It was with great trepidation that I stepped back into a University Library yesterday. I’d made the mistake of forgetting it was the end of September and so had to join a long line of fresher’s for a library card ten years after I was a fresher myself, didn’t I feel old amongst all these bright young things!
I’ve now been working towards my Social Research Masters for three years, I’ve studied on honeymoon, I sat an exam on my due date, another with a five week old Jossy and am now writing my dissertation with a toddler in tow. This is the last presentation of my course and so I have to finish this year, with no opportunity for extension, so I am feeling the pressure a little, but I do think that it’s the time to finish as I would love to broaden my horizons on the work front.
I really feel in the swing of working life and studying from home, so I thought this is a good time to write my five top tips for study at home parents!
1) Be smart about finding time for your studies
I have learned not to pin all my hopes on nap times, as Joss is quite unpredictable and might have an hour today but only twenty minutes tomorrow. What I do now is try to do any university admin, emails, filing and organising interviews during nap time as these are easy to pick up and put down tasks. If I have to read I keep my aim conservative, even if I manage four pages that’s a start. Anything that needs a lot of concentration, extended reading, writing, real hard thinking and theorising, coding my data, I wait with those tasks til I know I will get a good run at them. At the moment this is two nights a week, where I try to do my housework essentials whilst Joss plays and helps me during the day, protecting those nights for work. I arrived at this routine after some guilt and soul searching, I had been trying to do too much and then if Joss woke from a nap I’d feel exasperated and panic I’d never get everything done, the perfectionist in me was trying to have it all, family, study and work and a neat and tidy home, and feeling like I just needed her to have had another ten minutes made me feel crap, now that I structure my day differently I love that time when I hear her chattering as she wakes up refreshed!
2) Find yourself a study space and keep it out of reach!
My study space travels around with me, it’s a box file with my course guide, two key texts, an A4 notebook and a research diary, with pens and post-its. It comes to work, the library, it sits next to the PC at home whilst I work and it sometimes travels further afield to. I always put everything back in the box and put the box up on a high shelf when I’m finished, as I learned to my detriment that anything that Mammy looks interested in is fair game for a toddler (yes, the baby did quite literally eat my homework…)
3) Remove any distractions if you can
There’s a time and a place for procrastinating, and I found that if I wanted to go to bed feeling a sense of achievement I had to close Facebook, stop checking emails and ignore the telephone during protected study time. I quite liked this little meme that a friend on my Facebook study group sent around!
4) If you’re studying long distance or with the Open University seek out your local University Library
The SCONUL Access scheme may well apply to you, it allows University students to borrow or use books at other libraries which are part of the scheme. I can now pop into town and use the library for an hour even out of office hours with my access card as my library building is open 24/7, I can get out four books at a time and have a quite space for reading when Joss has some fun time with her Daddy. Having a space that’s not used by the family allows me to concentrate better and having the books to hand makes the whole thing more efficient!
5) When the going gets tough…
Ask for help, talk to your tutor and most importantly of all, remember why you’re doing it. When I started I wanted a better career, now my focus is to create a better life for Joss and my family, I am keen for her to develop self-discipline and a good work ethic, an interest in the world around her and I want to lead by example.
Be proud of yourself for undertaking a challenging task, treat yourself when you hit some of your milestones, and plan in breaks, good luck fellow students!