Margaret Raimondi on Going Back to School While Working

I met Margaret a few years ago and have always admired her ability to manage a full time job (at MoMA no less) and grad school. As Greenpointers I’d often run into her on the walk to the G train and we’d talk about her experience studying at CUNY and writing that dreadful thesis paper. We’d also talk about all the old timey films her and hubby would watch and how she should quit stalling and invite to her house for dinner. I’ve been toying with the idea of going back to school to study either journalism because I suck at writing or curatorial studies so I can be the next Nancy Spector. However the thought of taking notes and writing papers while working on a various projects is daunting just because I know it uses different parts of the brain and I don’t know if I can handle that right now. I’ve considered attending part time but then I’d feel like I’d be getting a half-assed experience.

Margaret will be discussing all these issues and concerns in her first Skillshare Creative Arts class titled Back to School! Getting your MA/S While Working Full Time, to be held this coming MONDAY at Maccarone Gallery. I asked her a few questions to loosen up to the class and perk up your curiosity. Tickets and details can be found here.

What’s the golden rule (without giving away too much info!) to staying alive while tackling both school AND work?

I’m not sure there is a golden rule, but patience and balance are imperative. School and work can both be very demanding. You can still put forth your best effort and attain great success in both, but don’t go crazy trying to achieve perfection. Give yourself lots of breaks!

Were there skillsets that you built from work that were utilized into school? Vice versa?

The great thing about returning to school after working for several years was that I developed a really good sense of project management. That is, I learned how to break down a large task into smaller, manageable bits with real deadlines. I did not approach my undergraduate career in the same way. By the time I went to graduate school, I could say to myself, OK, I have 100 pages to read this week. I won’t go out Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday — I’ll read on each of those 3 nights and a bit on the weekend. And I will try to have fun on Friday and Saturday nights! From work, I learned the importance of collegiality and how to maximize my resources and make the best use of my time.

Is it important or is there a difference that your job role and school criteria be aligned? You worked at MoMA and studied art history so they were aligned. What if I were a hedge fund bro and wanted to study art history? Are there any pitfalls? Does it matter?

It really depends on your personal and professional goals. If I worked in finance, and wanted to exercise a different part of my brain to learn art history, then how cool is that? On paper, it may not advance your career, but you never know. There are plenty of financial jobs within art, especially in the auction houses, and this could be great for pursuing that path.

People go to graduate school for many reasons, but the great part about going as an adult (rather than as a petulant 18 year old doing what you think you should be doing), is that the purpose of going is hopefully to achieve your goals, whether they are to earn more money, study a subject in more depth or gain credentials.

How many classes are too many classes when you’re working full time?

Again, it depends on your job and your program. It’s easy to get ambitious and impatient and try to finish your degree in record time. But I think it’s really important to remember that you don’t want to hate your life. If taking too many classes is a burden, then you will resent your work and school. Take your time, make it easy on yourself. You already get a gold star for advancing your education while working full time!

There is a hefty demographic of folks who decide to go back to school because they can’t find a job. How successful do you think it is, or how much of a gamechanger is it to pick up a wholly new skill in hopes to develop the knowledge to apply to different jobs?

I think the current economy is so unpredictable that it is hard to make heads or tails out of anything! Personally, I think it is a tough expectation to think you will earn a masters degree and then get job x. I would wager that most of us have learned that flexibility is incredibly important for work in the 21st century. The world still needs very specific professions, like graphic design, or nursing or finance. But having a masters in something related, or not, makes you a very attractive candidate for work. It represents a commitment to learning new things and advancement; and what employer doesn’t like that?

How much is school just a useless timesuck?

Hopefully not too much! There were definitely classes that I was reticent to take (e.g. research methods, ugh) and I have friends getting their MBAs that shudder at the thought of their statistics classes. Some classes will be better than others, of course, and then you just have to grin and bear it. As I mentioned earlier, the hope is that because you chose the program because you wanted to, not because you had to, it won’t suck your time too much.

I notice that my memory fails me as I get older. Also, my attention span has short circuited. I can’t possibly imagine reading a textbook or writing a 10 page paper anymore. What are some tips of encouragement you can provide to adults who actually fear going back to school lest they fail?

It sounds really daunting, doesn’t it? When I first had to write a 20 page research paper in graduate school, I got nauseous. Your first semester back will be a transition for sure, and it’s important for you to keep that in mind. I think it helps to give yourself lots of time (but not too much). For something like a 10-page paper, make yourself a little timeline of when you’ll work on it. Be sure to finish a draft a few days before the final is due, set it aside and edit it a day later. Professors told me this all the time as an undergraduate, and I thought they were crazy. But your writing will really improve if you can get some distance from it. Also, set aside blocks of time for school work, and then have fun. When I first returned to graduate school, I would set aside entire weekends to work on papers. Then I would work for 3 hours a day on it, and spend the rest of the time watching “Clean House” and not letting myself go out because I felt too guilty. You’ll have way more fun if you study from say, 12-3PM and then go out and enjoy the day. You’ve earned it!

Any more tips or ideas or suggestions please add!

Be patient! Ask for help! MAKE SURE YOU HAVE FUN!!!!

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