Perhaps you have previously had the opportunity (and challenge) of working and studying at the same time, or you are considering pursuing this path soon. In this blog entry, I will share my personal experience of combining a full time job (s) while attending online university, without forgetting important aspects of my personal life (time with family and friends, physical exercise, etc.). I will explain to you why I started, how I was able to get through it, with considerable effort (lock-downs helped), and a few conclusions that I have drawn from this adventure.
In November 2019, I started studying for a Master’s Degree in International Cooperation, Development, and Project Management. After more than two years working as a Project Manager in Battambang (northwest Cambodia) for a non-profit organization, I decided I wanted to increase my knowledge and specialize in the development/humanitarian field.
At that point in time, I moved from Battambang to Phnom Penh, with the aim of taking a new step in my professional career. The first few months were tough, I was still gradually delegating all of the responsibilities I had in my previous job, I was in various selection processes looking for new potential job opportunities, and trying to build a network from scratch in the capital city, both professionally and personally. During that period, it was very difficult for me to structure my study time slots and I was not able to find an efficient method to complete the different modules of the Master’s.
Some days I studied first thing in the morning, some when I got home after work, and others I had to do it during my lunch breaks. The amount and quality of time I was dedicating were very inconsistent, and that was reflected in my overall productivity. Additionally, the fact that I was doing the Master’s degree online, meant that I had no real classmates. Not having ‘companions’ made a massive difference, especially when I compared it with my time studying for a bachelor’s degree. Back then I had group works, seminars, etc. I even played for a football team with other uni students and I had a strong ‘sense of belonging’ to a community, which helped to focus on my studies.
After my experience, I firmly believe that it is crucial to look for a support network when you study online. Being in touch with other students even through calls or messages and sharing ideas is a great way to achieve greater success in your studies and it will also make you develop personally, as online universities often offer a multicultural environment with students from all over the globe.
Back to the story, after the first month and a half living in Phnom Penh, I started having some sort of stability. Having a full-time job helped me structure my schedule, making it easier for me to allocate time to complete the different modules, establishing good study habits. But that stability lasted less than two months, as the first Covid 19 outbreak struck Cambodia in March 2020. I moved back to Battambang, started working remotely and found it hard to focus on both work and my studies. At first, I did not seem to adapt well to the remote working environment and it certainly took a heavy toll on my mental health.
During the two months I stayed in Battambang, I was not able to move forward with the modules and I took the decision to ask for a 1-year timeline extension to finish the Master’s. Deep inside of me, this decision felt like a ‘lost battle’, and it took time for me to accept that it was the right thing to do. When I moved back to Phnom Penh, I started working very hard on the concept of Indriya with the first tech projects, and that thrill helped me find the ‘motivation’ or, more precisely, ‘willpower’, to finish the modules. In November 2020, one year after the start of the Master’s program I was able to complete all the exams.
Only the final investigation work was pending, a research document on a relevant topic with a minimum of 70 written pages. After exploring different possibilities, I finally proposed a thesis focused on performing an in-depth analysis of the ‘Social Entrepreneurship Landscape’ in Cambodia, including some case studies to understand the feasibility of Social Enterprises in the current context. Even though I started to write it in January 2021, I was only able to consistently start writing during the lockdown in April. Endless hours of writing during the long days of lockdown resulted in 60% of the work completed and eroded fingertips.
When the restrictions were lifted, I started going back to the office and my attention got ‘dispersed’ again, even though I was still able to complete around another 10% of the thesis. It was during the past month of July when I was fortunate enough (LOL.) to be in contact with someone that had COVID and had to quarantine for another week. Well, thank you for that, COVID!
After finishing my thesis (hopefully I will receive my grades soon), I have had time to reflect on the positive effects that studying brings to my life, career, mental health, self-confidence, and many other facets that impact my happiness.
I hope you enjoyed reading this, as always, thank you for taking the time. I would be very happy to answer any questions or comments you may have.