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Leesa Ward

7 May 2020

How SEBE student Leesa has mastered study–life balance!

Leesa Ward is in her third year of a Bachelor of Information Technology, majoring in programming and application development. In her time at Deakin, she’s been both a Cloud and on-campus student.

We chatted to Leesa about how flexibility is the key to uni success.

What do you enjoy most about university?

Waurn Ponds is a beautiful campus and it’s great to be able to enjoy the scenery, atmosphere and shared mindset of being there to learn. I started as a Cloud student and changed to Waurn Ponds last year. I still do some units via Cloud if they aren’t offered on‑campus.

I also enjoy formal study because it gives me measurable goals to work towards (and deadlines to push me to meet them!).

What’s been the most difficult part of adjusting to online study?

Studying in the same physical space that I work. I’ve had my own part-time business for a decade, and I’ve never been very good at separating study time from work time! It’s part of the reason I switched to campus study. Sometimes it’s good to let everything blur and switch between tasks throughout the day, but not all the time – so it’s tough not having the physical separation of going to campus.

I’m fortunate enough to be able to set up different rooms for different purposes at home, so unless I really need to be at my desk with its ‘proper’ computer set-up, I study in a different area now, which helps.

Have you used any services or resources on campus and how did they help?

I feel like I’m still fairly new to campus and while I made a point of learning about the services available, I haven’t used any yet. During my first degree, I attended the equivalent of PASS sessions, which were absolutely priceless. If any become available for units I’m studying at Deakin, I will definitely be attending!

How do you fit your study around the rest of your life? Do you have a routine?

I see my best results when I have a fairly solid routine – I chose to study at TAFE a while back because it’s so structured. But now as a mature-age student living independently, I’ve had to learn to be a bit more flexible.

I remember once sitting in the waiting room at the vet with a sick cat, and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do the revision I had planned for that morning. It threw my whole week into disarray because I’d planned to do so much that I hadn’t left room for minor interruptions.

So I try to have a routine, but build ‘slack time’ into it. If I get sick, a pet gets sick (or just really needs a run around the park!), or something else can’t wait, I can move things around.

What are your top tips for preparing for exams?

I work through as many past and sample exam questions as possible. If there’s no exam papers available for a unit, or not many, I’ll look for chapter questions in the textbook and related texts to test my own knowledge and ability to communicate it, and identify anything I need to revise.

How do you stay mentally, socially and physically well to juggle all the things in your schedule?

I eat well – fortunately for me, my partner likes to cook! I have two dogs who push me to get away from the desk and go outside, and I take ballet classes, which are great for both physical and mental health.

My employment situation has a big impact on my ability to juggle. A shift for me happened after my first trimester, when I started a new job with a shorter commute and more flexible hours, at a company that supports my outside endeavours. Not only does that help me manage my studies better than before, but it’s enabled me to participate more fully in my hobbies.

Obviously not all jobs are like this and students usually aren’t able to be picky, but I think it’s important to acknowledge the impact our employment has after we’ve made sure we can pay our bills. It might be as simple as looking for casual work where you can easily take a week off at exam time, or somewhere that lets you block out Wednesday nights for netball training.

What’s one thing you’d tell a student starting their uni journey?

I’ve noticed a lot of students are very averse to reducing their study load. Life gets in the way of study sometimes, and some students push themselves so hard they crash because they feel like taking more than three years to do their degree is some kind of failure. It isn’t.

I only study two or three units per trimester so I can balance uni with work. For Centrelink purposes, three units is still full-time. You’re better off taking longer and doing better than pushing yourself to finish but not reaching your potential. I took three-and-a-half years to do my first degree and not once has an employer seen that on my resume and questioned it.

Keep in mind that Deakin also has Trimester 3, which can help you spread your load with minimal impact on your course duration anyway!

Your biggest achievement in your study so far?

My results at Deakin are on par with my previous studies, and it’s an achievement to have kept them there when I’m juggling study with more responsibilities now.

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