Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Back to School

After a long hiatus, I have plunged back into the world of books, assignments and exams in order to pursue a post-graduate degree. Having got engrossed in 9 years of corporate life, it took me a while to figure out I really wanted to go for it. I have a 2.5 year old, so this was a very tough decision to make. I had always planned for this, but when I actually signed up for the course and paid the fees, I was at my wits end. I had absolutely no idea how I was going to study/ appear for exams, when I did not even have enough time to indulge in a long bath, with a demanding job and toddler in tow! It was a distance learning course, so thankfully I did not need to attend any classes, but it also meant that I had to do all the encouraging and motivating me, myself. It has been a year and I haven’t progressed as well as I expected to, but the experience has taught me a few things I can share for the benefit of people aspiring to go back to study after a gap:  

Opting for Distance learning instead of a full time course – I have been told that distance learning dilutes the essence of a degree or looks less valuable on your resume. But frankly, weigh your choices and decide what’s best for you. After a few years of work experience, you may have enough savings to quit your job to pursue a full time degree. But are your other financial responsibilities like EMI’s, school and daycare fees, annual investments, health or other exigencies, taken care of? Considering that women now are equal/almost equal/ larger (whichever applies to you) contributors to a household’s income, take stock of your financial health. Personally I did not want to let go of my paycheck and also added years in experience so I chose the distance learning option.

Which course/ specialization to choose – One may choose to sign up for a course in order to change their job description, while some may choose one that springboards them to the next level in their careers. I discussed a lot with my friends from different fields, and the feedback I received was that if you are going back to study after just a couple of years of work-ex, you may choose to learn something radically different from your current occupation. But once you have spent almost a decade in a particular sector, you should opt for something that adds value to what you are currently doing. This is because the next company that hires you will want you for the sum total of your experience/expertise, and not for something you claim to have learnt only through a 2 year academic course.

 How to plan study (slow and steady) – The aim for taking on a course is to learn something, but mostly it ends up being a cram and spit exercise to clear the examination. There are days when you have ample time and can study for longer hours and days when you cannot even spare a minute to look at your books, especially if you are working in parallel. I manage to study mostly on weekend mornings and evenings, with chores/outings/rest taking up most of the day. Weekdays are so full of travel/office work/household activity that I cannot spare any time to study. So on weekend mornings, I just try to revise what I learnt on that weekend. It obviously means I spend more time on a subject than estimated by the course, but the steady learning ensures that I have better chances of retaining the knowledge for a longer time. I choose to complete those subjects first with which I have some familiarity by virtue of my experience, that instils confidence and I can tick it off the assignment/ examination list quicker.

Balancing work, life and study – It would be unfair and unprofessional if you neglected your job because of the course you chose to enrol in. Also, your year-end appraisals would suffer. Your spouse/ children would also want your undivided attention and time, and spending quality time with them will help you relax and refresh. If you don’t indulge in a little ‘me-time’ or pursue your hobbies, you will feel drained out and exhausted. It is no doubt a tightrope walk, but a day spent with loads of activity and challenges is anytime better than a dull day. Years later, when the course is over and its benefits start coming through, it will bring a great sense of achievement.

There are just 24 hours in everyone’s day, but how one chooses to utilize them can make all the difference in the quality of life. Joining a post-graduate degree after a long gap has not only helped me get rid of the guilt of not studying further after my engineering course; it has infused a new zeal in me of seeing this through to the end, like any other successful project.