Ever wondered how to fit in study along with the demands of work and your personal life? We asked Master of Education (Special Education) student Angie Ussher how she keeps things balanced. Currently in her first year at Torrens University Australia, Angie admits “it’s a little intense at times”, but study was important personally and professionally for her.
“My eldest son has autism as well as a bunch of other learning difficulties,” she reveals, “and I’m also a music teacher. A lot of my students have had additional needs as well. So I took this course because I wanted to be better at my job and be able to help more people.”
Those lessons are already paying off in the way subjects build on each other. For example, one subject focuses on autism awareness and another explores learning disabilities: “It was interesting to see how some people with autism handle learning difficulties. It was a big eye-opener and really interesting.”
Here are Angie’s top five tips to combine study with full-time work.
1. Support is essential
How does Angie fit it all in? “A lot of help from my husband.” She also feels fully supported by all her lecturers. “I always thought that when you do a masters you’d be left on your own, which can seem scary, but it's been the complete opposite.”
She’s found the Torrens University teaching staff are available to help with any questions students might have about their assignments, academic writing and managing their time, which turned out to be essential. “Studying special education at a postgrad level was one of my longer-term goals, but in January this year, I was diagnosed with brain tumours,” she reveals. “That’s when I thought, ‘You know what? I'm going to bite the bullet and do it now, because I want to be able to give while I can.’ It's a benign meningioma, but I still have checks every six months. I talked to the lecturers about it and they were really understanding. They were willing to do anything they could do to help.”
2. Organise a detailed timetable
Obviously there are additional demands on our time at the moment, and with Angie’s three children all being home-schooled under COVID-19 restrictions, she’s having to balance that workload as well as full-time teaching at her music studio. “I teach from 1 to 8pm, or 7.30pm if I have a uni lecture that night,” she explains. “Then in the mornings I normally get to study, but it's been a bit different with home schooling. Getting that structure happening and making sure we stick to it, that’s important. Everything needs to have a timetable.”
3. Study something you’re interested in
It’s no good picking a course because you think you should do it, if the passion isn’t there. That’s a recipe for stress. On the other paw, Angie says, “If it’s something you love, it will become a part of you; a part that you didn’t even realise you were missing.”
4. Lean on lecturers for advice
For future students who are planning on working and studying, Angie offers these words of wisdom: “Make a list of the things that are starting to get on top of you in your studies and see if you can put in more time in those areas. But most of all, speak to your lecturers and see whether you can get extra help, or perhaps some advice about managing your time.”
5. Develop interests outside of work and study
It can’t all be work and no play. To keep your life balanced, Angie believes it’s important to develop interests beyond work and study. “I've got my hands in everything,” she says. “I’m also president of our local musical society, which is amazing.” That said, she values everything her studies bring to her busy life. “When I got accepted into this course, it was like a validation that I am good enough. Don't underestimate yourself. Go for it.”