The tug of war between work and study
Is a student's only responsibility towards their academics? In a perfect world, it probably is. In reality, students are also required to work jobs to secure their financial independence, contribute to their family, and sustain their education.
However, balancing work and academics is not easy. With the constant stress of academics coupled with regular deadlines at work, it becomes quite difficult for a student to find the right balance. With each end demanding full dedication and effort, a tug of war emerges for them between academics and work.
Rashidul Hassan, an engineering student at North South University (NSU), works as a remote content writer in a reputed software company. For him, managing both work and academics has not come easy.
"My work hours are from 1 PM to 8 PM. I have to attend classes while working. When classes were online, I was able to manage working simultaneously, but I actually do not know how I will manage now that classes are offline. Transport will take a lot of time and I'll have to go to work with a tired body and mind. Amidst this, I have to hold on to my academics as it matters a lot to me and my future goals," he says.
While it may not be part of the dream we are sold as children, it's quite common to come across students who have to pay their own cost of education. "I have to pay a sizable portion of my tuition fees, and so working is imminent to me," adds Rashidul.
Many jobs require flexible timings from students, often calling them to attend office at odd times. These really hamper the other activities a student might be involved in, personal or familial concerns, and especially their academics.
For Faiyaz Hossain, a computer engineering student at NSU and a home tutor, it's a similar story. "Even on days when I had an important exam the next day, I was called suddenly by my students to go and teach them or take extra classes. I could not refuse because it is my responsibility to teach them. Also, I did not want to give the wrong impression, which could later result in losing the job," Faiyaz shares.
Stories like Faiyaz's are not a one-off, as often the rigours of a job get in the smooth maintenance of studies. It takes a lot of support from faculty members to walk this tightrope, but the stances of faculty members vary on this.
Tanvir Rahman, former lecturer of BRAC University, believes that even while working, the first priority for a student must be their academics.
"In any situation, work-life balance is very important for a student, as students become industry-ready by the time they graduate. Industry-ready graduates get a head start which cannot be said for those who do not work on the side while studying," he says.
"The first priority should be studying," Tanvir asserts. "Being industry-ready and gaining knowledge about real world tasks will only come to use if someone has decent results to be called up for interviews. Decent results also show whether a student was sincere or not, a quality recruiters often look for when they seek potential employees."
Mehetaz Chowdhury, a lecturer at BRAC University says, "Students should not put pressure on themselves by working if they have the choice of not doing so. Working definitely teaches you a lot of skills, and gives you a sense of responsibility, but many students fall prey to the allure of earning money."
Echoing Tanvir's statement, Mehetaz says, "If someone is working for financial independence, it is important that they keep a hold on their academics, too. Academics is important, and it opens a lot of dimensions for a student. They get to learn about which subjects their interest lies in, and work on that."
Speaking about what faculty members can do to accommodate students who work, Mehetaz adds, "A faculty member will always understand if you can absolutely demonstrate that you are passionate about your work. We have the best interests for students."
However, this hasn't been the experience for all students. Shimin Mushsharat, a former CSE student from NSU, shares, "Many teachers assume their courses aren't being prioritised if they find out students are working. Teachers often don't consider pushing dates for tests even if they clash with other courses."
Reaching out to faculty members for help often feels difficult for students. Shehrin Kazi, a student at the Institute of Business Administration, University of Dhaka, made the mistake of not communicating her work pressure. "I never let any of my teachers know the problems I was going through. I tried to take all the pressure on myself because somewhere in my mind I felt like this was the right way," she tells us.
"But since my CGPA was drastically dropping, I thought maybe putting a bit more pressure on myself academically would do the work," Shehrin recounts. "At the end of the semester I realised I had to reduce my work pressure because this chaos wasn't beneficial to my physical and mental health."
The perspective of faculty members who have taught working students is also integral to understanding the issue.
Samiha Haque, Lecturer of CSE at BRAC University reports, "I accepted assignments from a working student on the last day of grade submission without imposing any penalty. I took a quiz and maybe two vivas, but still couldn't help much as he told me about his issues on the last day. I did all I could to help him, but by then it was too late."
She does have some advice working students, "Start balancing work and study from the beginning of the semester rather than cramming at the very last moment. Students should communicate with their respective faculties and department beforehand rather than at the last minute. Finally, take less credits which will ensure reduced stress."
Employers too can play a crucial role in making sure working students get to strike a healthy balance between these two facets of their life. Providing flexible work hours, and discussing the scope of responsibilities beforehand to make sure the pressure doesn't break the student are among some of the most basic things in this regard.
Samiha Tahsin, CEO and co-founder of Bonton Connect has experience being on both ends of this situation, having launched her start-up during her undergraduate years and now having students working for her company. Talking about hiring students, Samiha says, "Even though academics is very important, a lot of the time it is up to how skilful the student is at their job."
"The biggest challenge of dealing with part-timers who are key factors in full-scale operations is that the span of control they have on their own routine is very little," explains Ashraful Haque Emu, Deputy Manager at 10 Minute School.
"These are highly ambitious and passionate students who already want a part of the big changes. We have to be very considerate towards their academics while keeping the operations intact. As most of our operations can be run online, we have a lenient schedule to figure out the free time and work accordingly. As long as the deliverables are arriving on time, we don't need any hard and fast office hours to maintain integrity," Emu says.
It takes as much understanding on the part of employers and faculty members to accommodate working students, as it takes excellent planning and work ethic by the students to make this situation work.
Regardless, when societal expectations and personal needs give no option but to take on the challenge of juggling both roles, communicating actively with everyone around seems like the best route to take on this journey.