I need (like uninterrupted time to read/work).
- Being realistic about what I can achieve. In an ideal world if I was focusing exclusively on uni I’d be aiming for the highest grades possible. That’s not realistic in my context, instead I am aiming for growth, learning and joy in my time at uni, and I’m okay with assignments staying at a pass level to keep myself steady and moving forward.
- Asking for help. This includes asking friends and family to pitch in with the kids, using Hello Fresh for meal planning so there is one less thing to organise and asking for extensions when I need them. On the topic of extensions, communicating early is critical. During my two units over Summer 2019 I had a family member rushed to hospital twice (with total combined stay of over four weeks). This would have been a big deal anyway but we also live in a regional area (2.5 hours from capital city) so added pressure of taking time off work, travel up and down etc was massive. I communicated what was happening to my tutors and they were excellent and I had really generous extensions for my final assignments in both units.
- Doing a lot of the reading on my phone during those life moments when you’re just sitting around waiting (like the ten minutes before kids get out of school because I’ve arrived early, or half hour while a guitar lesson is on, or over lunch etc).
- Giving myself a time limit on discussion forums. A lot of the value and joy of university study is engaging with other students but especially in the online setting there is a lot of pressure to read and respond. Often in O Week there are already 70+ messages in the discussion board before learning weeks have kicked off so the time that takes could easily spiral out of control. So rather than trying to read and reply to everything, I chunk out some regular time (based on the unit guide expectations for how much time we spend on a unit) and get through whatever I get through in that time. I obviously prioritise any of the key discussion threads first and then if time, respond to the more personal ones.
- Start all of the assignments early BUT not too early. The structure of units is about working through the material and you sometimes see people trying to get a headstart but then fundamentally misunderstanding the content/requirements of the assignments. On the other end of the spectrum leaving the assignment until the night before it’s due is never a recipe for positive experiences. So striking that balance on working through the content and making progress on assignments as I go is an ongoing challenge but one I try to be super mindful of.
- I’m lucky enough to be a really fast reader which certainly helps in a unit with lots of material to read (especially novels), but the other thing that probably helps is that I very rarely watch TV/Netflix/Streaming etc. We’re all different in our habits but my point being is to have a think about which things you DO spend time on outside of work/family and which could be replaced or reduced to make that reading time available. Time to rest and reflect is also critical too!
- Just reminding myself that I am here because I want to be! It’s my choice what I prioritise and what I don’t and I’ll reap the rewards, or not, for those choices. Whatever I choose is okay.
- And sometimes I just accept that my desk will look like this…..(instead of the fantasy desks we see on Instagram and Pinterest)
Wishing everyone embarking on studies for the first time or returning to studies for another year a fabulous year of learning, growth and connection.