Extra-Occupational Studies – To Do or Not to Do? That is the Question!

Reading time: 15 minutes

You consider starting with extra-occupational studies while being fully employed? Think twice! You ask why? Read this real-life story. But make sure to read it as a whole!

Spare Time Alternatives

In fast-changing times like these, it is necessary to keep one’s own skill set up-to-date to be competitive in the job market. So why not combine a full-time job with studies? Thus, you could kill two birds with one stone. You would still earn money and develop your skills and increase your job market value at the same time.

Believe me, it sounds easier as it is as I can tell from my own experiences after having completed my first semester (out of four) of the master’s programme Content Strategy at the FH Joanneum.

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When I had my interview that is conducted as part of the application process, I was asked if I think I can handle my full-time job and studies. I knew that it would not be a walk in the park but I was convinced that I would be able to manage.

Well, now I know that it is manageable but also that it comes at a cost. And you must give it a careful thought if you are willing to pay the fare for this carousel ride because your whole life will be affected.

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Your Relationships

Just your whole life? This is not entirely true. You must be aware that your relationships will be affected in one way or another as well. Your partner needs to be very understanding because quality time will be limited. Instead of snuggling on the couch, you will attend webinars in front of your computer. You will most probably neglect your laundry and cleaning duties and your partner may have to take over (unless you are lucky enough to have a cleaner which I am not).

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Additionally, you will not be able to spend the same amount of time as you used to with family and friends because the tasks that you need to complete for the university often keep you busy in the evenings and even on weekends. I am still wondering how my colleagues who have kids manage to juggle their jobs, families and private life!

However, it is important that you take your time to spend it with your loved ones! Make the most of it and enjoy the time without regrets! It will recharge your batteries. Believe me, you desperately need that!

Your Wellbeing

Studying while having a full-time job may also affect your wellbeing. Unfortunately, I am not making that up! Sometimes you have stress at work and then you head home for a webinar. Often you cannot call it a day after the lecture because you need to work on individual or team tasks or your project paper. If you are still motivated afterwards, you could exercise, do household chores or read a book. In most cases, your choice will be to get some sleep to give your body a well-deserved break.

However, the stress may make you more susceptible to illnesses. The flu hit me twice in the first semester! Additionally, it took much longer as usual to recover. I still try to figure out how I can possibly take better care of my health. If you have any tips, I would be happy if you let me know!

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Your Holidays

Now, you could say that I would only have to take some time off from work and enjoy my holidays at a wellness resort.

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Basically, that is a brilliant idea. Well, but I have not told you about presence weeks and weekends yet, have I? It is correct that most of the time you have webinars that you attend from home. That is convenient and if you are a multitasking talent you could even use the time for other activities (for more information refer to a post by my colleague Silvia Four things I do during a webinar).

However, there are two presence weeks and weekends per semester. Let’s calculate! Each presence week lasts from Tuesday to Saturday which makes four working days per presence week. Add two Fridays for the presence weekends and you get a total sum of 10 days per semester that you have to deduct from your holidays (and you have to keep in mind that I live near the university and do not have to add travel times as many of my colleagues must do!). For 2018, I was entitled to 25 days and only seven of them will not be used for my university time-outs. That’s not much! Unfortunately, my company does not accept the time off for the university as working time. Thus, I try to do some extra hours to be able to take some days off as overtime compensation.

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But isn’t that a vicious circle? Yes, I agree and it is totally crazy because it does not support a healthy lifestyle and increases my stress even more. But special times require extraordinary measures and I have not come up with better ideas so far.

Of course, I have thought about reducing working hours or taking educational leave which is a special arrangement with your employer (for more information please refer to the website of the Arbeiterkammer). However, firstly the company must agree (which is not very likely in my case) and secondly, you would have to accept financial losses.

Your Job

In case you do not choose one these options and keep working full-time, it may – strangely enough – turn out to be a wise decision. The reason for that is that it is required to do project work (including a project paper) preferably in your own company which could be difficult when you are on educational leave. I strongly advise deciding for a project in your firm because you are most certainly familiar with most of the systems and tools that are used and that saves valuable time. However, it depends on your company if they provide you with the possibility to do some of the project work during your regular working hours. I was lucky enough to be able to spend about 12 working days (96 hours of the 250 hours expected workload) for my project work.

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One aspect that you should also keep in mind is that your company and the FH may have different expectations concerning your project work. It requires some diplomatic skills to keep the balance. But finally, when your company realises that they can benefit from such an arrangement, it may become easier for you when it comes to further project work.

Well, I am totally honest with you. Yes, the project phase is the most stressful time during the semester. Yes, the project phase puts additional strain on your relationships and your wellbeing. And yes, you will curse yourself for your decision to do extra-occupational studies.

Still Reading and Still Motivated?

Good! Because I did not tell you about the experiences I have had with extra-occupational studies so far to discourage you! I just wanted to provide you with a realistic account including the possible downsides. However, you will gain so much more than you would ever have expected when you set out to this adventure! It is a hell of a ride but it is worth it.

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The master’s programme Content Strategy at the FH Joanneum provides you with the possibility to work together on an equal footing with international experts. They teach you the theoretical background and show you how to apply your newly acquired knowledge in practice. You also have the extraordinary chance to help to advance this rather young discipline.

It also allows you to build a network of like-minded people. You can learn a lot from your fellow students as well!

So, it only remains for me to say: When you have the chance to study a subject you are passionate above, do it!

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Photos ©: Alexandra Wurian

 

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