A Juggling Act: Balancing Graduate School, Jobs, and Life

As I type this, I’m on my third cup of coffee, and I think I slept during that last nap. I can’t really remember. I’m one of the many Ooligan students who work in the professional realm while also pursuing a master’s degree, which means constantly trying to balance and prioritize schedules while facing an endless string of sleepless nights and pots (and pots) of coffee. Now I’m a special snowflake, because I actually work three jobs that all involve complicated children and exist in different quadrants of Portland. But I digress. Ultimately, what I have found through juggling full-time graduate school, multiple jobs, and an attempt at a social life is that I am gathering skills that will serve me well for the rest of my life. Every graduate student I know who also practices a balancing act, whether at Ooligan or otherwise, is learning what it means to get stuff done—and be creative while doing so. By building up our professional resumes while pursuing our education, we are able to provide unique and valuable insight into successful strategies, and we experience what the real world is actually like.

Through a quick Google search, I found that most articles frown upon us jugglers. They all talk about self-care and burnout and how there’s no possible way to do everything at once. (Hey, watch me!) Some of their points are valid, but I’d argue that the pros outweigh the cons. By learning the “hustle” and getting a leg up on formulating professional networks, working (potentially sleep-deprived) graduate students are hopefully reflecting well upon their program and are setting themselves up for future success. Additionally, these students are able to act as liaisons between the professional world and graduate school, providing insight into how other companies are functioning and what the takeaways should be. I’ve even heard of students that were able to incorporate their thesis preparation into their professional work time, as their research seemed valuable enough that it would benefit the company and field as a whole.

The art of balance is not for everyone. And even for the most skilled of jugglers, the ball still drops sometimes. But the beauty of it all is that our graduate program is a teaching press, and mistakes are part of what help us grow. The same stands true for professional life—absolutely no one, and I mean no one, is perfect. Learning how to take accountability and clean up after yourself and others is a key component of professional success. At the time, of course, you feel like a failure. But that failure comes side-by-side with the knowledge that you are always and forever a work in progress; and as a work in progress, you are constantly developing the skills to improve. And that is the key benefit of confidently balancing graduate school, work, and life. Student workers are developing the skills to prioritize, ask for help when needed, develop ideas, navigate professional and academic (and social) life, take ownership of their own successes and failures, and discover where exactly their skills lie. This leads to the development of truly effective professionals and leaders who know how to delegate and get it all done on time, in a creative fashion, and to the best of their abilities—all with a cup of coffee in their hands.