A Positive Experience of Studying while Working Full-Time

Ranjit Sidhu is a change management expert and founder of ChangeQuest, a company delivering change management training courses and consulting. Ranjit recently completed a Masters in Internal Communication Management, delivered in partnership between the Institute of Internal Communication and Solent University, while continuing to work full-time at ChangeQuest. Her positive experience of full-time work alongside research-level study is an inspiration to anyone considering further education.

Here’s what she had to say about the experience.

What made you decide to do this particular Masters course with the Institute of Internal Communications (IOIC)?

I was keen to challenge myself, stretch myself, learn something new but what struck me about this course in particular was the fact that it brought change management and communication together. I could see that it was talking about a wide range of different types of change, dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity, as well as covering a wide breadth of theory around communication. The areas of communication and change are what I am passionate about so it was the perfect combination.

Expanding your knowledge in new areas and stretching yourself are clearly benefits to completing this Master's Course, but what other benefits did you get from completing the course?

So much more than expected. I knew I would learn more and that the course would stretch and challenge me. But I didn’t expect the depth of analysis and critical thinking that was involved – and this was a big benefit as these are skills I wanted to improve. Also, I gained a much deeper appreciation for robust, research backed theory to underpin the work I do.

I was not aware of the extent to which internal communication practitioners can influence at all levels across the organisation, working strategically and tactically. Gaining a stronger appreciation of internal communication practices has helped me better understand how to join these up more effectively with managing, delivering and leading organisational change.

So that deeper appreciation of the theory and broadening of your knowledge of communication has really helped you in your day job, whether that's training or consulting?

Yes, exactly. Having more knowledge and understanding of the underpinning theory along with better critical analysis skills, has given me more confidence in applying that theory. Before, I would typically suggest or advise an approach based on standard best practice or the fact that I have seen it work elsewhere; now I am combining that with deeper understanding of theory as well. So it is easier to explain ‘why’ an approach is suggested and I feel more confidence around how to put the theory into practice. This is what I have been doing a lot more of in the last year and it was an unexpected shift in the way I work.

What were the greatest challenges studying while also working full-time as Director of ChangeQuest?

The greatest challenges were time and having the thinking space for this level of studying. It takes a lot of brain energy, effort and headspace. At the same time, I was putting a lot of effort into creating new ways of working and adapting our business to work in the virtual space because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. So the two key challenges were time and creating that headspace to be able to do the quality thinking that was needed.

Given that you were studying during the coronavirus pandemic, how did that affect your learning and research?

For one thing, the IOIC lecturers were absolutely amazing at how quickly they adapted at very short notice to virtual learning. We had already established relationships in the group prior to the pandemic so, in that respect, it was easier to go virtual because the relationships were already there. For this course we only had two days each quarter in the classroom anyway. It was an easy transition, and there was no commuting, which was an added bonus.

What tips or techniques could you give others trying to manage their time studying for a further qualification while working?

I don't think there is any magic wand with this. It takes a lot of discipline It can feel like a mammoth task and the pace is relentless. There is a constant feeling of something hanging over you that needs to be done, either more reading or writing assignments. The only way to tackle it is to break it down into really, small chunks so that it feels more manageable. For instance, just read one chapter from a book or a paper, or write 200 words for one section of the assignment. And not only break the work down into smaller tasks but actually schedule these into your calendar to make sure you set time aside to do them. That was my way of dealing with it - you get a greater sense of achievement that way and you can track your progress better as well.

Time management is key, and you really have to get the whole family on board. Have open conversations with your family beforehand to talk about what it is likely to involve, how much support you will need, the sacrifices that need to be made. This doesn’t just impact you; it impacts your whole family, and these conversations help to set and agree realistic expectations of each other.

What particular skills have you developed from taking the IOIC Masters course?

Along with the time management I think I have got better at being able to focus on the thing that I am supposed to be doing, like write the next 100 words for the assignment, rather than have my mind spinning around thinking about the pile of other stuff that needs to be dealt with. I am much better at keeping a clear head to focus on the task at hand and parking the other things.

How have these improved skills helped in your day-to-day role guiding others to successfully deal with constant emerging change?

I guess I am relying more on robust research and theory to inform my approach and this combined with more critical analysis is shaping how I work with clients. I feel I have also updated my knowledge with the latest thinking in the areas of emergent change, dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity. This is helping me make sense of how to guide others to navigate the current times - these very unique times that we find ourselves in.

What advice would you give someone think of taking a Further Education course but concerned about the time commitment?

If you really want to do it, and your heart says it's the right thing for you to do, just do it, the rest can be worked out. And, have the conversations upfront with your employer (if you are in work) and with your family members to set expectations about what is realistic. But all that stuff can be worked out. If you really want to do it, you will find a way!

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