Taking The Plunge: Going to Grad School and Working Full-Time

This is the fourth in a series of posts profiling current students in the Higher Education program at OISE with an interest in student affairs and services.  Previously we shared the perspectives of  full-time PhD and part or flex-time PhD students as well as  part-time Master’s (thesis route) students. Today Gavin Taylor-Black reflects on studying part-time while working full-time at Ryerson University. Gavin is interested in long term planning at post secondary institutions.

A few things I wish I knew before taking the plunge

When I first started my undergraduate degree over ten years ago I knew I wanted to pursue a master’s degree at some point but I never really knew what I wanted to study. When I finished my degree, I was no closer to knowing what I wanted to study next. So, I decided that I had been in school for 18 years straight and, for me, it was time to do something else for a while. Seven years have passed since then and in the mean time I have married my lovely wife, bought a house that is now my home and taken up a fulfilling six year career at Ryerson University.  While I have been there and interacted with students, staff and faculty, I came to have a greater appreciation for the number of competing issues and the social complexity universities deal with every day. Alongside this came a greater academic interest in the field of higher education and so, here we are. With this in mind, here are some things I wish I had thought of about balancing work, school and home life before beginning my graduate school journey.

Change your personal scheduling before you start classes

One thing I wish I had started sooner was getting in the habit of allotting specific time to read and write about academic material. Seven years is a long time to get out of practice. I am only taking a single course this semester and yet I am finding the time to read and write my papers is proving to be challenging. If you are like me and have been out of school for a number of years, you have hobbies and other interests that now consume a good portion of your time. With doing a master’s degree, your time is going to be pulled in more directions at the same time. I really wish I had started trimming some of this time back in increments before I started my first class. I ended up doing this all at once. Now that I am a month in, I have gotten used to it but it was a challenge. Going from reading my novel on the GO train to making sure I read and understand about 100 pages of academic reading a week was quite the adjustment! All this and I am only starting off with a single course.

Rethink your approach from being an undergrad

The other side of this is rethinking how I approach my school work. When I was an undergraduate student, going to school full-time was my job and I worked part-time doing other things. Now I have a full-time job and do school and read for class in my spare time. It sounds like a simple thing but it requires a bit of mental gymnastics. This is causing me to get a little creative about how I get my school work done. For example, last week I was looking forward to the weekend and a full three days to get caught up on readings and paper writing. What I didn’t fully consider was that there are two sets of family that need to be seen alongside other commitments. The reality was that I got my paper outline finished on my phone while on a ride back from Thanksgiving dinner in Unionville!

Start thinking early about how this impacts your work

If you are like me, you may be completing your master’s for two main reasons: (1) you want to know more and be better at your profession to help make post-secondary institutions a better place; and (2) to further advance your career while you are doing it. I have gone into the M.Ed. in higher education program with a distinct interest in how planning for the future is done at post-secondary institutions. Only a few weeks in and I have already started to re-think assumptions I had made about how post-secondary functions and how that interfaces with my job. I wish I had done some digging into this earlier! It really helps put you in the right frame of mind for what you are studying and you will get an awful lot more out of it. The earlier you can start engaging what you are doing in the classroom with what you do during your day job, the better.

Even with the things that I haven’t considered, I am still very happy I have taken the plunge. Best of luck and happy studies!

Remember, you can come and learn more about the programs at OISE and how graduate study can enhance your professional practice at our upcoming open house on Monday, October 21 at 5:00 in OISE 5-210


6 thoughts on “Taking The Plunge: Going to Grad School and Working Full-Time

  1. I also just started my MEd part-time this fall while working full-time at a University. I completely relate to your experience Gavin! I have also experienced a shift in my expectations and approach to my studies as well, particulatly my attitude towards grades. It’s been about 5 years since I was in school and I remember being very focused on grades. Now in my Masters, I find that I am more focused on understanding and engaging with the material and my classmates and professors. I would rather feel like I got something out of my readings and assignments that I was able to apply in my job or maybe changed my perceptions than just aim to get a high mark in my course. I wish I would have had this approach in my undergrad – I think I would have gotten much more out of the experience.

    • Hi Jennifer, Thanks for the note. I too, was out of school for a while before starting my masters. Getting used to a different grading scheme in grad school was not easy; and now as a phd student it may not be much easier. I have to admit some of the conversations I had as an undergrad about faculty who mark easy/hard continue. Its hard to stop those things. While I have never stopped focussing on the marks, something I appreciate much more now in grad school are thoughtful comments from faculty on what I have written/presented. These are still the signals of what helps move something from good to great, and it reinforces the important point that the faculty member is interested in your work and supporting you.

  2. I like the statement from the article that, “With doing a master’s degree, your time is going to be pulled in more directions at the same time”. Initially, one of the greatest challenges that I had as a graduate student was to find a balance in regards to my academic life, work, and personal/family life. All these aspects of life are so intermingled such that, if one aspect is not appropriately taken care of, the other aspects will not be effective as well. In my journey as a graduate student, I learned to manage my time effectively, giving each aspect of life the time it deserves. I had to seek help and support from other students who seemed to better managers of time and they offered me some tips on how to use softwares to plans and schedule each day. As I started practicing how to be proactive, scheduling each day with digital calendars and reminders, I have regained focus and I seem to have more time than ever. It is even more overwhelming when things are messy because of improper management of time.
    I think one of the principal key to success is planning, being proactive and managing time effectively.
    The articles in this website are so amazing! I can’t wait to enter the Higher Education Program at the University of Toronto. This program fits my dream, and will sharpen my career edge!

  3. Pingback: Bringing it all together – research, grad school and professional life | Supporting Student Success

  4. Going to graduate school is something that many of us aspire to, but the idea of combining classes with a full-time job can seem overwhelming. After all, most of us already work 40 (or more) hours a week—throwing classes, homework, and finals into the mix can seem like a schedule only Superwoman could juggle. While we cannot promise that balancing work and school will ever be easy, here are a few tips to help you cope:
    • Get prepared
    • Research financial options
    • Add some strategy
    • Don’t forget yourself
    • Read more at https://www.iwriteessays.com

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