Experiences and tips on studying down the line
Last year I made what felt like a very big but very natural decision to start postgraduate studies. As I work full time in what can be a quite a pressurised job I wasn’t sure how I would manage both my work and study in terms of time, balance, interest and motivation. However, a year down the line I am still studying hard, achieving good results and feeling committed to continuing my studies for another two or three years. So what has helped me to manage? Here are my top five tips based on my experiences of the last year.
1. Try a taster course
If you are considering undertaking study or training which may well require quite a bit of your time, effort and money, make sure it’s something you really want to do. I find studying when I am not interested in the topic very hard work, a bit soul destroying and somewhat contrary to personal development. I was interested in studying business so signed up for taster class delivered over a series of Saturdays. I got a good flavour of the topics, an understanding of the intellectual requirements, and what it would be like to spend a proportion of my weekend studying, all of which helped me take the next step confidently and with assurance that I was making a positive and informed decision.
2. Be kind and fair to yourself
When I started my studies the amount of material I received to read and understand was rather overwhelming. I thought I needed to read everything that first day and have understood all the topics thoroughly. High expectations indeed! As I have progressed through the first year though I’ve realised that I don’t have to read everything or do every exercise, nor do I have to feel guilty if I have time off.
Actually we need breaks and I find taking time out after completing an assignment provides a well needed rest (mentally and physically) as well as a helpful break between topics. When you do knuckle down to those stretches of study it also helps to have an organised work space, so again be kind to yourself by taking a bit of time to create a positive environment to study in.
3. See the big picture
I think one of my particular strengths is the ability to stand back from it all and see the big picture. In terms of studying that has meant having a view of the first year and what will be required of me in terms of numbers and timings of assignment and exams, time off (to study and to rest), times when I will need to socialise a bit less (and when I can a bit more) and how to fit the work into my on-going life. I think a lot of people get distracted and find themselves going off on a tangent, losing time and then feeling anxious about how to get back on track.
Taking time regularly to review where you are and what’s coming up (in the next week, month, throughout the module or course) provides perspective and helps focus your efforts on to the right tasks. I also find this helps me stay on target with milestones and actually helps me achieve tasks earlier than anticipated. I find being ahead of the game incredibly motivating and reassuring and big picture thinking helps me achieve that.
4. Also chunk up
I’m studying through the Open University and am finding them fantastic at delivering work in small packages. I’ve adopted this technique to help me figure what I want to focus on, on a particular day, weekend, or week. This keeps study very manageable and keeps the feeling of being overwhelmed much reduced (particularly when used in tandem with the above tip). I also think it helps provide a sense of achievement – when you know you’ve completed a planned task, no matter how small, it’s still a real accomplishment.
5. Use the empty time
I have a commute every day of around one and a half hours which I try to use to read resources, books, articles etc. I can also make quick notes or ideas about my learning (should I be lucky enough to bag a seat). When dinner is cooking is another great time for me to collect my thoughts and plan that next assignment. This means I get some studying done most days in those easily wasted periods of times.
Perhaps try to identify some of those 10 or 15 minutes in the day when you could read or scribble down some thoughts, that just makes those small inroads into the study load.
Written by Marie Trueman
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