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Balancing Full Time Work with Part-Time Study:
An Interview with William Chen
Written by Varun Amin
Date Published: 19/08/2020
Working full time while studying part-time is a way of getting practical industry experience whilst gaining technical knowledge through formal studies. In practice, this sounds amazing, but it can at times be difficult to strike a balance between these two facets of life.
To understand more about this growing pathway, we sat down with William Chen to look at his experiences balancing work and studies.
William Chen is in his fourth year studying a Bachelor of Commerce and Computer Science. He currently works as a software engineering intern at Nine, with previous experience as a software engineering intern at Quantium and a summer vacationer at PwC. Will has been able to balance work with being an active member of the UNSW community as an active member within the UNSW Business Society, as a former Co-President in 2019, ARC Yellow Shirts, as a former Squad Leader in 2019, and also BusinessOne, as a team consultant in 2018.
What are the most rewarding experiences of working full-time work with part-time study?
Personally, the most fulfilling aspect of working full time is diving deep into an area of a field that interests you, given the significant amount of time in a week that you are working. Not only does this provide you with an avenue to learn about the industry on a much more granular scale, but it helps you understand what you like and dislike about the field and working in general. I feel that through working full time, this may help you understand yourself better by being confronted to certain ideas such as the kind of work you enjoy working on, your strengths and weaknesses or the kinds of people you work well with. I think having this opportunity while studying at university is particularly valuable as it allows you to calibrate yourself to becoming a better version of yourself and to become more assertive of the direction of your career and interests.
While working full time is draining to an extent, I feel that studying part-time (fewer subjects) has made the learning process more refreshing. As you have less time in a week, this has made studying a larger commitment to uphold, which as a result, has prompted myself to be more efficient with time to grasp concepts and has redefined the way I learn content. This has ultimately guided me to become a better student.
What is the most challenging part of your current situation?
Given the context of this time, the most challenging part of my current situation had to have been transitioning to working from home (WFH) from the office. This posed an extreme learning curve around the start of the internship where I was still very unfamiliar with the work system and was used to getting immediate guidance from my peers in the office. However, through the transition to WFH, the rate of learning was initially hindered as communication was far less responsive. But instead, this provided the opportunity to become more independent and experimental through this isolation – I found it super rewarding to learn through my own mistakes. As a result, WFH has been much more fruitful as of recent through this autonomy.
With that being said, with or without the WFH circumstances, I believe the most challenging part of working full time and part-time study is finding the balance to remain active both physically and socially. I personally strongly believe in a balanced work-life mentality in my ideal world and this is where work, exercise and socialising/relaxation coexist in harmony. Without having the opportunity to relax and reset before a heavy work week, this can be extremely taxing to your mentality moving forward into a new week and will compound later down the track.
What are some tips you would give to a student currently working full time, studying part-time?
For other students in the same boat, I have found my successes within the previous mantra that I have stated – maintain a healthy work-life balance. I think being re-energised for work is extremely powerful for the growth of learning and as well as productivity to get you through long working days.
Getting into focus more efficiently is also something that I have been trying to implement in both my work and study. Enable yourself with habits or cues which allow you to enter a state of ‘flow’ – where you are concerned about nothing other than the task at hand – such as listening to a certain playlist or getting a glass of water. This is essentially anything that helps you transition into or maintain productivity and deeper focus.
Lastly, for those who have recently started full-time work with little to no previous experience, seek help from your peers, but only after you have given a true effort to resolve an issue or problem that you are stuck on. You would be surprised how accommodating your peers may be as they understand that you are new to the role, but I find that it is still best to not be ‘spoon-fed’ this learning experience. As mentioned previously, I have found it most beneficial to learn from personal mistakes, as these are the learnings that will stick with you.
How do companies accommodate students in the workforce? Do you feel you have more flexibility as a student?
Personally, I do feel the flexibility as a student in the workforce particularly through making mistakes, but I can’t say my answer is reflective for all industry jobs, as different managers are more or less forgiving/stern as others, as are different kinds of jobs. In terms of completing work assigned to you, I found that there is flexibility within the quality accepted initially, due to lack of experience. But this deviation evens out as you work more. The real major flexibility I have felt is the option to take some time off to study before a final exam and time off to attend tutorial/lecture times, which accommodates students to balance their other priority in studying. But most importantly, I don’t see flexibility as any reason to not provide as much output as a normal worker. I believe that if you wish to be treated as a normal worker, you should hold the same responsibility as if you were a normal worker and maintain proper working values, such as through quality of work, promptness and professionalism, despite any flexibility that you may feel.
What is your biggest piece of advice for students looking to get some professional experience?
While professional experience is highly sought after from all students, I think it is a helpful reminder to sometimes take a step back and understand that it is not the “be all end all”, particularly if your professional job hunt is not turning out as well as expected. But during this searching process, reaching out in all avenues, such as through professional connections from careers-based events or friends who have worked in industry, and looking for new opportunities across job boards, such as Seek or UNSW Careers & Employment, is a great start, for everything and anything. If you haven’t had any professional experience, you won’t know what you will find enticing until you try it and see what sticks.
However, my biggest piece of advice stems from how you deal with rejection/failures from applications, which defines you and will lead you to success. Understand that there are an ambiguous amount of factors which companies have decided not to progress your application, some of which may be out of your control. But if you can pinpoint your largest weaknesses from your application and build from that, you will more likely be far more successful in future. And so, I believe in getting as much feedback as possible from peers or especially, those interviewing you. But don’t take this criticism to heart – use it constructively and build from it so that you can present the best version of you for your next attempt. This might involve pursuing extracurricular activities to attain more “casual” experience, preparing better for interviews or improving your grades, if those are areas that you are lacking in. Job hunting is an iterative process of constantly improving how you represent yourself and sell yourself through your CV and interviews, and over enough cycles, professional experience will come to you.
What is a quote you live by?
“Whatever you do, do it well.”
Realistically, every one of you will find your path one way or the other. But from what I’ve found is that the journey to a goal, any goal, is far more fulfilling than the result.
So why not do it well?