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7 Study Tips for Mid-Career Professionals

Published: 2015-10-19

So you’re heading back to the classroom after a break of perhaps many years? Good for you! This post will outline some tips to help you gain the most from the experience without having too much impact on your life.

Why are you studying?

The first thing to figure out is your motivation for taking a course, and to make sure that you choose wisely. Are you going after a qualification that is going to help you progress in your career? Are you learning because you want to update your knowledge and skills? Read the course outlines carefully and check for synergy between what they offer and what you’re looking for. Ensure that the level of the course is appropriate for you – not too junior and not too advanced. It will be so much easier to be motivated if you have a clear objective in mind for your studies. If your company is sponsoring your training, then make sure the course fits in with their requirements too. For example, there may be benefits such as SDL and BBBEE points that your company can gain by sending you on appropriately accredited training courses.

Ask questions

Talk to people that have already completed the courses that you are considering and ask them how it has helped them in their careers. Also, telephone or make an appointment to meet with the course convenors if you have any specific questions that are not covered in the course outlines.

Go for it!

Now that you have chosen the course that is right for you, it’s time to get started. Begin with making sure you know exactly what’s expected of you in terms of assignments, exams and class attendance. Map out time in your schedule accordingly and do your utmost to protect this time. Get buy-in from your manager as to the importance of giving your best to your studies, without compromising your work performance.

Manage your time

Any change in your life will require some adjustments so be prepared for these both practically and psychologically. You may need to make some trade-offs while you’re studying such as watching fewer reruns of Big Bang Theory, or skipping a golf game or fishing trip here or there. Talk to loved ones ahead of time and explain the potential impacts on your time too. Perhaps they’ll even enjoy extra take-away meals on class days! One of my favourite time-management tools is the Pomodoro Technique, which might work for you too. I’m using a handy Pomodoro app on my phone as we speak to help me to complete this blog post on time. Essentially, the technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks of 5 minutes each. These work intervals are known as "pomodoros", which is the Italian word for tomatoes.  The technique was named after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that its developer, Francesco Cirillo, originally used to help him keep on task during his studies.

Note-taking techniques

Finding a note-taking technique that works for you will make a big difference as to how much of the information you will absorb and retain over time. If you’re keeping up with all the material as the course progresses, then any tests or exams will go much more smoothly. Two of my favourites are the Cornell technique and mind-mapping. However, it won’t matter how great your notes are, if you don’t refer back to them. Studies have shown that we are likely to forget as much as 80% of material that we learn in class in just 2 weeks if we don’t review the material again. The first review should ideally happen within 24 hours of the class, and then periodically again throughout the course.

Take care of yourself

It’s tempting to grab a chocolate and fizzy drink on your way to class, but keep an eye on your health too so that you are at your best both physically and mentally. Drink enough water, get enough sleep and exercise, and eat healthily for optimal performance.

Stay the course

Hang in there and keep your eye on the goal when things get tough. Remind yourself of your original objectives for studying. Ask for help when you need it, and be there for others if they need help. Consider forming study groups to keep each other focused and maintain momentum.

All the best with your studies!

Carol Mould

Carol is an Industrial-Organisational Psychologist registered with the HPCSA in independent practice. She is also an experienced facilitator, trainer, consultant and coach, and currently heads up the Project Management and Leadership portfolio at Faculty Training Institute. She has been associated with FTI in various capacities for the past 14 years.

Her main interests lie in project management, entrepreneurship, career development, change and conflict management, as well as individual and group performance and growth. She has a special interest in supporting mid-career professionals during career transitions, whether within the corporate world or branching out into self-employment and entrepreneurial ventures.

Carol regularly presents papers at conferences, and has acted in the role of peer reviewer for conference papers and as an external examiner for the Masters in Project Management at UCT. She has honours degrees in information systems, and psychology, and a master’s degree in organisational psychology.


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