How to balance the demands of teaching and working on your thesis

Work Life BalanceIf you asked most people about the demands of a teaching position, they’d quickly agree that time extends beyond the classroom hours with grading and student interaction turning most part-time roles into full-time commitments of time and full-time roles into, well, more. Ask the same about the time involved in getting a graduate degree, especially during the research-intensive processes of a thesis or dissertation, and in most cases, you’ll hear of it being a full-time job unto itself.

So how can one person balance the demands of these two time-intensive efforts? For the answer, we sought the opinions of several TAA members, and as a bonus have included some additional resources to assist you if you are currently in or considering such a balancing act yourself.

Kirk Talib-deen, PhD student and Teacher, University of Nevada, Las Vegas:

“What tips would I share for balancing the demands of both roles of student and teacher? First and I believe most important, is to remember to privilege your role as a student; my peers and colleagues often discuss the demands of being a teacher at times overrides or extends over into the time or role of being a student. We have to be disciplined enough and have the fortitude not to let this take place; however, maybe more important than the privileging of our positionality of being a student, is to be in the best physical, mental, and spiritual shape possible. The doctoral degree is the greatest step one can make in education; and this requires a resolve beyond what many know or are willing to make. I would say it is a contradiction to obtain a PhD, yet physically, the principles that it took to obtain it, isn’t reflected in our health (and I could go on).”

Nina Dropcho, Teaching Assistant, New Mexico State University:

“Yes, I could share my ideas about teaching while working on a thesis. I have a TA, a Teaching Assistantship for graduate students. My advice for those who teach while attempting a thesis: Take half, or fewer, obligations than you think you can handle. You must treat your thesis as a big, important, difficult ‘class’, an almost full-time job. You must schedule your time to write because writing will not somehow fit into your day, and your best writing can’t be done ‘after all of your other commitments’ are done. You will get more accomplished if you schedule 1- or 2-hour blocks into your day for writing.”

Angela Polczynski, Senior Program Coordinator of the McGovern Center, UTHealth:

“I would emphasize the need for flexibility and discipline. My doctoral program is also an online program, which makes these especially critical for me. With a full-time job, it can be difficult to find the time to write, so I often tackle the toughest items at work first before transitioning to writing and revising. Using tips for improving productivity may also be helpful for some, such as setting and sticking to a writing schedule, avoiding multi-tasking, and not checking my email while I write. These have been helpful for me.

It’s hard to say whether doing both (school and work) has made me a better student or better employee, but I’m sure I’ve made improvements in both areas. For my students, being a student myself has made it easier for me to understand their perspectives and share my own experiences with them, in hopes that we can learn from one another. Perhaps I would tire of all this if there wasn’t something different. My work is with medical and health professional students and faculty from humanities disciplines, while my educational program is in developmental education. This certainly gives me variety, but I’ve learned to cross-over my work skills and educational knowledge. I also have a young child (turning 1 next month) and balancing all these things has required me to be disciplined and organized. So far, I’ve managed to make progress in my own research by carving out a set writing schedule and learning to leave work at work. In this sense, being in online programs has worked to my benefit.”


Bonus resource #1

TAA member, Daveena Tauber, Founder of ScholarStudio, wrote about this topic in an article published on the ChronicleVitae blog August 17, 2016, titled “Managing a Dissertation and a Classroom”. She shared seven strategies for succeeding in this balance of two worlds collided – teacher and student.

1) To find structure in your life treat each term like a “dissertation class” and write yourself a syllabus for it, complete with readings, writing assignments, and deadlines.

2) To pay yourself first use your best energy of the day for your writing and research.

3) To prevent despair when students seem to struggle realize that you are not going to fix your students’ problems in a semester.

4) To chunk up your work process set yourself realistic increments of work and keep moving through them, you will see progress and maintain momentum.

5) To reduce, reuse, and recycle when you are teaching, ask around for sample syllabi and assignments and adapt them as your own rather than starting from scratch.

6) To look for progress make your progress visible by recording not only to-do lists, but “have done” lists.

7) To fight isolation, start a support group for people like you who are working on a dissertation while teaching.


Bonus resource #2

Dr. Ellie Mackin Roberts, Teaching Fellow in the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester, shared five tips for getting research done in a teaching-only post on YouTube.

Specifically, she advises that you 1) always be prepared, 2) make an appointment with yourself, 3) stay motivated, 4) set goals, and 5) focus on getting a permanent job. View the full clip below.


Eric SchmiederEric Schmieder is the Membership Marketing Manager for TAA. He has taught computer technology concepts to curriculum, continuing education, and corporate training students since 2001. A lifelong learner, teacher, and textbook author, Eric seeks to use technology in ways that improve results in his daily processes and in the lives of those he serves. His latest textbook, Web, Database, and Programming: A foundational approach to data-driven application development using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, MySQL, and PHP, First Edition, is available now through Sentia Publishing.

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