When Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer famously banned telecommuting by employees, her decision brought into stark relief the challenges that working mothers face. But what about the growing segment of population that is taking on this holy trinity of challenges: parenthood, a thriving career and continuing education? Parenting itself is no easy task, and when combined with the pressures of holding full-time jobs and pursuing advanced degrees, it can be challenging, to say the least. Nevertheless, this tricky balancing act can be accomplished, says Dan Urman of Northeastern University. As Director of the Doctorate in Law & Policy program at Northeastern, Urman works with professionals who have thriving executive-level careers as well as families with young children. He offers these tips for success for individuals who are considering enrolling in continuing education programs.
1. Ensure family support. Needless to say, not much can be accomplished without support from immediate family members, especially the spouse. “Make a commitment beforehand and let your family know that, during the program, you aren’t going to be as available as you’ve been in the past,” says Urman. He adds that it is also valuable to enlist help from the family’s support system, including the in-laws, and avail of quality child care programs.
2. Choose a program that is somewhat limited in time frame. Urman says that a program that enables one to graduate or obtain a certification in a shorter time period is more attractive than one in which the required time commitment is longer. For example, the Doctorate in Law & Policy program at Northeastern is able to condense the time it takes to obtain a terminal doctorate to 24 months; as a typical doctoral program takes years longer, the shorter time frame that Northeastern offers appeals to students.
3. Manage time effectively. The many demands of parenthood, a career and education require a tough balancing act. However, one can meet these demands by establishing a routine and adhering to it. Whether it is by doing some of the work after putting kids to bed or getting up to work before the family is up, this can be done. “Our students have incredibly busy schedules, but often they can carve out little bits of time,” says Urman. “Our program allows individuals to log in to discussion boards early in the morning before the family is up and the workday begins.”
4. Ensure support from employers. Before embarking on a continuing education program, it is critical to obtain commitment from the employer. An employer who has a vested interest in employees’ career development understands that continuing education programs make better employees.
5. Sign up for hybrid programs. Hybrid education combines the best of what traditional classroom instruction and online learning can offer. Urman says that because the Doctorate in Law & Policy program at Northeastern is a hybrid education program, it makes it possible for much of the content to be delivered online. Students can also submit assignments and papers online and do not have to sit through a large number of classes. However, they still get the benefit of in-person interactions with educators when they meet once a month on site at Northeastern.
Urman acknowledges that following these guidelines is only part of the commitment. He urges prospective students to have realistic expectations. “Know that you are going to have to make a sacrifice. You are coming into this program with your professional and personal commitments. Often your plates are already full, and something has to give.”
The Doctorate in Law & Policy at Northeastern University is currently the only doctoral program of its kind in the United States. Students meet on site at Northeastern’s downtown Boston campus once a month to attend in-person lectures. The hybrid structure of this practice-based 24-month doctoral program attracts students from locations as varied as California, Texas and Illinois.