The Chrysalis Blog: Working Through Graduate School

By Camille Schenkkan

Camille Schenkkan

Skip lunch to leave work an hour early. Eat an energy bar in the car. Arrive at school at 7pm. Get home at 11pm and do as much reading as possible before passing out. When the alarm goes off at 7am, do it again.

I've been attending Claremont Graduate University's Masters of Arts Management Program since spring 2008 and am on track to graduate this December. I won't lie, it's been tough: I work 40 hours per week at Arts for LA plus anywhere from five to 15 hours per week for Circle X Theatre Co. in addition to commuting to Claremont for classes.

Emerging arts leaders tend to be high achieving and ambitious, so it's not surprising that many of us decide to go for a Masters degree while working. A graduate program is a big commitment for anyone, and this is a field where late nights and weekend hours are common.

Considering graduate school? Here are suggestions from me and a few of my fellow students for staying sane while working and going to school. Reasonably sane, that is.

Claremont Graduate University

1. Write everything down immediately after you think of it. This comes from Rosalyn Kawahira, who's also in the CGU Arts Management program and works at the Los Angeles County Arts Commission. When you're trying to stay on top of to-dos and schedules for both work and school, it's easy for even the most important things to fall through the cracks. I keep separate notebooks for Arts for LA and Circle X, writing down individual tasks and crossing them off as I finish them. Like the lead character in Memento, I assume I'll forget about something within about five minutes if I don't write it down.

Camille Schenkkan2. Develop the ability to catnap. I used to think I was not a napper. Now, if traffic is decent and I arrive at school a half-hour early, I recline my car seat, set my phone alarm and take a nap. Even if I barely doze off, the brief rest helps me focus for a three-hour evening class after a full day of work. Short weekend and after-work naps are favorites, too. And by the way, that yoga mat in your office makes a comfy snoozepad if you're wiped out by lunchtime.

3. Work in the field before you commit to a graduate program. This piece of advice is really for anyone considering graduate school. Unless you're one of those rare people who's known exactly what you want to do with your life since age 12, take the time to see if you like the day-to-day activities of your desired job before investing thousands of dollars in a Masters program. I know quite a few people who didn't realize they disliked their field until they'd been in school for a year and finally got an internship or part-time job. When I entered college, I was a dual Math and International Relations major. I graduated with a dual English and Theatre degree, got a job using my English degree, hated it, and ended up in Arts Management. Also, by working in your field while going to school, you'll find out whether you've chosen the right degree program. I'm reassured every time I use what I learned in Monday evening class on Tuesday morning at work.

4. Do not procrastinate. Maybe this one should be try not to procrastinate. The ability to get things done promptly has been the biggest boon to come out of my graduate school + full-time work experience. If I have a free half-hour block, I will find something on my to-do list that I can work on. I figured out quickly that I had no choice but to stay on-task and use my time wisely if I didn't want to get only five hours of sleep every night. Now I schedule even laundry and grocery shopping a week in advance and stick to the plan as much as possible.

5. Be kind to yourself. Make sure you sleep. Eat good food (limit the number of PB&J + red wine nights). "I like to mention self-care because we always forget and it's tough to find the time," says Rosalyn. "I'm a big fan of yoga. There's always a lot to do, but I really feel like spending 10 minutes or so stretching really pays off." Cooking dinner a few nights per week and getting to the gym help me clear my head and keep the knots out of my back. Finding a mantra or inspirational piece of music can help you stay positive and calm, too; I love "That I Would Be Good" by Alanis Morissette.

Tim Dang, Camille Schenkkan, Michael Kaiser6. If possible, find a job that supports your studies. Although small and mid-sized arts organizations usually don't chip in for tuition, many will let you shift your schedule to accommodate courses or commuting time. You might consider asking your boss about flex time, working from home or switching to part time as well, although these arrangements can be tricky. According to Tara Scroggins, Institutional Giving Manager at A Noise Within with a Masters of Arts Management from Carnegie Mellon, "Working remotely is great, but having someone local to answer questions is also great." There may also be jobs available on campus, a plus if you're living near your graduate school. Says Tara, "Working on campus saves valuable transit time and getting acquainted with faculty members doesn't hurt."

7. Remember that this is a temporary situation. Setting a graduation date and tracking my progress reminds me just how quickly this time in my life will be over. This is another reason I love scheduling/calendaring: I will graduate 250 days from today. In three weeks, I'll be finished with another course. My summer classes will only span a six-week period. It's easier to summon extra energy if I remember that this, too, shall pass in 250 days.

8. Maximize your commute. My Red Line Metro commute is about 15 minutes each way. I rely on this daily half-hour to do most of my reading each week. Each semester, I also check to see which of my readings are available via audiobook or podcast. They're cheaper and allow me to make use of my driving time.

CGU students9. Spend time with your friends, family and significant other.Communication becomes even more important when you're tired and stressed out. For me, spending time talking with my husband is the best way for me to regain focus and let go of the not-so-important annoyances or stressors that may be bothering me. Networking is a big part of arts management, so getting to know your fellow students outside of the classroom could lead to opportunities in the future.

10. Look for a school that accommodates working students. Ask if any required classes are only offered between 9am and 5pm on weekdays. CGU lets me register, buy books, pay tuition and manage loans online. The only time I set foot on campus is when I actually have a class, and I've been able to schedule all of my courses on weekends or after 5pm on weekdays. Kind of sad, I know, but that's the only way I can make it work.

11. Respect your job and your employer. Sure, it's possible to sneak in some reading at work or take advantage of a kind boss. However, without your paying job you probably wouldn't be able to afford school, and an employer that supports your choice to attempt work + school deserves to have 100% of your best energy during your time in the office.

12. Use technology to make your life easier.I let Google organize my life.Google Documents may be the smartest technological advancement for the working student: you can access your papers from multiple computers, convert Mac to PC and work on group projects remotely. I also rely on Google Calendar alerts (synced with my iCal and my iPod) for meetings and appointments. My Arts for LA co-worker, Tara, just introduced me to, where I can track my finances, including my student loans and get email alerts when bills are due or my account is getting low on cash.

13. Ask for help. We are not superheroes. Whether you need help paying for school, cleaning the litter box or figuring out your class schedule, asking for help does not mean you're not capable of going it alone. When it comes to your graduate school's registrar, student financing department or academic office, remember you are paying for their services (probably quite a lot, too) and they are there specifically to help you get your degree. If your advisor is not helpful, get a new advisor.

14. Or Or any of the fine programming available on YouTube, such as Ukelele Boy and Maru the Box-Loving Cat. Brains need breaks. I mean, look at that baby bunny next to a banana. Doesn't that make you feel much more prepared to write a 10-page paper on event marketing?

Bunny and banana

I am by no means a graduate guru and welcome additional tips and feedback in the Comments section.

My mom was the first in her family to get a graduate degree, working her way through Berkeley's Masters of Library Sciences program. I remember her telling me years ago that when you're in graduate school, showering becomes a luxury. At the time, I thought she was exaggerating.

Don't worry, I still shower. But I'll probably do it more often in 250 days.

250 days

Great ideas. What an

Great ideas. What an inspiration! Graduate school is a huge investment of time and energy, especially when working full-time. Congratulations on completing your program.

Great Blog

Great blog, great tips... thanks Camille!


Thank you for reading!  My countdown now says "3 days until graduation."  Woohoo!