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Studying at postgraduate level means making big decisions and life changes. This is one thing if you’ve only yourself to think about, but a completely different kettle of fish if you’ve got a family to consider as well.
So before you dive headfirst into an exciting new course, here’s how to make sure your postgrad studying doesn’t affect your nearest and dearest.
Whether you’ll be studying full time or part time, it’s safe to say your free time will slowly become smaller, which will mean more time spent in the company of books instead of your family.
This might mean missing out on family meals or handing over bedtime story duties to your partner, so it’s important to carve out dedicated family time on a regular basis – it’ll help your loved ones reconnect with you and give you a break. Remember, your studies are important but your family will always be top of the list!
It can also be helpful to set some ground rules about your study time at home – you won’t be able to concentrate if you’re constantly being interrupted with chit chat or requests for snacks! If you have a spare room, use it and implement a 'closed door means quiet time' policy. When you’re finished for the day or evening, make a point of catching up with your partner or kids, so they know you’re still interested and involved in their day-to-day activities.
Combining postgrad study with a family life is a balancing act – and a tiring one at that! Once you’ve finished work, spent time on your studies and taken care of family admin you’ll be more than happy to slump on the sofa, but your active, excitable children might not be too happy about that. Eat well, look after yourself and get as much sleep as you can to help keep your energy levels up, but be prepared to explain to your kids or partner that you need some quiet time now and then.
Gill Saunders, 33, is a part-time postgraduate nursing student and offers this advice: "At the end of the day I am well and truly exhausted but I know it’s important to give my kids some attention, so we find a middle ground, an effortless activity like colouring together, or even me watching them play a video game. I don’t have to do much, I think they’re just glad of my company."
Postgraduate funding can be tricky to come by, so most students will find themselves financially stretched to some degree. This can be worrying if you have a family to support, especially if you’re all used to a certain standard of living.
Make a budget and figure out how much you’ll need to pinch the pennies, then, if your kids are old enough, have a family meeting to discuss ways to cut costs. Keep them involved in any big decisions, such as limiting TV packages, buying fewer snacks or having fewer days out and they’ll be less likely to create a fuss.
"I sat my children down and explained I was ‘going back to school’ for a little while, and that we would have less money," says David Eggerton, a former physics postgraduate student. "They were quite resistant as first, but once they understood why we had to make a few little sacrifices, they were actually really enthusiastic about saving even more!"
Universities are well aware of the pressures facing students with families, and often have a wealth of resources available to make the process a little smoother. So don’t be afraid to talk to your tutor or head of department if you need some help or advice in striking the balance.
Also, rally the support of friends and family. "I was really struggling to do the school run in the morning and make my classes on time," says Sandra Effie from Berkshire. "I was worried about the effect it was all having on the kids, until one day the car broke down completely and a friend took them with her children instead. I happened to mention how much easier my day had been as a result, and she offered to take them every day! It was such a relief, both to me and the kids. Never be afraid to just ask for a hand if you need it!"
It’s not easy juggling postgraduate study with a family – sometimes you’ll feel like you’re being pulled in every direction! But when times get tough, focus on the end result, whether that’s a great new career or a promotion – or better yet, the proud beaming smiles of your family when you graduate.
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