Alexander Nowak is a higher education specialist and CEO/Founder of e2c (empowering education consulting, inc.). He assists universities and colleges in recruitment, retention, and program delivery mandates that embody student empowerment. Academically, he is completing an MSc in Major Programme Management at Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford. He also completed an MBA (HEC Montréal) and double BAs (Political Science Honours & Psychology Major, Concordia University) and. Professionally, he has extensive marketing, strategy, and project management experience across enterprise and entrepreneurial settings, as well as years of program management and advising roles at McGill University. A native Canadian, his exhaustive work and volunteer experience has taken him from India to Vietnam to Mexico, and now the UK, with many stops in between. A staunch believer in education as a driver of transformational change, he espouses an ethos around empowerment, equity, and empathy.
Life as a part-time student is about balance, with a full-time job and family duties locked into a tug-of-war with academic responsibilities without respite; this is hardly breaking news.
Critical to keeping those scales in balance will be sticking to the principles of successful project management from falling into the trappings of a wholly different PM: panic management.
Mixing imbalanced resource allocation and faulty forecasting, a lack of contingency planning, and an over-reliance on past techniques, it is any surprise projects fail so often? Thankfully the scale is nowhere near as impactful as a multimillion-dollar project. Nevertheless, purpose-driven professionals pursuing part-time studies are aiming for more than just a grade; they seek meaningful, applicable learning; failure is not an option.
Schedule: a mapped plan with buffers
All-nighters as an undergrad are parred for the course and can become legendary tales of earned badges of honor. All-nighters for a mature student, however, are abject nightmares.
It is crucial not to back-load work at any point in any course. Charting a course that allows for surprises is critical to keeping on track and managing challenges. That includes long-term deadline setting and short-term session planning.
Particularly for one’s first part-time professional return to studies, re-evaluating those wonderful days of undergraduate studies with a critical eye is called for. It’s easy to fall into reminiscing over the excitement and wonder of learning and ignore the hours spent editing for mistakes and clarity, bibliography formatting, and figure, fact, and quote hunting that is perennially under-planned for.
Tech and admin: not to be ignored
Putting aside disasters like WIFI going dark or a hard drive crash in the lead-up to the submission deadline, establishing a fool-proof technical setup is as important as any strategy.
Regardless of the institution, a wealth of resources and tools are at one’s disposal; these alone can be worth the price of admission. Being a post-grad scholar also bears the highest of standards in excellence and rigor; it’s part of what makes the return to college or university so fulfilling.
Making use of these requires a significant user-driven commitment. Platform logins, plagiarism tools, and guides, formatting rules… everything from metadata removal to word counts requires the strictest attention to detail and can significantly contribute to panic management if not attended to.
With increasing security and IT demands across institutions, there’s no excuse to let a last-minute 2FA failure keep one from clearing these hurdles… and few institutions will accept such as a valid reason for a late submission.
Workstation: a critical enabler
Post-pandemic, many homework stations are close to optimized. Screen placement, desk, and chair combination, and peripherals aplenty; all contribute to a productive work environment.
Commonly heard tips from students drive home the importance of having a supportive chair, an adequately sized desk, good lighting, and a hassle-free tech set-up. Small touches like a great desk plant can help, as well.
Critical to recognize is that working in academic mode is surprisingly different from professional mode. Video calls take a back seat to paper scattering and study devices. It’s a very different type of work, and thinking, involved in assignment writing and it requires corresponding tweaks to one’s setup. Mock run-throughs, like the stress test, are a worthwhile exercise.
It’s true that after significant investment in your setup, there may be a need to put in some more, but foregoing those necessary tweaks is selling oneself short; which is hardly the mentality espoused by an ambitious professional student.
Notes: recording and revisiting
Study styles are highly personalized and constantly evolving to maximize learning outcomes. Leveraging past study techniques is a great starting point for academic success but preparedness to adopt new, unfamiliar tactics will be called for.
Some adopt handwriting of notes alongside reading strategy. Not only has been proven to be significantly more effective than typing, but it also reduces screen time and minimizes distractions, enabling one to work longer and more effectively. It also allows for a more natural recollection of key points from class discussions and materials.
However, a purely hand-written approach does come at the cost of retrieval functionality. With a wealth of material to draw upon, sifting through reams of paper to find supporting evidence or past insights can become an impediment, particularly in the waning days of writing.
Regardless of the method employed, virtually everyone runs out of time to incorporate every great insight and supporting point collected throughout the course. Finding the optimal mix of these techniques as quickly as possible will have compounding benefits. One shortcut to reaping these is conducting a strong stress test in the early weeks of study.
Self-care: prioritized and planned for
If the pandemic brought one permanent positive change it’s the emphasis on our collective mental health. Along with proper task and time management, self-care management must be equally and regularly attended to.
Study sessions with colleagues are fantastic; they can inspire both idea creation as well as motivation. Group chats are invaluable; they can serve as an outlet for comfort and reassurance as much as a lightning-fast source for an answer to a question.
Screen breaks are non-negotiable; they can double or triple your productivity for hours with just 15 minutes of investment. Earned indulgences are to be savored; that chocolate or espresso tastes ever sweeter and can keep one’s sanity in check.
Whatever works as a pick-up, a reward, or a source of calm during these times, it is wise to put aside rationalizations and judgment and allow those small pleasures to grant the benefits they promise.
From lessons learned to lessons applied
The first assignment in a return to studies will come with expected regret, mistakes, and sub-optimal tactics. Learning and letting go in fair order will be critical to getting a jump on subsequent works.
With a few project management principles put into practice, part-time students can avoid the trappings of managing panic instead of production and yield a programme long plan for success.