The question of balancing time when one enters any education program, whether one is pursuing a bachelor’s degree or a doctorate degree, is a serious question to consider. Many traditional students find themselves having to work to support themselves as they pursue a college education. Many non-traditional students likewise must continue to support themselves as well as their families as they pursue a college education. In both cases, these students must balance their educational goals and the demands associated with those goals with the demands of a job, whether it is part-time work or full-time. Insomuch as I am a non-traditional student pursuing a doctorate while remaining fully committed to my current job I recognize that I will be required to balance my time carefully in order to do justice to both my work and my education. The fulcrum on which time commitment hinges is two-pronged: time management and planning.
The prongs of my time commitment-balancing strategy do not represent skills that I would have to develop as many traditional college students do (Forbus, Newbold, & Mehta, 2011). I recognize that I, like many non-traditional students, will experience significant tension between the demands of work and school (Forbus, Newbold, & Mehta, 2011). I also recognize that I will be more susceptible to “overload and role conflict” while I am pursuing my doctorate (Forbus, Newbold, & Mehta, 2011, p. 111). I also recognize that I will experience “additional demands and responsibilities” that are likely to “create time limitations” that my traditional peers may not experience (Forbus, Newbold, & Mehta, 2011, p. 111). I also recognize that the demands of my job have the potential to influence my ability to participate in classes, fulfill reading assignments and other out-of-class work, and likely contribute to significant levels of stress (Forbus, Newbold, and Mehta, 2011). I think recognizing these factors ahead of time and using that awareness to carefully schedule my work and educational obligations will make a difference.
Part of using that awareness is planning. It is not incumbent upon any of the faculty with whom I will be working to make accommodations for me; I acknowledge that. I have made the decision to pursue this doctorate; it is therefore incumbent upon me to adhere to syllabi, deadlines, and rubrics as outlined by the faculty. Planning also means being aware of the resources available at one’s disposal, such as syllabi and rubrics. Cindy Anderson of Ohio State University asserts that students should always pay careful attention to “guidelines that outline expectations for written work” (Conn et al., 2016, p. 332). Syllabi and guidelines represent a point of communication from the professor to the student and a means of allowing students to get an overview of the professor’s expectations. These also become resources for allowing me to plan and arrange work and class schedules, activities, and projects. I can balance what I know I need to do with the time in which I have to do them; I can plan accordingly and make the most of my time.
Time management and planning are essential to balancing and making the best use of my time. However, there is a critical element that I also know I must employ in order to balance my time meaningfully: flexibility. I have to be able to adjust schedules (as well as expectations) and adapt if the need arises (Riol & Thuillier, 2015). And though they are referring to project management, Rio and Thuiller’s (2015) observation on flexibility in project management is appropriate here as well. Flexibility is “needed to allow for creativity and learning as well as exploration and changes” (Rio & Thuiller, 2015, p. 12). If I lock myself into rigid schedules and do not allow for flexibility and adaptability, I am undermining my own potential for learning as well as creativity, not to mention exposing myself to greater stress, a common problem of non-traditional students who work while pursuing degrees (Forbus, Newbold, & Mehta, 2011).
All of this discussion likely raises the question of how I intend to implement time management and planning in order to balance my commitments. In one sense, the answer to that question is “it depends” – it will depend on the semester and the type of classes I am taking and the demands of those classes. It will depend on what is going on at work – whether there are any major projects or problems that emerge in the course of the semester. This is where flexibility and adaptability will also become important to my ‘survival’ as a non-traditional student. However, the practical answer to the question is that I will have to make deliberate efforts to set aside time for coursework. I will have to be mindful of bringing work home with me since bringing work home may cut into time set aside for school. The literature on non-traditional doctoral students reflects a recurring theme of adjustment – that doctoral students must often make “necessary accommodations with regard to all aspects of their lives” including “home, family, work, doctoral studies, and leisure time” (Onweuegbuzie et al., 2014, p. 13). In essence, I will have to anticipate making adjustments in every aspect of my life.
I recognize going into this program that it will be time-consuming. This is not my first educational rodeo; I have achieved other degrees. Each of those degrees required sacrifices of time and the careful balancing of commitments. In that regard, pursuing this doctorate will be like the pursuit of my previous degrees. Where I am professionally makes the difference, but it does not change my commitment to pursuing the doctorate or to sustaining my professional career. With careful time management, planning, flexibility, and adjustment I see my way clear to successfully pursuing and achieving my doctorate. I am aware of the challenges going in, and I am aware of solutions for those challenges. I am well-equipped to face those challenges.
- Conn, V. S., Jefferson, U., Cohen, M. Z., Anderson, C. M., Killion, C. M., Fahrenwald, N. L., …
& Loya, J. (2016). Strategies to Build Authorship Competence Among PhD Students. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 39(3), 329-355.
- Forbus, P., Newbold, J. J., & Mehta, S. S. (2011). A study of non-traditional and traditional
students in terms of their time management behaviors, stress factors, and coping strategies. Academy of Educational Leadership Journal, 15, 109-125.
- Onweuegbuzie, A. J., Rosli, R., Ingram, J. M., & Frels, R. K. (2014). A critical dialectical
pluralistic examination of the lived experiences of select women doctoral students. The Qualitative Report, 19(3), 1-35.
- Riol, H., & Thuillier, D. (2015). Project management for academic research projects: Balancing
structure and flexibility. International Journal of Project Organisation and Management, 7(3), 251-269.