McGill students find employment for all sorts of reasons: Paying bills, accumulating spending money, or gaining valuable field experience. While working during the school year helps boost financial independence and time-management skills, it comes with its share of challenges.
For many students, taking on a job while still in school opens the door to new opportunities. Mikhaela Neelin, BSc. ‘18, worked 20-hour weeks during her undergraduate career so that she could live independently and still be able to travel. Working while in school provided Neelin with enriching experiences that, otherwise, would have been out of reach.
“It allowed me to go on long trips during my bachelor’s degree, including McGill’s Africa Field Study semester in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania,” Neelin said.
Despite these benefits, Neelin had to make certain sacrifices when she first started working during the academic year.
“I loved getting to explore so much of the world without [going] into debt, but I was often distracted from my studies and could not be as involved in gaining practical lab experience as I would have liked to be,” Neelin said. “I had to stop running on the track team because of time conflicts, and my grades suffered as I juggled all of my commitments. It’s a question of priorities, and mine were more about experiences than they were about grades.”
During this time, Neelin learned to develop her time-management and schedule-making skills to balance her academic and professional responsibilities. Though Neelin is proud of her practicality as she adjusted to life as a working student, she cautions that taking on too much can affect one’s friendships and community-building opportunities. In her experience, balancing part-time employment with full-time studies puts a dent in a person’s spare time, which can make it difficult to connect with friends.
“I woke up very early, and free time was next to nonexistent,” Neelin said. “My answer to ‘want to hang out’ was almost guaranteed to be ‘I’m busy,’ and ‘Netflix and chill’ was an idea I only heard about in memes.”
Angela Novaković (U2 Sciences) thrives on her busy schedule. Last year, she worked around 13 hours a week at the McLennan Library, volunteered as a French tutor and in Dr. Tomislav Friščić’s chemistry laboratory, and juggled a 15-credit course load. To manage the demands placed on working students, Novaković prioritizes academics, while still remembering to take care of herself. She never studies after midnight and generally manages to fit in seven hours of sleep every night. The key to the work-life balance is just that—balance.
“You’ll have fun, and [working through school] is going to help you organize yourself in a better manner,” Novaković said.
Working a part-time job while studying full-time can seem daunting, but it can become a social activity, which may also help develop a professional network. As young workers, making the right connections can give students a leg up on their competition when preparing to enter the job market full-time. According to Novaković, the connections made on campus can also benefit a person’s mental health and academic life.
“By studying and working on campus, I have met new people who have become like a family to me,” Novaković said. “It allowed me to share and receive tips and tricks about classes that I took or was about to take.”
Novaković also highlighted the importance of enjoying one’s part-time job, noting that it helps reduce stress by creating a welcome break from academic pressure. At the library, she had fun with her coworkers and found completing tasks as simple as finding the proper reference book for a student’s course rewarding. Ultimately, Novaković recalled a sense of pride in giving back to the McGill community.