Four big questions to ask yourself before studying on parental leave

Pregnancy and parental leave can present an excellent opportunity to reassess priorities. It can give you the space to think about where you’re at now and where you want to go in the future. It can be a time for thinking about your work life. 

When you go back to work, do you want to return to the same role or do you want to change direction? Are there perhaps other opportunities in your career path that you would like to explore further? Do you want to broaden your scope or put your personal development first? To do any of these things, do you need more knowledge or more skills? If so, is further study a viable option for you to achieve these goals?

Studying while you’re pregnant or on parental leave clearly has its own challenges. It’s not an easy choice, and of course you’ll want to think about it pretty carefully.

For starters, here are four big questions to ask yourself:

1. Why would study be a good idea for me?

Your career continues into your 60s and even 70s, and may involve several changes. With parenthood, your priorities may shift and it’s possible that what you once valued at work may no longer seem rewarding. This may be a good time to consider changes that could prove very worthwhile in the longer term. You could chase financial rewards, but perhaps more importantly you may pursue increased career satisfaction, health, happiness and wellbeing. It’s important to consider that a few years of study may bring huge benefits for your future long term.

2. When should I start a course?

As always, timing can be everything! Is studying possible when you have a new baby or when you’re pregnant, tired and uncomfortable? Is it possible when the kids are small, or worth waiting until they are in school? Can you add study to your already large workload? These are all questions to think about, and only you can decide what is best for you and your family.

3. How should I study?

What programs would suit my needs? Choose a course that suits you. Consider the many online options available – these are now many and varied, from undergraduate programs, nurse practitioner programs to doctorate degrees. Studying online gives you the chance to be more flexible and manage the time you have available. Nobody cares if you put your feet up and study in your pyjamas if you want to! 

Some courses involve a mix of online learning and physical attendance or seminars. At the moment, all coursework will be carried out remotely, but will you be able to make the adjustment to on-campus learning when the time comes? Can you manage remote learning until then? Consider also your preferred learning and assessment style: do you perform best in exams or in course work and assignments? Do you flourish in tutorial discussions or do you learn best independently?

Full-time or part-time?  With a full-time course you can push through and finish sooner, but you need to think about your stress levels. Part-time courses give you a better balance with family and work life but may take twice as long to finish. Perhaps the solution is to choose a course which gives you the flexibility to switch between part- and full-time study as your needs (and available time) change.

It takes planning. You will need to be flexible as you don’t always have control over your class timetable. There are times (exams, assignment deadlines, etc) when you will need to devote more hours to study. This might mean relying on support from your partner or childcare. However, these demands are not 52 weeks in the year, and there are many weeks when you won’t have classes, reading or assignments to do.

Don’t let having a baby prevent you from starting a course. You can always take leave from study and return when you are ready. Sometimes lecturers will be able to give extensions or allow you to finish assignments early. Be upfront in asking. Don’t neglect the importance of regular rest breaks, plenty of exercise and good eating.

4. Can I do this?

You’re no longer a bright young thing of just 20, and it’s easy to think that it’s too long since you did any study for you to pick it up again. You probably worry that everything will have changed so much, you have too many demands on your time, and it will all just be too hard! However, it’s good to remember that being a mature-age student has many advantages: life experience counts for a lot, and you have a better sense of purpose and direction than you had at 20!

You will need to consider whether you have the mental resources and support, both emotional and practical, to study again. Many students are just barely scraping by; if a child gets sick, there’s a car breakdown, or a family member needs help, it could be enough to begin a downward spiral. Your resilience, and support from your family and friends can help prevent this. It’s important to function a little above capacity so you have something in reserve when things go wrong.

Written by the Circle In team.

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