Sarah Gilchrist has been at the heart of the English Institute of Sport’s Sport Science Support for the last 4 Olympic cycles. On leaving earlier this year, she’d completed the last three Olympic Cycles as technical lead at the EIS and has been in front line physiology roles for GB Badminton (in the lead up to Athens Olympics) and a senior physiologist with GB Rowing between 2007-2016. Sarah’s nearly completed her doctorate in fatigue management in elite sport and is currently applying her knowledge to herself in preparation for her second child!
‘’The hardest part is starting it’’. That was the best piece of advice I received before signing up for a course of study in addition to my full-time job. Useful advice at a time when I was reticent about starting a study programme which I hoped would be beneficial to my career, development and intellectual capacity, but had fears about it impacting on my job and ultimately my life. I liked by husband, family and friends, I enjoyed having the time to hang out with them and in a job that demanded a lot of my time already, did I really want to add to my busy schedule with even more study?
I had thought my student days were long gone, but there had always been a nagging in the back of my mind to give it one more go and achieve my goal of achieving doctorate status. The challenge was finding a study angle that worked for me, be relevant for my job and provide opportunities in the future. Plus, there was also the pressure of if you don’t do this but others do, what can you then bring to the party instead? This played heavily on my mind, alongside considering how I’d feel if I didn’t just go for it.
Returning to study during your working life can be a hugely rewarding decision and is often encouraged in the workplace. Doctors, teachers, engineers for example, routinely strive for more qualifications throughout their professional working life and in an age where competition in the workplace is high, having the extra edge over your peers can be advantageous for stepping up the career ladder.
The temptation is to be complacent, particularly if you’ve reached a point in your career where you’re relatively experienced and can ‘get by’ with that experience. A fear of the unknown and what undue pressures and time constraints may befall you if you undertake studying alongside working can be reasons for not jumping at opportunities that come your way. This is where managing your energy and expectations are crucial, so here’s some tips on saving your precious energy once you’ve decided to take the plunge into the deep pool of swotting and working.
Look at where there are known ‘crunch’ points at work and if these clash with study commitments. Try to avoid a clash and allow yourself time away from your study programme during these phases. My crunch point was always in March and I dreaded it. All aspects of my varied role collided in March, so for that month I decided to forget about my study commitments which saved energy, eased pressure and maintained my sanity.
Having a good support network is key. Use your line manager, study supervisor, peers and frankly anyone else who can help you, particularly when you’re hitting pressure points, be it deadlines or exams. Don’t just limit this to work either; get a cleaner, dog walker, anyone who can save you time and energy, even if just a temporary fix whilst you get through a pressure phase with work and study.
Make it relevant to your role. Broadening your horizons is fantastic but if you’re serious about working and studying try to make the study part relevant to your role or career path. Your chosen ‘Mastermind’ topic can wait until retirement! Focus on efficient use of your time in terms of studying an area that’s going to impact on your career development and means the learning becomes part of your working life and not something separate which could become a chore.
In other words, get your sleep and downtime nailed. You won’t be able to perform optimally at work or study if sleep deprived or too tired from rushing around. Try to ensure regular routines for bed time and get up time and use your downtime wisely. Take the opportunity to chill out when you can, even if just for a short period of time, and do it regularly throughout the week. You’ll find creative thinking for your studying improves just from having some ‘time out’ on a regular basis.
Fabulous for conserving energy and ensuring good health when working and studying. Of course, the odd takeaway won’t do any harm but on the whole, try to eat a healthy, well balanced diet as this will stand you in good stead for maintaining your health whilst burning through the brain cells. You’ll feel more energised and prepared for work and study from eating healthily compared to energy sapped from a diet of takeaway’s and ready meals.
Again, a brilliant way to maintain health and also a means of having a good think when writers clock kicks in with your studies. Blow the cobwebs away with a run or go for a swim, cycle or walk to provide some clarity of thought and get the blood pumping.
Above all enjoy your time of development in the workplace. Recognise there’ll be times where it does all happen at once and yes, you will be tired, but find ways to recover and renew your energy levels ready for Round 2. Remember its harder starting than doing and if you don’t do it, most likely someone else will……
About Sarah Gilchrist
Gilchrist Performance is focused on providing expert consultancy on a variety of topics relating to High Performance Sport and Sports Science. For more information please visit www.gilchristperformance.co.uk