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