For some students at St Andrews, there is never really any question over whether or not to work part- time whilst studying. If you are from a disadvantaged background, a part-time job may simply be a mandatory part of financing your university experience. If you study a degree programme that is extremely demanding in terms of contact hours per week, a part-time job may just be out of the question entirely.
For many of us, however, there is both an opportunity and (largely self-imposed) pressure to work at some point during term time, and so decisions need to be made on exactly where, how long this is for, and for how many hours per week. To successfully work part-time whilst studying at St Andrews, you need to be communicative, flexible and reasonable with both your employer and university, but also assertive at all times. You need to establish boundaries early on with your employer and be prepared to stand up for yourself if original contractual lines are ever redrawn. Ask yourself before committing: what are your maximum contracted hours per week? If you are on a flexible contract, after how many extra shift requests will you start outright rejecting more, even if it risks you having to walk away?
If you ever find yourself in an impossible situation – an employer demanding you work the day of an exam, for example – document all correspondence, and communicate with both the employer and your university about what action you feel you have to take and why. In this case, turn up to the exam, but try to work with your employer to demonstrate flexibility (“I can’t work Wednesday, but I’m happy to work Saturday and Sunday to make it up to you”).
No matter how many Hollywood films suggest otherwise, you really can’t do it all and be happy all the time. In fact, no one can. Real-life you is far from superhuman or your Instagram persona – it’s probably a bit of a mess, and that’s okay. With part-time work, expect to be working extra shifts some weeks and consequently feeling exceptionally behind at university. During others, assume all those late nights in the library will make some days at work a zombified misery. The secret to happiness – for want of a better word – is to persist in the face of adversity, to cultivate resilience, and to take the bad days with the good. I recall spending one night this year working on an essay until 3 am. I set my alarm for 4:30 am in order to get to work for a morning shift at 6 am. I slept through three alarms and woke up during my shift in a dazed panic. I showered, got changed and literally ran to work. Convinced I was about to be fired, I started apologising profusely until they cut me off and told me it was more than fine.
Was my essay finished? Was I happy to work now? These were the questions they wanted answering, because my workplace could see this wasn’t typical me behaviour, and that I’d turned up and was trying my best to take responsibility. Sometimes, that’s all they need to see. If you want to work part-time, it’s vital you find somewhere that is sympathetic to your situation as a student, and keep the university informed of the situation in case problems arise.
As long as you do that, the only other thing you need to do each week is your very best to keep your head above water in both places. It will be stressful at times, and you may regularly feel that you have missed out on certain social experiences, but if you communicate clearly what you can and cannot do, it doesn’t have to be an experience that defeats you or leaves you with regret. A part-time job is often judged by students as an undesirable necessity, but as a life experience it can be immensely rewarding. It’s an opportunity to see what future grad you might or might not be able to handle in terms of multitasking and working hours per week. It’s an opportunity to try different lines of work and earn your own money which, when faced with our current high levels of tuition fees and rent, can feel absolutely wonderful. Plus, when you do eventually graduate, you will be more prepared than you ever could have imagined at answering that all-too-common interview question: “Tell me about a time when you’ve had to deal with a challenging situation.”
In short, work part-time if it’s something feasible that you truly think you can handle, but don’t ever tear your hair out over it. Also, maybe exercise a little bit of logic with work and call in sick if you haven’t slept for 24 hours (seriously, what was I thinking?)