Part-Timing the MSc – My Experience

Dear Prospective Part-time MSc student,

As a part-time student, I wanted to share my experience and how I’ve gone about it then it might give you a clearer idea of the feasibility?

Background: 

I live in West London, not quite as far as Gloucestershire, but it’s still a 2 hour drive on a good day, so we’re looking at a minimum of 4 hours drive time total. I chose Brighton because I believed 100% it was the right place for me with the best staff and facilities for my personal interest in clinical environmental physiology and because I’d fallen in love with Eastbourne during my undergraduate days. I work a ‘typical’ office full-time (~40 hour) job in Berkshire and have maintained this all through my MSc, which I actually began in 2016 and am due to finish this September 2019 with the submission of my final project. As you can probably imagine, this has definitely created some interesting issues whilst working towards my masters.

MSc

Initially, my plan was to complete within 2 years, however I quickly realised that with everything else going on it was unrealistic so Jeanne Dekerle (Course Leader) and I worked together to figure out what would work for me. What that ended up looking like was the following (The module titles are shortened and what I studied, I believe some have since changed):

Year Semester 1 Semester 2
1 Lab Skills*
Exercise Tolerance
Issues and Innovations
2 Professional Development
Critical Insights
Professional Development
Environmental Physiology
3 Final Project Final Project

*The 5 working day taught module across the first two weeks of the programme.

To fit this in, I agreed with work that for one day a week I would work remotely to make up the hours (7-8 that I missed due to attending university) and take additional days as holiday should I require them (e.g. the first module when I spent two weeks down in Eastbourne).

I arranged with Jeanne to complete modules that were held on the same day to minimise travel time and should I require lab time, I would ensure it was either on the same day (if possible) or directly either side of the day I had pre-planned for university. This was difficult for some modules because of short notice for lab requirements, or staff changes, but these were not a common place as quite often everything would be pre-scheduled. For modules that I knew would be lab heavy (e.g. Environmental Physiology) I planned around that and ensured that I worked in a group whereby if there was a day I couldn’t make it to the lab I would make up for it by doing a lot of the data analysis, results or general research and it seemed to work well, transparency was always key. Of course, sometimes things were just out of control either at the uni, work or personal side, but there was/is a lot of understanding providing communication happens.

For the final project there are some taught days spread across terms (something like November, January and March) where they’re in a bundle (e.g. Monday-Wednesday) and that’s easy enough to manage if you take a similar approach to the lab time and things. For me personally, that journey’s been different as a PhD student and I teamed up and have been working to a different deadline than the programme, but it’s still been very effective and tutorials with relevant staff has helped greatly. You will find with the final project that plenty of lab time will be necessary so if you take a similar route to me it could be worthwhile trying to do physical testing in blocks of a couple of weeks and just stay down – this has been my approach and is working well.

I would always ensure that I would book as much as possible into the days that I traveled down to ensure maximal efficiency, something I still do to this day be that tutorials, lectures, seminars, lab time and some down time. After all that driving, I like to have a run along the seafront or hit the pool just to take a breather instead of feeling like I’m constantly on the move.

Feedback

Overall the three year structure has really worked for me. In the first year, bar the lab skills, I was predominantly at uni on a Wednesday and for the second year it was a Tuesday. This year it varies depending on testing and due to the nature of our testing I’ll try and do 2-2.5 day blocks so as not to interfere with my work too much (there is still some disruption). I found that driving at anti-social hours was very helpful, I often leave mine at 5am, get to Eastbourne for 7am and relax with a run or some work until lecture. I’d then leave after Eastbourne’s rush hour, getting home between 8:30-10:30, making it a very long day but because I made it routine I found it quite easy to cope with.

The travel time is something to strongly consider, there have been times when I’ve struggled with it, especially in poor conditions because my route involves partially unlit roads (A27, M23) and it’s obviously impacted my work and social life. It’s also worth considering the feasibility of staying in Eastbourne for a couple days/weeks at a time depending on what you need to sort – is this something you can do easily? For me it wasn’t so bad because I’d previously lived in Eastbourne and have friends I can stay with, but other people I know used to just book an air b’n’b, so it’s all very doable.

The extra time I needed to spend at uni outside ‘regular’ time was quite difficult to organise if I was waiting on other people to make decisions or was needed at work, but again if you plan enough it’s doable and I seem to have it to an art form now.

I did underestimate the course demand initially, but you do adapt quite easily and I’d say on a part-time basis it’s actually quite manageable if you’re efficient with the time you do have. I do a lot of my work in the evenings and weekends plus when I’m in Eastbourne I can usually find some time to sit and chip away too – again it’s just planning.

Summary

I’m not saying it’s easy, even as a part-timer, but it’s definitely improved my organisation, time efficiency and communication skills and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the process, even if sometimes it gets frustrating. I’ve known from the time I started planning my MSc that this was the course for me, the place for me and that it was exactly what I wanted. If this is the course you really want, I’m sure you’ll make it work and just know that Jeanne and the other staff are incredible providing you just talk to them and don’t leave things to the last minute if it can be helped. The biggest thing I’ve found with that is being able to have tutorials outside staff’s prescribed times because they understand the need for time management and living outside of the area.

It’s hard doing full time work and studying, but it is definitely doable if you’re willing to take it on and so rewarding. I think you need to ask yourself the following:

  • Are you okay with early morning/late night solo drives?
  • How do you feel about staying in Eastbourne on occasion to make use of labs/tutorials etc.?
  • Is the course/uni the absolute one you want to do?
  • Can you feasibly fit it in around your current position?

I’d also really recommend coming down to the uni to visit/see the area. If you like it, speak to current students and the staff, they will help a lot.

If I’m brutally honest with myself, I’d still do it all over again, despite the random challenges it sometimes throws up.

Best wishes,

Chanel Coppard

(MSc Applied Exercise Physiology student)

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