Balancing a career and school can be a tricky business, especially if you are also raising a family. Believe me, I know. School and work are each extremely time consuming on their own. Doing both at the same time makes opportunities for family and personal time rare events.
Unable to attend class in a traditional classroom setting due to my crazy schedule, I spent the last two years completing my master's in Criminal Justice through an online program at Boston University. I also have two teenage children, work late shift as a patrol officer, am in the military as a reservist, and work part-time security at a local sports arena.
No, I do not hold any super powers giving me the ability to increase the number of hours in a day. For a short time my life was chaos until I was able to set up a schedule built on time management and communication. Without those two key factors I don't know how I could've accomplished my goal of obtaining my degree.
I've always been a time juggler, but this situation threw even me for a loop. I was fortunate enough to have a supportive family that put up with my increase in stress and sudden obsession with my computer and textbooks while trying to beat deadlines for assignments.
What made the difference to start with was speaking to supervisors about my goals and reasons for pursuing my new degree. For me, I wanted a degree to get a jump on the competition for the promotion process, and ultimately be able to teach at the university level.
I was actually surprised at their positive support and understanding if I needed to adjust my hours slightly, or to take a night off with a bit less hassle when I had finals due. As long as I could show them that I remained committed to the goals with the department and still made a positive impact, they continued to support me.
Secondarily, I used my syllabus to the fullest extent, looking at due dates and assignment length and difficulty so that I could set up blocks of time for studying and research around my work and family schedule.
I work nights and my children are at school through the day, making afternoons the best time for uninterrupted study time and leaving me more available for the kids and their homework and after-school activity needs. On my nights off, as usual, I was up all night while everyone else slept and that was when the bulk of my assignments were completed.
I was also forced to cut back on my part-time work, and thus my income. This is where the support of my family came in. They were willing to sacrifice some of the "wants," instead spending more quality time at home doing movie and game nights instead of going out to dinner or seeing new movies in the theaters. We have become well versed in using Netflix and even made a game of finding new and quirky shows not shown on regular network television.
In the end, the determination and commitment to stay with the program, time management, and keeping open communication with both work and family were what gave me the ability to power through and complete the program while maintaining some semblance of sanity and a family life.
For those looking to accomplish a similar goal, I hope this helps, and good luck!
Christin Rudell is an officer with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. She was recognized as the April 2012 NLEOMF Officer of the Month, and she obtained her master's degree in criminal justice in July.