Graduate Study Challenges and Strategies for Success
Education is an important step towards self-improvement, as it provides additional opportunities in terms of spiritual and intellectual growth as well as career development. “A Master’s degree prepares nurses for advanced practice roles, including the management and delivery of primary health care, case management, education and administration. Growing specialization by physicians, the health system’s increasing demand for front-line primary care […] are spurring a global need for nurses with advanced practice skills” (Glassick et al, 1997, p. 145). This means, the specialties, associated with nursing, are not likely to become out-of-date, whereas there is a complex of problems prospective Masters encounter. Most of them are close-knit to the activation of social life and career progress, as the average age of the student is the main determinant of their need for self-actualization, not merely in education, but also at workplace an in family life (ibid) .
Three main challenges faced when completing graduate studies were working full-time, juggling family life and rearing two children and, finally, caring for my disabled father. Nevertheless, it is possible to approach to these challenges from two viewpoints: positivist and negativist; the first standpoint emphasizes the experience and skills which can be trained when dealing with the mentioned challenges, whereas the latter approach highlights purely the aspects of daily life and education the individual is deprived of. Due to the fact that I selected the first viewpoint, I decided to analyze these obstructions to successful completion of graduate study and develop corresponding strategies for success.
First of all, full-time work can be regarded as a substantial challenge to studies, as both forms of activity are formal and strictly-organized so that they need maximal attention and, more importantly, attendance. On the other hand, full-time work to great extent enhances the process o training, as it provides vital practice, the lack of which is experienced by a number of students. This means, full-time professional employment allows looking at the knowledge, provided by formal education, from inside (Homma, 1998) and critically evaluate it in terms of its relevance and actuality in the present day. In addition, full-time work increases assertiveness and self-confidence as well as the brilliant opportunity to conduct a research at the workplace. Although James suggests that “especially during thesis writing process, student from low socioeconomic background worked more, had more academic difficulties, and were less likely to pursue leadership positions with student organizations that their higher SES-peers” (James, 1998, p. 99), it needs to be noted that the fact of my own employment in fact determined the success of my graduation, as it provided information for my final study as well as advice and assistance of more skilled and experienced professionals.
Another important strategy for success I utilized while combining learning and training with full-time employment was time management. In fact, I organized my own working schedule taking into consideration the requirements, related to my studies – at first, I needed to fix my daily plans on paper, as Hegyvary recommends (1992), but later I developed self-discipline and got accustomed to my flexible schedule. In addition, I often sought to get takeaway assignments both at work and from my tutors, which can be viewed as additional strategy for successful completion of the graduate study: due to the fact that leisure activities were always included into my plans, I found time to distract from formal social life and stay with my family or friends, which, in turn, minimized stress-related risks and enhanced the concentration of attention and overall performance.
Family responsibilities appeared the most important aspect of my life while completing my studies, as family environment in reality determines the individual’s success in the other activities and spheres of social functioning. On the one hand, family relationships are extremely demanding, especially in terms of childrearing, but as a nurse, I had a unique opportunity to approach to childcare and family life in general as to a complex of my husband and children’s needs to be met appropriately. Furthermore, I analyzed each objective and subjective demand within my own family and discussed them with my husband, so that the first strategy I utilized to when encountering the challenge of family life in the context of my graduate study was shared responsibility: for instance, I recommended my spouse to optimize his daily activities through time management (Homma, 1998) – this useful tool to substantially facilitated my performance as wife and mother.
With regard to the fact that family situations might be unpredictable, the parents of my spouse agreed to engage into the upbringing of their grandchildren from time to time. As Homma (1998) writes, “multiple role enactment may be associated with a variety of benefits, such as exposure to diverse resources for tangible and emotional support. Students faced with the need to allocate energies and skills to reduce role strain tended either avoid enacting certain roles or engage in a series of “role bargains”” (Homma, 1998, p. 84). Emotional empowerment I received from my family was in reality a result of multiple “role bargains”, so that I taught my children certain autonomy and ability to satisfy their basic needs in their early years and paid attention to the development of their social skills, which, as a result, allowed me to study and proceed with my home assignments at home, while caring for them. Another component of my path to successful graduation was my attempt to involve all family members into certain activities (Koslowsky, 1993), which resulted in the substantial decrease of time, normally required by these daily routines. Similarly, to my style of dealing with the first challenge, in this case I sought to utilize the ‘carative’ experience from my family life, and to extrapolate it onto the onto the other spheres of my life: for example, I demonstrated effective writing skills when producing my academic papers, oriented to exploring the aspects of nursing care for children of different age.
The most stressful graduate study challenge was the necessity of caring for my disabled parent, whose health state required constant physical and psychological support from outside. Due to the fact that my father lived together with my own family, I provided special training to my household and explained that it was necessary to help the close relative in the most critical situation and develop tolerance and acceptance in the context of his disability. In addition, I was forced to invite a professional sick-nurse, i.e. to seek third person’s help, which, however, was a necessity rather than avoidance of responsibility.
To sum up, the major strategies I used to minimize the graduate study challenges were: 1) time management and energy and optimization of energy allocation; 2) shared parental responsibility; 3) fostering certain degree of autonomy in my children; 4) use of professional services; 5) combination of experiences from the roles with classroom requirement (where possible).
James, P. (1998). Progressive Development of deep learning kills through undergraduate and postgraduate dissertations. Educational studies, 24 (1): 95-106.
Homma, M. (1998). Synthesis of Graduate studies and life experiences by doctoral students in education. UMI published doctoral dissertation: University of Minnesota.
Hegyvary, S. (1992). Educating nurses for new practice environments. In G.Everts, P.P.Bottomworth and M.Ostermeis (Eds.), Human Resources for Health: Defining the Future (pp. 133-140). Washington, D.C.: Academic Health Centers.
Koslowsky, M. (1993). A comparison of two attitudes – behavior models for predicting attrition in higher education. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 29 (3): 359-366.