For people who don’t know me so well, I’m a full-time worker, currently a graduate student at a Top 10 US Computer Science program from Georgia Tech, a husband and a father of a 23 months old baby girl and more recently a father again of a 7 weeks old baby.
It’s been stressful, let me start with that. Just 2 years ago, I didn’t think I could start a new education challenge, I felt overwhelmed with my job and spending time with my wife and maybe fixing something around the house. I obviously didn’t know the meaning of the word “overwhelmed” and didn’t know what was coming.
I wanted to start grad school right away, but then me and my wife found out we were expecting our first child. We loved the news and were full of joy, something we had longed for a long time and I wanted to share the experience and the responsibilities with her. Then my first child was born, so I decided to wait 1 more semester to apply to grad school.
To make the long story short, this has been the single toughest most stressful time of my life and by far the happiest too. My day starts very early and it doesn’t finish when my baby girls fall sleep, because I go to study for a few hours after that.
Things I’ve found helpful:
1. Build a strong help network around you
Nothing will save you from what is about to come, but it can surely make the road a little less bumpy. Think about people closest to you and some other people services you can afford to pay for. Your parents, your in-laws, daycare or getting a nanny would surely make a difference. I’ve even heard about foundations and communities helping with children care.
2. Make a schedule with your spouse
Yeah, no surprise, but even if you don’t get to use it or don’t fully respect it, having a schedule will make you feel more empowered. More in charge, more organized. Doing a schedule on your own (without spouse) will only bring trouble to an already stressful situation. If possible get your schedule signed by you and your spouse, believe me this can be a relationship saver for some people. Put it in a visible place, like on the fridge. You can even use a digital calendar like Google Calendar to share your schedule with your significant other. Yes, it does support sharing calendars, and if you’re not ready for that kind of sharing, you can only mark the events you both need to be aware of and share those through an email invitation, you can make freely available tech work for you.
You may need to make changes to your schedule on the long run, but starting without one is not sane.
3. Make room for your studying
In my case, my program is very rigorous. You be the judge, it can take from 20 to 40 hours of studying per week depending on number of courses taken per semester. I’ve seen people trying to start with a minimum time availability in their hands and then struggle their way to only become frustrated by reality. Some courses are more difficult than others, and difficulty may also vary depending on your background.
I could have settled for a less rigorous local program, with a more flexible time frame, but it’s really up to everyone to decide what they like and what they want for themselves. In the end, people are known to do way better what they really like to do.
4. Embrace change
I don’t want to sound like an agilist right now (which I am, but that’s another story). But there will be many moments when you’ll see things are not going according to plan. It’s easy to feel frustrated when you start your day thinking you’ll do your piece of studying and then when you’re back in your bed at night remembering all things that got you so tired during the day, you remember none of them were the things you wanted to do, or the things you were supposed to. Don’t think about it too much, suck it up, and go studying even if it’s midnight. If you are too tired and your body doesn’t respond anymore, it’s no biggie. Grab some sleep. And wake up as early as you can, the next day will bring a new chance to finish what is left to do. You can do this.
5. Print your course syllabus and schedule and post them in a cork board
Every class has its singularities and its due dates. Don’t run into last minute panic. Print every course schedule and syllabus and post them in a visible place, I use a cork board I look at regularly.
A course schedule may vary in time, but usually they are very sutle changes.
6. Don’t hesitate to ask for assignment due date extension if you run into some proven emergency
I’ve had a couple of those, and instructors have been very understanding about the subject really. They just asked me to send them some document proof of what I’m saying. Usually that’s a document signed by a physician.
7. Celebrate every milestone
Celebrate every end of semester and every special/important achievement. It will enhance your position towards new challenges coming ahead.
Send “thank you notes”. I send a Whatsapp message to my “help network” every end of semester indicating the name of the courses I’ve finished and the grades I got thanks to them. I keep reminding them the importance of their effort in this goal they’re being part of.
8. Enjoy life
Don’t make yourself a stranger to the eyes of your close ones. Have special attention to your kids and spouse, your time is very important to them, even if they don’t mention it. My oldest daughter behavior with me changes a lot based on the quantity and most importantly the quality of time I spend with her.
Time with your loved ones is the most valueable asset, not money, not titles, not academic credentials, not job, not professional recognition.
When I look back through time I only see people faces. It’s people who I feel I should care about the most. In my latin culture family is most important thing, and now I have my own family I understand why and I appreciate everytime from a different perspective, which makes my recognition to other people’s work of love even greater.
9. Build habits in your kids
A consistent early bed time will make room for your studying and sharing as a couple. A quite time every day is priceless if used consciously.
10. Tools to learn faster
Have a look at gadgets I’ve learned to be a real boost for online studying. Real-life-tested gadgets that may be handy for you.
Well, there you go, I hope I helped someone out there. Thank you for reading and have a great time with your new challenges to come!