A Day in the Life of a Graduate Student: Juggling Work and School

Grad School Tips & Advice Student & Alumni Stories Education

Emily Lian, a curriculum writer and alumna of Northeastern’s Doctor of Education (EdD) program, discusses the challenges of working full-time while earning her EDD online.  

I have to admit: Working full-time while going to school is something I started doing out of necessity. I had bills to pay, and I also wanted to climb the ladder in my field. Time management has never been one of my strongest assets; everything gets done, but typically in the eleventh hour. But truthfully, the rush of it all, the excitement of being busy—that’s what drives me. I love the flexibility, I love being able to work on multiple different projects at the same time, and I love feeling accomplished when major tasks are done.

A Day in the Life of a Working Student

Have you seen the meme that reads something along the lines of, “My brain has 14 tabs open and I have no idea where the music is coming from?” That’s pretty much my life. I get bored easily, so I enjoy having a long, varied to-do list. I start my week by making my to-do list (separated by color into work-related tasks, school-related tasks, and personal tasks). Then, I revel in being able to cross them off one at a time. 

A typical day for me looks like this: The alarm clock goes off, and I roll myself out of bed after convincing myself that I really do need the paycheck. I eat a quick breakfast and I make the 30-minute trek to the office, where I work as a curriculum writer and trainer at a preschool franchise. I enjoy stability, but I also love the excitement of knowing that no two days are the same.

Most days, I’ll have various tasks to complete at the office—resources to make, PowerPoint presentations to create for training, curricula to be edited, and meetings on the calendar that will take up several hours. Other days, I might be on-site at one of our centers for a quality assurance observation or to train new cohorts of teachers. For the most part, my entire universe centers around my MacBook Air, a gift I purchased for myself after I trudged through my entire master’s program on a Chromebook. 

Tips and Tricks for Balancing Work and School

Whenever possible, I admittedly sneak in some schoolwork during my working hours. I download my required readings on my computer so I can highlight and annotate or write notes on Evernote. I’m fortunate to work for a company that is minimal in their micromanaging habits; as long as everything is completed by their deadlines and I am physically where I need to be when I need to be there, no one is looking over my shoulder throughout the day. This action is quid pro quo, however, because when I hit a writer’s block at home while I’m doing homework I will jump over to work-related tasks that I can do from my computer. 

Once I get home, I try to take some time to unwind and eat dinner before opening my computer back up. I try to tackle things like discussion board posts and replies, readings, and outlining papers in the evening while saving major projects for the weekend, when I can start my day with a fresh mind instead of writing after a long day at work. 

When I started looking into applying for EdD programs, the flexibility of being able to complete coursework online is what primarily drew me to Northeastern. Moreover, there are major crossovers between my work and my education because an EdD works best for scholar-practitioners who want to bridge theory and practice. So, even if I’m working on schoolwork at work or work at home, many of the concepts overlap, and I find myself broadening my thinking in so many different ways throughout the day. For example, something I picked up on in a discussion board post may remind me of a specific issue I’m facing at work, or vice versa, which is exciting for me when I make those connections. I might not have the most conventional methods for juggling work and school, but it’s what works for me! 

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