If you are considering part-time (or full-time from a distance) doctoral work, you’re going to want some flexibility at work. I’m fortunate to work in a department that has been very supportive as I have started my doctoral work. One of the common themes in my cohort is that we have been able to successfully navigate the balancing act with work and school, and this is really essential because of the unique arrangement of a primarily distance-education program.
If you are at a place in your career where you are essentially your own boss, negotiating for flexibility in the workplace may be fairly simple to achieve. If you are an entry-level professional or a mid-level manager, it may take a little bit of work. Here are suggestions that I believe have helped me to find this balance.
- Include your supervisor in the graduate school application process. During my 1x1s with my direct supervisor, we periodically talked about my academic goals and the things that I was working on. My supervisor knew where I was applying and basic information about timelines. As the process moved along, I think my supervisor felt a sense of being invested in what was happening, and became another source of insight and support.
- Include your graduate work as a formal part of your staff review and development plan, if such a thing exists at your institution. Each year I include my academic work as some of my goals for the upcoming year. Time spent on coursework is included in my professional development hours. By having this formally in place, it allows for a certain level of transparency between myself and the institution. It demonstrates to the department that I am making progress.
- Get creative with resources at your institution. My best personal attempt at this is related to getting time out of the office for class. In Student Affairs at Penn State, we are allowed out of the office for approximately 4 hours per week if we are taking a class, and this is time that we do not have to make-up. Since I don’t attend a weekly class on our campus, I have negotiated with my supervisor to allow me to “bank” this time each week, and apply it to the Thursday and Friday of my monthly weekend in Virginia for class. It is a huge relief to not have to take vacation time each month for class. Find other similar policies at your institution and see if you can make them work for you.
- When you are at work, be at work! I’m really committed to maintaining an exemplary level of performance at my job. I would not be OK with my colleagues or supervisors feeling that I am slouching off at work since I am so focused on my academics (we’ve all had those people on our teams, and it’s not fun). Work comes first from 9 to 5 (and sometimes before and after that). I’m not going to say that I never read or work on papers at work, but those tasks never take priority over my job responsibilities.
It’s not perfect. I’m still working through what it means to balance work and school, and I am sure it will change a lot when I get started on my dissertation. Next time: time management!