The work/study/relax balancing act

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The work/study/relax balancing act

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A young lady at work in a cafe

6 February 2019

When students are studying, working and trying to fit in some fun time, it can feel as though they are always on a seesaw, trying to keep it balanced, while more stuff gets piled on the other end.

My best tip? Plan for success

At the start of each semester, I have encouraged my students to create a whopping big calendar and mark in all their lectures, tutorials, assessment due dates and then their work commitments and then the fun stuff like sport, family and down time.

Stepping back and looking at the big picture can be daunting, but just having a big picture will help your student.

But if they plan ahead, students will be better prepared for the times when it feels like every assignment has converged on the other end of the seesaw to fling them off. One of my students even took his calendar to a next level, when he flatted with uni buddies and they made a big colour coded chart for the whole house. It was pretty impressive!

How much study?

When I was studying for my first university degree, a wise professor told me if I studied 12 hours per week per subject, I would stay on top of my studies and I could play all the tennis, go to all the parties and read all the books I wanted. It was a rough rule of someone’s thumb that worked for me (full disclosure though  ̶  I have always been hopeless at tennis.)

Some weeks there were more hours, some less, but I averaged about 12 hours per week over the semester.

USC recommends 150 semester hours for a 12-unit course and they have Academic Skills Advisers to help plan those hours. There are also workshops on topics like assignment writing and using the library catalogues. Seeing an Academic Skills Advisor and developing good study habits early on can be really helpful.

How much paid employment?

Some jobs are a regular 9-5 every Monday. Others, not so much. Jobs can make planning stressful, particularly if your student is concerned about keeping their job if they don’t take work when it is offered. Work is important, but study needs to be the top priority.

My current student has paid employment. They communicate well with their employer and let them know when a particularly heavy university patch is looming. Our experience for all our students was that their employers were supportive and keen to see their employee succeed. If your student’s employer is not like that, it might be time to look elsewhere.

Now, a full disclosure again  ̶  for his final year, one of my students had a full load on the other end of the seesaw. He was studying full-time and working full-time in his area of study, but by then he was an experienced student and had good managing skills (USC does not recommend working and studying full time). He had a good relationship with his employer and kept them updated about his study, negotiating days off when he really needed them.

And despite my child’s experience and expert-level time management, there were still days where he felt that he may have bitten off a bit more than he could chew. He certainly could not have done this load early in his degree.

It’s pretty unusual for a student to be able to juggle so much at once and it takes a certain type of student to pull off this type or workload. But, anything is possible and you just need to support your student find their path and give them the freedom/flexibility they need to get their studies done. He had a huge calendar, and an endgame in sight.

How much play?

Ok, tennis aside, for me anyway, exercise is super important. It's great for good physical health and mental wellbeing. We are a cricket, AFL and netball family, but running, walking the dog and swimming have also been good for my students. During really hectic study times, I still encouraged my students to grab some exercise, even if it was heading to the gym at 9pm.

Balancing study and work can sometimes feel overwhelming, and your student might have times when the mountain at the other end makes them think they will never get their seesaw balanced. But with planning and support, that mountain can be broken up into small hills and their seesaw can balance out.

Now, where’s that tennis racket?

Dr Janet Lee received her Doctorate of Creative Arts from USC. She is also mum to four children who have all completed (or are completing) their undergraduate degrees at USC. Janet lives on the Sunshine Coast with their dog, some very spoilt chickens and her wonderful, noisy family. Janet is a regular contributor to USC's Parent Lounge.

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