Finding Balance as You Grow

How to approach continuing your education as a working adult

September 18, 2023 | By Maria Guerra
Woman sitting at a desk and looking at her laptop screen.

Engaging in professional development as an adult learner, whether it's pursuing an advanced degree or a certification, will undoubtedly stretch you in many directions. Taking the next step in your career while managing work and life will demand not only commitment but also adaptability. The inevitable disruption of your regular routine, unexpected life events, and collaborating with peers to complete projects while handling life’s responsibilities will call for mindfulness, time management, and effective communication.    

Health & Wellness  

According to The National Institutes of Health, “rates of anxiety have increased since the beginning of the pandemic.” The past few years taught us the importance of caring for one’s mind and body and that self-care is the foundation of a healthy and productive life. While a lot of your time as a student will be spent working on assignments and preparing for class, keeping in mind the importance of cultivating strong relationships is key to remaining healthy and balanced. Social connections are linked to increased happiness and overall better health.

Along with focusing on nurturing your existing relationships and creating new ones, it’s important to explore beyond your study area. Erin Brogan, who is currently pursuing her Online Master of Science in Analytics, leans on the value of spending time outdoors. “Make sure you get out of the house, especially if you work at a computer all day.... Find ways to take your schoolwork on the go. Sit outside at a park or by the water,” she suggests. A change of scenery will prove to be revitalizing both physically and mentally. Professional Master’s in Occupational Safety and Health (PMOSH) professor, Jenny Houlroyd, reminds her students that taking care of your emotional well-being, getting enough sleep, and drinking plenty of water are “incredibly important to your cognitive skills.” Keeping both your body and mind healthy and active will help you relieve stress and avoid burnout. 

Time Management  

Continuing your education will require a shift in perspective. Treating this professional commitment as a part-time job is vital to keeping your eye on the prize and effectively managing your responsibilities. Throughout this journey, you will be supported and guided by an online community consisting of peers, alumni, faculty, and the student services team. Jennifer Wooley, Director of Academic Programs, highlights the importance of giving yourself time at the beginning of a program to find your rhythm, especially if it has been a while since you were in an academic setting. She recommends that students “be mindful of what is and isn’t working, from the time of day you study to the way you take notes. Don’t be afraid to make adjustments to your approach as this will set you up for success in the long run.”

Finding your pace and keeping it will depend on a few crucial factors such as staying on top of assignments and treating course videos like they are in-person classes. This means taking notes and jotting down any questions you may have to ask your professor during office hours. Going through the material and familiarizing yourself with the tools required for each course is also essential to ensure success throughout this process. Dimitri Mavris, Ph.D., executive director of the Professional Master’s in Applied Systems Engineering (PMASE) program, recommends working professionals who are pursuing graduate degrees “not fall back into the routine you had as undergrad students: focusing on just your grades.” Instead, he recommends treating this new challenge like coaching and tutoring, this gives working professionals an opportunity to focus not only on passing the course but on gaining new knowledge and strengthening their skills for the future. 

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate  

Along with taking care of your health and managing your time wisely, communicating is key to successfully completing your program. When asked his number one advice for new students taking his Modeling with SysML course, PMASE professor Richard Wise said, “communication, communication, communication.” Make sure you are reaching out to your professors, classmates, and family members regarding your progress as well as when you might need help."We are all here to help you succeed," Wise emphasized.

“Life happens, and as your instructors, we understand that the hurdles life throws our way often occur without advance notice. Communicating with your professors is important to finding success in your program. This will allow us to assist you, the best we can, as you continue to balance life, work, and your ongoing professional development," says Joel Sokol, director of Georgia Tech’s Online Master of Science in Analytics (OMS Analytics) degree program. While seeking guidance from your professors is important, focusing on building professional connections while on this journey is crucial for long-term success. Keeping the lines of communication open throughout the completion of your program will not only allow you to achieve a healthy work-life balance but may also help you manage any stress that comes with taking on this new academic challenge.

Finally, remember to be present and fully enjoy the moment. Developing new skills and adjusting to a different lifestyle takes time, so give yourself props for investing in your professional growth and know you have what it takes to get to the finish line.