Considering going back to uni but don't want to give up your salary?
This was me in 2020.
I was itching to change the course of my career, find some purpose and get back to my passion for nutrition BUT feeling the pressure of financing my first home and loyalty to my current employer.
I've had quite a few bumps along the way and would have LOVED someone in my position to quiz before I enrolled in a postgraduate degree!
As they say, hindsight is 20/20 so here's some advice from my experience and what you might want to think about before enrolling in a nutrition masters degree alongside employment:
1. Choosing a Nutrition Degree
AfN Accredited Courses
Certain postgraduate nutrition courses will be much easier to keep up with alongside working. Personally, I studied MSc Clinical Nutrition with the University of Aberdeen which is accredited by the Association for Nutrition (AfN), completely online and part-time flexible learning. AfN accreditation was a non-negotioable for me - if it is for you too the AfN keeps a catalogue of accredited courses on its website for undergraduate and postgraduate students. If you'd actually prefer a dietetics degree instead of nutrition check the BDA website for their accredited courses.
Remote Learning Nutrition Degrees
Choosing a nutrition degree which is remote, online delivery, part-time or flexible will be a huge help. This way you can fit studying into your own schedule rather than being committed to lecture timetables. Remote learning degrees typically work by having few fixed contact hours and instead being self-paced. Assessments may be course work based, open-book time limited exams, recording presentations or presenting live on Microsoft Teams. Finding a completely remote learning undergraduate degree might be more difficult.
Living in the North East I struggled to find a course which met all of my criteria even though there are 4 major universities across the region. However, there are definitely multiple on-campus options which offer a 2 year part-time route including Reading, Leeds Beckett, Manchester Met, and Chester.
With respect to undergraduate study, certain aspects of bachelor level nutrition like biochemistry modules, anthropometry and sensory assessment require lab work and practicals on campus. In this case, it may be easier to find a local university which offers part-time studying.
How Much Studying Can You Commit To?
An obvious one but you really need to be realistic about how much time you can commit to studying. Counting out every spare minute you have may be a tad optimistic... For me, a postgraduate nutrition degree has required manyyyy late nights, weekends at my desk and watching lectures on my 7 am commute to work. You may only be at work for 8 hours a day but remember you have to sleep, eat, fill your cup and relax too!
Part-time degrees can last several years depending on how many credits you take per semester so preparing for and preventing burnout is essential. University websites should provide an estimated time commitment per module on course information pages. If you can't see this information, email the university for guidance or contact the course lead directly if their email address is given.
Scheduling Your Semester
At the start of each semester, sit down and collate all of your deadlines, key dates and course content - I love a grid calendar or spreadsheet. Mapping out your schedule is instrumental to assessing how much time you have before submission dates and how many study hours you can commit to out of the total potential hours available. Without a big schedule for each term I would never have been able to fit in several family get togethers, trips home and a holiday to Corfu.
3. Informing Your Employer
Do I Have To Tell My Boss?
It may be a good idea to let your employer know your plans for becoming a student, especially if you're looking to negotiate your hours. I don't believe you're under an obligation to inform your boss so consider your specific situation and check your contract to make this decision. Consider that it will be easier for your boss to be empathetic and accommodating to your change in schedule if you've been transparent about your plans compared to if you keep it a secret and they find out independently. Whilst I was nervous to share my plans, my employer has been super understanding and flexible with my hours if necessary but you'll know best how your company works.
Career Change or Upskilling
Consider if the degree you are looking to start is an obvious change in direction (which may indicate you're planning to eventually hand in your notice) or an opportunity to upskill in your current profession which benefits your employer. Do you plan to stay with your company long term? Are you looking for a promotion? If you're lucky they may be on board to help finance your studies if you present a strong case.
Family & Friends
Having your close ones on board with your plans is a huge help. Discuss how starting a nutrition degree will change your current life with family, friends or your partner so you have an understanding about changes to your schedule or time commitments. You may have to sacrifice a few date nights or miss some events if they clash with important deadlines so best to give your nearest and dearest a heads up early on.
Don't be afraid to ask for support. Whether you ask your partner to take over making dinner for a particularly busy week or recognise you need some professional support for your mental health - don't wait to ask!
Your university will have a student support or wellbeing team which will likely offer a counselling service. At the University of Aberdeen they offer virtual or telephone counselling appointments on a session-by-session basis so you can request one as and when you need it. This might be a great point to add to your checklist when comparing courses.
Even though I've never been to the University of Aberdeen, I've been able to join a community of students on my course (shout out to the WhatsApp group) and connect with peers on Instagram. I cannot tell you how helpful it is to know you're not alone when you have no idea where to start on an assignment!
Your course may have student communities or societies set up already, or you could be the one to kickstart a group. Even if you study from home it doesn't mean you have to do it alone.
Instagram has a fabulous nutrition community and I've made some great friends and connections on the platform. Creating a nutrition Instagram account will open the door to networking with other professionals and students - that's how I landed my internship with TC Nutrition! It can even be helpful for creating revision resources to consolidate your learning and share interesting research.
Got any more questions, let me know!
Thank you for reading this post on Studying a Postgraduate Nutrition Degree Whilst Working Full Time. Hopefully you found some nuggets of wisdom here!
Nutrition Upon Tyne