Roselle Sherriff-Shuping, Monash lecturer and student discusses how to find balance in life while studying, working and being a parent!
As an adult, many priorities are vying for our attention at once. We need to earn a living, maintain our relationships and often raise children, which can be an all-encompassing responsibility. Among these priorities, we also need to find time to nurture ourselves and pursue our studies. As both a lecturer and Masters student, I have seen both sides of this coin.
Pursuing my Masters degree while balancing work and raising a child was one of the most challenging experiences in my life. I dealt with feelings of guilt that I was spending so much time away from my son and also worried that I would miss out on the significant moments and milestones during his first few years. Luckily, I had a strong support system that allowed me to take a balanced approach to these various roles.
One of the key attitudes that helped me was to favour quality over quantity, which I applied in all of the aspects of my life. If I could only spend one hour with my son in the evening, then I needed to make sure that what we did in that one hour made up for the fact that I couldn’t spend any more time with him.
Similarly, if I had only two hours available for writing, I needed to ensure that what I did during that time would be as productive as if I had 8 hours. Time management is crucial when working and studying. It is important to draw firm boundaries between when work stops and studies begin. It is so easy for one pursuit to overlap and dominate the other. In my case, this literally meant scheduling 20:00 – 23:00 for writing – no marking, no admin, just writing.
This structure and effort paid off. It was so rewarding when I received the letter saying that my dissertation had been accepted and that I had passed, although there were a few minor changes that I needed to make. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to tell anyone until the final changes had been accepted, but I decided to tell my parents.
My dad was over the moon and so excited for me. One week later, he passed away. I could have kept the news from him and he would never have known that I passed. It was bittersweet in that my dad knew that I had passed, but he wasn’t able to watch me walk across the stage at graduation.
The satisfaction I have got from studying inspires me to build up and grow the students I work with. While I have been teaching at Monash South Africa for a while, this joy never fades for me. Every semester I meet new students, each with their own strengths and challenges. Every time, the students that do well are the students who plan ahead.
They put all their due dates on a calendar so that they can see when they have an exceptionally busy week in which most assignments or tests are due. Successful students also realise that being in tertiary education means immersing themselves into the culture of the institute. This includes attending social events, joining clubs and societies and getting involved with things that they are passionate about. Students also need to be willing to ask for help.
We have a fantastic support system in the Foundation Programme, which is a one-year pathway into the MSA undergraduate degrees. If a student is struggling, we have peer collaborators and peer mentors to help them navigate through the difficulties of being a new student.
I believe in an open-door policy, and I always make time for students who are brave enough to ask for help. I am prepared to go above and beyond for a student who is willing to set aside time to work on aspects that they may not understand.
I recently had a student email me for an appointment. When she sat down she said to me, “I saw what I got for the test, and while some of my peers might be happy with this mark, I am not. What can I do to improve my marks?”. I was blown away.
We sat for the next hour discussing various things she could do, and we put together a study plan for her. This plan included time for church, working and socialising. We now have a standing appointment for once a week, where she can come to me and check in.
In my role, I often learn from my students and am inspired by them. Another student created an excel spreadsheet where he could track the amount of time he spent on each of his tasks – work, studying (per unit) and social engagements. He shared this with me when I started my Masters and ironically this simple system developed by a young student really helped to see how I distributed my time, which helped me try create a more balanced approach to life.