Balancing the work-study struggle

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Student life can be incredibly expensive. Between buying books, sorting housing options, ordering out, and trying to have a social life, the cost adds up quite quickly, and many students are forced to try to find a job while doing their studies. During my first week as a PhD student, one of our professors sat my entering group down and asked us to think about what a PhD student looks like. And although we talked about things like feeling like a hermit while doing independent research, the struggles we identified can often transcend the undergrad-postgrad divide. Everyone struggles, to some degree, with managing finances at uni. Your primary job is to be a student, which is already a full-time job, but somehow, you also have to make sure that you’re able to feed yourself and pay rent, and if you don’t have enough money to splurge a little every now and then on a fun night out with friends, you’re ultimately going to go a little stir-crazy.

During my Masters year, I started out on a part-time contract doing an online job back in my home country. Eventually, between attending classes and trying to keep up with reading all of the novels, I found that I needed to cut down to ten hours a week, and even then, the strain was palpable. Because I had gone from working full-time to part-time, sometimes my boss didn’t understand that I just wasn’t available. I would have my phone out immediately after I finished class in order to check and see how many emails I’d missed in those two hours when I had only been half-checked-in to what was going on in my seminar. And it was stressing me out. Being a student in itself is exhausting; you are being taxed mentally every time you attend a lecture or engage in a seminar debate, every time you study, every time you write up a paper. To go from that to work just drains you even further, even at the best of jobs. And to top it all off, you want to perform at your best at work because you’re getting paid to do it!

But take a deep breath because it can be done. One of the best ways to balance a work-study schedule is to compartmentalise your time. Personally, I like to use Google Calendar to manage my time, actually scheduling in when I need to be working and when I need to be studying. And if I happen to study more than what I have scheduled, I’ll just be learning more! But at the same time, remember that you need to schedule in your playtime as well if you’re going to try that approach. Perhaps abide by a rule that if it isn’t on your calendar, it doesn’t exist. If you know you have a huge deadline coming up for work or study, it can be easy to say ‘I’ll just join you for a drink’… which then turns into five pints, a Sainsbury’s Basics bottle of something nasty, and a night out in Sugar with a ghastly hangover at your customer service-driven job. Clearly that looks like a recipe for disaster.

Find a system that works for you. If you find that you’re overloaded with studying and just can’t handle a job, perhaps try to find one that’s less taxing (even if it’s something you don’t find super engaging – as a student, no job is beneath you because you are entry-level material). If you’re really at a loss and you know that you absolutely have to work, try talking to Careers in University House to see if you can find the perfect match!

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