I’m getting my PhD in Organizational Development (OD) at Cabrini University while working full time. Fortunately, my job offers some flexibility, but I still work 40-hour weeks while spending one weekend a month holed up with 10 other doctoral students and a bunch of OD experts exploring theory and research methods. A lot of my friends and family ask me, “How do you do it!?” So, I decided to share my four tips for balancing work, life, and grad school.
1. Get into a routine.
Just like you know you’re going to get up at 6am, go to work, come home, eat, etc., it can help to create a routine of reading or writing for class. For me, I know I’m pretty useless after work, so I usually end up spending an hour or two a night reading for class. I don’t do much writing workday evenings, because my brain is mush. Then, I continue my M-F routine of getting up early on Saturday and Sunday and spend time writing. I’m in that rhythm and it really helps to keep me on track.
2. Know yourself.
You need a lot of self-motivation to get a PhD … at least, that’s how it feels to me. If you aren’t good at scheduling your time or finding internal motivation, a doctoral degree may be extra challenging. You’ll have to schedule your time wisely, make sure you’re on top of your assignments, and try to think ahead for your dissertation. It can be overwhelming, and there have been days (or, maybe even weeks) in which I feel exhausted and burned out on reading and writing about organizational change or corporate social responsibility. But I am able to force myself through those times and stay focused on the long game. Soon, my classes will end and it will be unstructured dissertation time all the time (yikes!). That’s when the routine will (hopefully) help even more.
3. Talk to your advisor.
My academic advisor is probably ready to ghost me, because I’m constantly checking in and emailing with ideas or requests for feedback. But it’s great! He tells me when my research topic seems to be on track, he guides me on how I’m doing in terms of writing and methodology, and is just a wonderful resource. If you’re working, it can be hard to meet face-to-face, but there’s beauty in Google Hangouts or Skype! Just staying connected helps me feel grounded, even if he’s telling me to relax and stay focused on the current class instead of thinking about what I need to do four months from now.
4. Find a little “me” time.
I finally started going back to the gym in the last month, and just that little bit of healthy “me” time is helping to reset my mental state. I know that one of my classmates is big into mindfulness meditation as part of her routine for self-care. Whatever you do to decompress, it will be important to continue that practice to keep you focused and energized.
Getting a PhD is hard, but I knew that going into it. There are weeks where I’m frustrated and doubting my decision, but most of the time I can keep my end goal in sight. The PhD at Cabrini has been a great experience so far, and it’s taught me a lot about myself and about the possibilities of a new career. I hope I can keep on track as we move into the third year, which is all dissertation research, data analysis, and writing. This time next year, I should be staring down a dissertation defense and a doctoral degree to my name.