Tag Archives: distance learning

Have baby, will study

If you read back through my older posts, you’ll see that I took leave of absence from my Masters programme last semester. Well, I had a very good reason, I think – I was pregnant with our first baby.

Fast forward to March 2016: our lovely baby daughter has been here since the start of the year and I’ve been back to studying since February.

I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t been worried about returning to study. I wasn’t sure whether I’d find the time to study with a newborn baby, and I wasn’t sure whether I’d even be interested in studying. After all, you only have your first baby once.

Well, so far, things have turned out fine. After all, my course is a part-time programme, so by definition the workload is less than it would be for a full-time programme. And although looking after a young baby is pretty hard work, at least I’m at home in the day and can sit down to study whenever the baby naps. It also helps that I’m still fascinated by the world of information and librarianship. I’m not saying studying with a baby easy – it’s really hard. But here are some things that have helped me in the last few weeks:

  1. This first tip is actually from my coursemate who was in a similar situation a year ago – only that she didn’t even take time off when she was pregnant. That woman is a hero! Read papers on your phone whilst breastfeeding. Especially at night, when there really isn’t much else to do.
  2. This goes along with 1.): use mobile technology. I use Mendeley to organise my references and PDFs, and it’s pretty nifty how you can access your PDFs on any device that runs Mendeley, such as my mobile phone. No doubt other reference managers do similar stuff.
  3. Get yourself a sling. My baby loves sleeping in the sling. She’s close to me, and I have my hands free to type on the laptop. We both win.
  4. Enjoy the ‘me’ time. Most of the time, studying isn’t a chore for me, but something that I really enjoy doing. (It certainly helps that my current module on managing library services is massively interesting.)
  5. Be organised. So, know when your deadlines are. Stay on top of your weekly workload. Easier said than done – but it’s important not to fall behind.
  6. Get support from your family. I couldn’t do this without my amazing husband.
  7. Don’t expect to be perfect. Not an easy task if you’re a perfectionist! But my mantra whilst writing my current assignment has been: you just need to pass, you don’t need to achieve a top mark. (Incidentially, this also applies to being a new parent in general!)

My first assignment is due next week – wish me luck!



Study skills

Never mind the break I’m taking this term, I have passed the first year of my part-time MSc with flying colours! I scored As for for three of my modules, and a B for the fourth one. So, yes, I am rather pleased that all the hard work did pay off.

What follows are some things I learnt (often the hard way) in my first year of being a student again. Note to self: do read this post before you return to studying in February!

open book, cup of coffee, biscuits
Don’t worry about the assessment at the start of term

On my course, the assignment briefs are published right at the start of term, although the work usually isn’t due until the end of term, or at least not before a substantial part of term has passed.

In the first semester, I read the assignment briefs on Day 1… and panicked. This is especially true of one of the two modules that I took that term. I didn’t understand the terminology, I didn’t understand what we were asked to do, I didn’t have a clue of how to tackle the task. Cue some random googling of terms and perusing of papers.*

I really shouldn’t have worried. The modules on my course are actually structured so that you pick up the skills and knowledge that you need for the assignments on the way. Sounds elementary, but I really didn’t think about this and wasted a lot of time worrying about the assignment far too early. What you should do instead (and luckily I also did this!): engage with the module, do the weekly readings, participate in exercises and forum discussions. By all means do have the assignment brief in the back of your mind, but don’t stress about it from the start. And, as if by magic, things will become much clearer as you go along!

* This is not how anybody should approach an assignment, but especially not a librarian-to-be!

Talk to your fellow students

As I’m a distance learning student, this is somewhat more difficult than it would be on a campus-based programme, where you’re all sat in a classroom together. In the second term, I joined a couple of Facebook groups for my modules and they turned out to be the best support network ever. It was just massively reassuring to see how we were all struggling with the same questions. We all motivated each other to persevere, especially in the days (and hours!) before deadlines. Much better than struggling along by yourself.
Read the assignment brief carefully
Ask questions about it. Be clear about what is required, and what isn’t. Break questions down – sometimes it can sound like you need to do a lot of complicated work (especially if practical work is required), but do check carefully what you actually need to do. After a year on the programme, I can now judge much better what the required standards are. And as I found out to my relief, they are not always as high as the standards I set myself! Turns out, your lecturers do want you to pass, as long as you’ve put in the required work along the way!
Make connections between the curriculum and the real world

When I was learning about cataloguing and struggling with MARC, RDA & Co., I contacted one of the librarians at the nearest university library and asked if I she had time for me to come along and ask her questions about it. She not only agreed to that, but also arranged for me to sit with one of the cataloguers for a couple of hours. Librarians just are the most helpful people! Those two hours spent in the library were invaluable, because I could finally connect the theory from the course to the real world. MARC made so much more sense after I had tried to catalogue a couple of items myself! So, whether you’re studying librarianship or another subject, do ask people who already work in the field for help if you can.