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  • Writer's pictureThe Mentorship Spot

The Work-School Life During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Divya Balendra

Today’s article features Divya Balendra, who writes about her experiences working part-time during the pandemic and juggling online school.

Why did you choose to work during the pandemic, especially with new changes brought forth by online school?

I prefer to always have something on the go. When lockdowns and stay-at-home orders were being announced, a lot of extracurricular opportunities and other job positions I had planned to undertake were out of the question, but I didn’t want to spend my entire second year in my room. When I found the opportunity to work as a pandemic screener at a community hospital, I decided to take the job. This was a big change for me, since school was entirely online, and I had never really had a part-time job alongside school. However, I’ve always wanted to give back to the community, and with the pandemic, this opportunity could not have come at a better time.

It’s really important to search for internships and jobs that relate to your career aspirations because it allows you to “dip your toes in the water” and get a feel for what your future may look like. As a screener, I had the opportunity to witness a dynamic healthcare setting, which is a career path I am considering. However, I also learned about the challenges of such a career that I had never considered before, such as long work hours, constant pressure, troubling emotions, and burnout. I personally feel that the “negative” aspects of a career are best experienced when you take on a related job while in school.. With all of that said, this job experience allowed me to reflect on my career aspirations. I’m not sure if I would have been able to get a first-hand, big-picture perspective in healthcare without my job.

In a job setting, you also learn many transferable skills that you can apply to various real-life situations. I learned more about working under pressure, controlling emotions, active listening, decision-making skills, and accountability, among many other things. I don’t think I could’ve learned these skills to the extent that I did, had I not taken this job.

What are some time-management strategies that you would recommend for someone in school who’s also working?

When you are job-searching, I highly suggest looking for jobs that offer flexibility with scheduling. I was fortunate to have a very understanding manager who was able to help me, and I was able to switch shifts when my school schedule was hectic.

However, time management was still quite difficult for me. My job required me to work shifts, so sometimes I would be working in the morning, sometimes in the evenings, and sometimes even overnight. On top of work and school, I had other extracurricular commitments. Establishing a specific weekly schedule did not work well for me because of my full and fluctuating schedule. As such, I started creating to-do lists for the week. I would make sure that I specifically divide the content I need to get through (what sections of a subject I need to finish, who to email, what parts of the presentation needs to be done). I would also assign priority and the level of attentiveness required for each task. Then, every night before, I would plan out which parts of the list to tackle the next day by assigning a specific time to accomplish each task. It was also important to determine when my brain was most active. I am not an effective night owl, so I aimed to start my day early.

I was also able to use downtime at work to complete schoolwork or extracurricular tasks. All my classes were asynchronous, and lecture videos were posted ahead of time. During periods of inactivity at work, I would reply to emails, work on assignments, or network for my extracurricular activities. I chose to not watch lecture content or review school content during downtime because my periods of downtime were variable and disrupted at work. As such, if I watched lectures at work, I wasn’t able to fully comprehend the lecture material.

How do you prevent burnout with a busy schedule?

I’m a strong believer of “doing what you love brings you happiness.” Many students tend to choose activities for resume padding, because their friends are doing it, because it “looks good”, etc. I quickly learned that these activities are the major contributors to burnout. A friend once told me that although his job keeps him very busy, he never feels like he’s doing work, because he loves what he does. I decided to take on the same mindset because I didn’t want to look back and regret my choices. I believe that stress and burnout can come from doing something that doesn’t make you feel happy. I decided to choose a few activities that I genuinely enjoy (my job, and extracurriculars related to mentorship), and devoted my time accordingly. I also made sure I never took on more than I could handle to prevent burnout. In my opinion, this requires good communication skills. For example, if I was unable to pick up a shift because I had a busy school week, I made sure to inform my manager ahead of time so that shifts could be swapped and covered accordingly. I would have similar conversations with other extracurricular activities that I was a part of. Learning to say no can be difficult, but it is essential if you want to prevent burnout.

Taking breaks and giving yourself rewards during a busy schedule is important. With lockdowns and stay-at-home orders in place, this was difficult for me because I prefer to be outdoors. However, the silver lining was that I had more time to spend with my family, as well as a chance to explore other activities that interest me, such as baking and singing. I would schedule some break times into my daily schedule for exercising, listening to music, doing household chores, etc. This would re-energize me, and I would be able to tackle my daily activities more effectively. I also felt that my work shifts were like a break for me, because it provided me with amazing social interactions with patients, visitors and staff at the hospital. I love meeting new people and being social, so this job was ideal given the new social distancing measures that were present during the pandemic.

I know of many people who use Pomodoro techniques (25 minutes of work, and 5 minutes of break) to focus. I personally did not thrive with these techniques because my breaks ended up being longer than 5 minutes, and I would often waste my time. As a result, I would aim for at least 1 ½ hours of productive work, followed by a 15-20 minute break. Although this required me to be seated and focused for longer periods of time, it proved quite effective for my work style.

I also took advantage of technology during the pandemic to connect with friends and hold study sessions. We would review concepts and practice problems together and set aside independent study time. This kept me accountable, and the social interaction helped to reduce the stress of studying.

Concluding Thoughts

I would be lying If I said that I was never stressed when working part-time while in school. However, with a little organization, some personal reflections about yourself, the right mindset, and a strong support group, taking on a job while studying full-time is definitely a doable task. Especially when you are able to learn from your work experiences, and you love what you do, it will be a worthy endeavour.


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