Graduate School

So you want to go back to school?

Recently I’ve had a lot of people ask me about going back to grad school while working full-time and staying in half marathon shape year-round. I remember feeling lost and not knowing what it was like, so I love offering my 2 cents! I’m certainly not an expert, but this post is about what is working for me.

First, a little background:

For those who don’t know, I’m a scientist at a biotech company in their Department of Infectious Diseases. We help to make assays (tests) that detect infectious diseases (e.g. HIV, HPV, Dengue, etc.). I have an awesome boss that is completely supportive of me going back to school (and he actually pushed me to go for it while I’m young)! I work a normal Mon-Fri, 7AM-4PM (I prefer that over 8AM-5PM) work week. I also am getting my Masters in Public Health from the George Washington University (based in DC) online.

Here’s a typical week, minus a lot of details obviously:

SUNDAY

  • Long, easy run (or rest day)
  • Prep for this week’s classes
  • Make grocery list and check coupons (not so fun fact- I’ve become really good at couponing/sales, while continuing to buy 95% healthy items)

MONDAY

  • Workout class during lunch
  • After work:
    • Cook dinner
    • Prep for Tuesday’s class

TUESDAY

  • Run at lunch
  • After work:
    • Class from 5-7PM
    • Kyle cooks if he gets home before I’m out of class (if he knows ahead of time that he won’t beat me, I’ll make a crockpot dinner that I start in the morning so dinner is ready when he gets home)
    • Relax with Kyle

WEDNESDAY

  • Class work during lunch, OR grocery shopping
  • After work:
    • Speed work run
    • Cook dinner
    • Relax with Kyle (if I’m caught up on class work)

THURSDAY

  • Run at lunch
  • After work:
    • Grocery shopping (if I didn’t get it done on Wednesday)
    • Cook dinner
    • Prep for Saturday’s class

FRIDAY

  • Class work during lunch
  • After work:
    • REST DAY (For working out, that is- unless I know I’ll miss a run over the weekend)
    • Cook dinner
    • Prep for Saturday’s class- but I’m usually caught up by then so I can do something with Kyle

SATURDAY

  • 6:30-8AM class (yes it sucks, but I prefer this so I can have the rest of my day)
  • Run immediately after class- typically speed work
  • FREE TIME (unless I have a project or test)

Okay, so now that I’ve put half of you to sleep, here are my tips for balancing grad school (or maybe you want to take a course, get certified in something, etc.) + working full-time + staying active + life, all without wanting to shoot yourself in the foot, just so you can have some time off.

Plan

This sounds like an obvious one, but it is completely necessary. Plan your errands, study time, workouts, meal prepping, etc. It also helps me to actually write it out (visual person). It might take you a while to come up with a plan that works for you and your family, partner, etc. Let your family/friends know that you have things scheduled like a German train station, so they know if they are to plan an event that they need to let you know well in advance.

sonora family trip
A recent trip we planned FAR in advance so I could work around school. We went to Sonora to watch Kyle’s sister in a musical. (She is not pictured, neither is my dad)

Have a good support system

Before I started school, I told my mom and Kyle that it was their job to talk me back into school when I wanted to quit. Their pep talks were very necessary at the beginning (and still the occasional one now and then).

mother's day 2015
Celebrating our mama on Mother’s Day

Ditch the negativity

We’re going to take a little advice from my girl T. Swift- shake it off.

I had a few people who weren’t all that supportive of my goals. Some who didn’t get why I wanted to go back to school. And several who kept referring to my grad school program as “just online.” Haters gonna hate. But you gotta ditch the negativity. Life is too short to have “friends” who don’t support you.

For the record- my classes are online, but completely live. We log in at specific times, have a webcam on us, and we are in class with actual GWU professors and students. Say/think what you will.

Schedule fun and relaxing time

Yes, it is sad that you have to schedule fun time, but you will go crazy if you only work and study.

Fun time with my buddy
Fun time with my buddy

Ask for help

My parents will laugh at this one because one of my first phrases was, “I do it myself.” I’m the type of person that likes to do everything myself and never ask for help. It’s stressful. And unnecessary. I’m workin’ on it.

I had a few meltdowns when I first started school because I was just handling too much. Kyle and I had just purchased/moved in to our first house, my cat that I had since 7 yo had just passed, I decided to train for my first marathon, and Kyle broke his leg. I felt like I had to tackle everything myself so Kyle and his healing leg wouldn’t have to do anything. Whoops.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew

Realize that something’s gotta give. See above.

P.S. Her beach house is my dream house.

Don’t skip out on fun events

This goes back to the whole planning and scheduling thing. Try NOT to pass up on fun weekends, events, etc. Think about how much time away from studying this event will be. Compare that number to the ACTUAL amount of hours you would be studying (eliminate Facebook stalking, Instagramming, BuzzFeed quizzes, etc.) if you didn’t go. You get the idea.

Listen to your body

Remember that you’re human and need sleep. You may create workout schedules and have “Rest Days,” but sometimes the shit hits the fan and you’re more exhausted than initially anticipated. Rest. If you don’t listen to your body, you will get sick (which just wastes time!).

Keep your eye on the prize

Remember why you are going back to school, taking that class, etc. Eye. On. The. Prize. I promise it is completely doable with a lot of hard work and planning! If I can do it, so can you!

How do you deal with chaotic life schedules?

Who else feels like they’re taking crazy pills

Anyone else go back to school while working full-time?

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10 thoughts on “So you want to go back to school?

  1. haha love the Zoolander ref (funniest movie ever). so i def feel you, as i went back to school full-time while working a full-time job, a part-time job, a 6-day-a-week workout/running schedule, volunteering, and a social life — in NYC, which is crazy anyway! i feel like possibly living in NY makes it more “doable” because you’re just so used to chaos and being busy feels like the norm…it’s down time that feels weird! i think a big part of it is knowing yourself and what you can handle, and choosing a program you are really passionate about and knowing you want to do this and will commit. i just finished my 3 years of classes and still have to do my internship, but i loved it and found it very manageable! have a great wknd, love.

  2. Great post… still lamenting that we didn’t apprise you of Hannah’s graduation far enough in advance, but siblings trump cousins anyway! Have fun

  3. You are one busy lady! I worked part time during my first two years of grad school, and I want to cry thinking back to those times. I dealt with it by combining studying and socializing (“Hey, want to hang out on Saturday? Great! Bring your books and meet me in the library. But remember, no talking.”), eating world’s easiest meals (eggs, eggs, and more eggs), and surrounding myself with people who had the same schedule or supported my schedule. And remembering that it wouldn’t last forever!

  4. I think you are so awesome and I feel sooo lazy reading this! I love how you balance and plan everything and make sure to still make time for life and love 🙂 I really want to finish getting my trainers license but I always end up running out of time…..clearly I do not plan this out well enough! Always enjoy your posts.

  5. You are so, so, so amazing! I am one of those people who have asked for this post. As someone who is considering grad school, this is a topic I seriously think about quite frequently, thank you for sharing!

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