A New Balance: Work Over Academics

This week, I completed my second assignment for my academic credit internship. ILR’s credit internship program requires that its student completes one large paper assignment, graded by a faculty adviser, to determine the student’s grade for 4 of his or her earned credits. In my case, my faculty adviser and I created a schedule to help keep me on track with finishing a thesis assignment by December. My first assignment was to call her in early October, when I had worked at the EEOC for several weeks, and to propose a thesis topic. My second assignment was compose a project proposal–a document about 3-4 pages long which outlined my thesis topic, my primary and secondary sources, and the implication of my research. The final assignment will be the final thesis paper, due in December.

The first assignment was easy enough to complete. I am lucky enough to have a faculty adviser who I really enjoy talking to, so it was nice to catch up with her over phone on her research and share my experiences at the EEOC. I threw around a few ideas for a thesis topic and, with her recommendation, I finalized my focus.

The next step, however, was much more difficult. Composing a project proposal isn’t a very difficult assignment. I’ve written similar papers for classes in previous semesters within a few hours. Unfortunately, I struggled this time around to finish the paper and submit it on time to my professor, even though I technically had a week to complete it. What went wrong?

Right…that makes sense…

There just wasn’t time.

It seems counter-intuitive given that I had a week to finish the assignment but, in actuality, I did have significantly less time to finish my project than I would have otherwise had if I was still on campus. At Cornell, I had a much different schedule than I do now. Academics were the priority and other time-consuming activities, like work and extracurricular activities, were squeezed into whatever remaining time was left after my homework was finished. Now, it’s the opposite: I have to negotiate time for my academics because the fixed element of my schedule is working, not homework.

When I received similar assignments at Cornell, I would come home from class and work on them immediately. If finishing the assignment required more hours than expected and began to cut into work hours, then I would call out of work to finish the assignment. At best, I would bring my homework to work and attempt to finish it during slower moments within my shift. Now, I would never conceive of calling out of work with the EEOC to finish an academic project. Rather, I rush to finish assignments on my train rides to and from work and in the hour I have free at home before bed. This shift is significant, and I finally felt its consequences this week when working on my project proposal. It’s much harder to focus on academics when other time constraints like work are not flexible.

At the EEOC, I know several employees who currently work full-time and also pursue undergraduate-level or graduate-level schooling at night. My mother did something similar as a young woman–balancing school, work, and taking care of a child for several years. While I always admired these individuals for maintaining this balance, I became aware this week that I barely understand the difficulty of what they have accomplished thus far. I tasted what it is like to have to study in an environment where your schedule is fixed and your daily needs force education onto the back-burner when allocating your time. It’s stressful and frustrating. To have finished so many years of my undergraduate education without experiencing those worries in a crippling extent, as so many others must do…surely I must be blessed.