An honest review of studying whilst working full time

by Catriona Quinn

Thursday, June 27th, 2019

Balancing a Masters Degree with agency life

Catriona Quinn is a member of the award-winning PR team at Holyrood PR agency in Edinburgh, Scotland

MY NAME is Cat and I am currently learning how to work full-time.  

That might sound silly because I do actually have a full-time job at Holyrood PR. But for the last 18 months, a huge chunk of my life has been consumed with part-time higher education and I haven’t known anything else.

Prior to joining the team here, I started an MSc in PR and strategic communication with Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh (QMU). I completed my undergraduate degree in International Politics but after graduating in 2017, I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to pursue.

The MSc course at QMU opened up some fantastic doors for me – in fact, it led me straight to Holyrood PR via a networking event for industry internships.

When I got offered a job with HPR during that internship, I knew it was too good an opportunity not to take. So, I put on a brave face about losing my weekends and evenings to uni and powered through it.

This is a disclaimer for anyone thinking of doing the same: it is not easy to work and study at the same time. I cannot sugar coat that for you.

Work and study are two huge commitments in themselves and I wanted to give equal attention to both. I desperately didn’t want the quality of anything I produced in the office to be affected by other work I was doing in my spare time.

I also still wanted to have ‘a life’. This is a tricky one as well because you do have to sacrifice some of your precious weekends to make sure you’re meeting deadlines, doing research and attending classes. There were times where I felt quite lonely in my studies because you just don’t get the same social interaction that you might typically get in an undergraduate degree (read: there are not as many nights out when you get to Masters level!)

But I wouldn’t be writing a blog post about my experience if I’d thought it had all been negative, or not worth my while. I’d actually recommend it to anyone.

It has introduced me to things very early in my career that might only traditionally have come with years of experience, like PR strategy, campaign planning and stakeholder engagement. In a way, it was the perfect way to learn; by being on the job and learning the theory behind it at the same time. I could easily see things in my day-to-day role that I had heard about a few weeks prior in the classroom.

It has also taught me to be super disciplined with time management and meeting deadlines, as well as how to work ethically, how to work with a campaign mindset and how to demonstrate value to clients in modern public relations practice. These are all things I do now on a daily basis.

Thankfully, while I’ve been doing all of this, the team have been great and totally understanding of my unique situation. From taking part in my final dissertation study to picking up extra work, they have not only supported me but encouraged me throughout. A strong support network is key.

While it definitely wasn’t easy at times, I know the hours and effort I have put into the degree will stand me in good stead not just for my day job, but for the rest of my career. Plus, the QMU course is CIPR-recognised, and with one year of experience under my belt, I can advance my membership from Associate (ACIPR) to Member (MCIPR).

Continuing with the theme of “every day’s a school day”, I’m now learning how to only work five days a week, and learning what a totally free weekend looks like. If you’re interested, it’s a lot of sleeping, some exercise, plenty of eating and drinking and enjoying myself.

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Cat Catriona Quinn PR agency Edinburgh Holyrood PR

Catriona Quinn

Senior Account Executive Catriona Quinn is part of the multi-award-winning PR team at Holyrood PR, a leading Scottish PR agency

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