Morning Buzz by Christian M. Williams @MyPublicTweeter
Since ELGL has a diverse membership with different career and academic goals, I thought I would share a little about my journey to finish graduate school while working. Some of you have met your academic goals and some of you are pondering what’s next.
For those of you debating whether to go back to school, as a working adult, I want you to know it is possible. If you are looking for that final push, I hope my story will help motivate you to pursue your dreams and know it is achievable.
If you don’t have plans to go back to school, perhaps this story will help a friend or colleague looking for some motivation.
As I mentioned in New Year New You, Goals for 2019 Morning Buzz, I wanted to get my master’s degree before I turned 30. When I turned 29, the goal was modified slightly…I applied for schools before I was 30; a few months after my 30th birthday I started my studies.
Since I work full-time, attend every council meeting and volunteer, I wanted to find a program with built-in flexibility.
I found a Master of Public Administration program which allowed me to complete my whole degree online or a combination of in-person and online coursework. The online model worked best as I could keep my existing obligations, go on trips and maintain work life balance.
I started this journey in November 2017 and found a 18 month program. There was no spring or summer breaks (we did get a short Christmas break); this kept me on track and in a continuous cadence of academic study.
In the program, we learned about topics including: Leadership and Organizations, Economics, Leveraging Human Capital, Servant Leadership, Public Governance, Public Budgeting, Intergovernmental Relations, Policy Studies and Law and Administrative Processes.
The journey was not easy; I felt little burnt out towards my last two classes. I kept a countdown clock on my phone to track my progress. I also decided to walk at the commencement ceremony, which occurred in April on campus.
The commencement ceremony was the added motivation I needed for the final weeks of class; you can’t have six of your closest friends and family members see you walk and not actually finish the program. I remember feeling refreshed, like I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
My friends and colleagues have asked me how I did it. What helped the most was finding a 24-hour coffee shop where I could study. I can’t do hours and hours of homework at home because I would find excuses like eating, napping or watching Netflix.
Working at a coffee shop provided a new environment and state of mind. It was helpful to be around other people who working.
On occasion, in order to hang out with friends while doing homework, I would invite them to sit at the coffee shop with me. The caveat was to tell my friends, in advance, I wouldn’t be talking to them for two to four hours, however, it was nice to have them around if they had something to work on.
Writing paper after paper can be daunting and can burn you out. To help with my writing, I used a tool called Natural Readers; I continue to use after graduate school.
Essentially, a computer reads your writing back to you so you can hear it and react to errors (Although, I am sure there are some in this column here). Also, APA citations and formatting are not fun; I used Citation Machine for help in this arena. The great news is that both of those tools have a wide array of free features.
Towards the end of my studies, I got into a rhythm and was better about doing homework Monday through Thursday nights, I took Friday’s off, and was back at it Saturday and Sunday mornings.
This pattern allowed me to get ahead of schedule and write my next week’s assignments in advance.
Pros and Cons of Online
I have friends who do both in-person and online coursework. Based on our experiences, the downsides of an online program are double the amount of reading and writing, a heavy reliance on written communication for peer-to-peer learning and quite a bit of self-teaching. However, for me, the ability to do homework early, remotely and in advance outweighed those detractors.
I would do my homework for the entire first day while on vacation; this allowed me to enjoy the rest of the trip in peace.
I was even able to attended a few music festivals, such as Das Energi and Country Thunder. In April, I attended a four-day music festival; I knew which assignments were due so I planned ahead. I worked for months to stay caught up and slowly moved ahead on my homework; by the time the music festival arrived, I had pre-written my essays and weekly topics and posted them just before I went off-the-grid.
This would not have been possible had I chose an in-person class.
Work life balance is important and I couldn’t keep it all in proper balance. I didn’t sleep as much as I should have, I sacrificed hiking, the gym and my normal exercise routines in order to get it done.
The freshman 15 did apply throughout the course of my studies, however, now having graduated I am back to the gym, back on the trails and halfway through my 45-day Keto diet, I can see my pre-grad school body coming back! Hopefully, it will be here before summer is over.
You Can Too!
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the financial contributions of my organization (city of Goodyear, Arizona).
Not only do they have a tuition reimbursement program but a few years ago they created a tuition assistance program which fronts tuition money to employees.
If you pass your classes and stay with the organization for at least a year you keep the money. This paid for half of my degree and was a motivating factor in returning to school. I know my path and strategies aren’t for everyone, but you can make a path that meets your needs.
If you are looking to go back to school and continue working, it is possible! I did it and so can you!