WriteCast Episode 7: Balancing School, Work, and Family: An interview with Writing Center Manager Amy Kubista
© Walden University Writing Center 2014
AMY: [Teaser]: It has been very eye-opening and I have to say that I respect students a whole lot more now that I’m actually going through the process.
NIK: Welcome to WriteCast, a Casual conversation for serious writers. I’m Nikolas Nadeau. Today, I’m talking with Amy Kubista, a Walden EdD student and the manager of writing instructional services in Walden’s Writing Center.
Thanks so much for joining us today, Amy.
AMY: Well, thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here, Nik.
NIK: So can you tell us a little bit about your role here at the Writing Center?
AMY: My first three years at the Writing Center, I was a writing instructor. So, I conducted paper reviews and taught webinars, but now I am currently the manager of writing instructional services for the Writing Center, which means I oversee the writing instructors.
NIK: So Amy, you’re in the EdD program here at Walden, correct?
NIK: That means that you’re essentially a student as well as a manager at the same time at Walden. Most people aren’t in that kind of situation, so what is that like?
AMY: My concurrent role as manager and student at Walden has been a really interesting and fun one. I am currently enrolled, as you said, Nik, in the EdD program and my specialization is in higher education and adult learning. Because of that, there’s a lot of overlap between my job as manager and my role as student. Right now I’m in the process of finishing up my final course, and I’m starting to delve into the prospectus. I have a whole new appreciation for students and the requirements and the pressures they’re under while doing their courses. The coursework and delving into the daunting task of writing the prospectus has been way more time-intensive and has required a lot more effort and brainpower on my end than I had ever anticipated. And I’ve had the opportunity to be familiar with these documents and to see students in their struggles before taking this on myself. So, it has been very eye-opening, and I have to say that I respect students a whole lot more now that I’m actually going through the process.
NIK: As a writing instructor here at the Writing Center, it’s often hard for me to see all of that time-crunching, that time management—that just seems that it would be really stressful and it’s not always something that’s easily detectable from my side of things. So I’m wondering, how do you set aside time to write for your coursework at Walden, and what is your writing process like?
AMY: That’s a great question, Nik. I have found that the key for myself in managing my time is to not only verbally but mentally set aside time for myself to write. And when I say “verbally” I mean I have to actually tell someone when I’m going to be doing my homework. I have two children, and my time to do my homework and my writing is after they go to bed. So, um, my husband knows that from 7:30 to 9:30 each evening, I am going to go into my office and close my door, and that is my time to do my homework. It keeps me accountable because if I’m not in there, he’s wondering why I’m not in there or if there’s something that’s distracting me, such as the dishes or maybe a sick kid, that’s preventing me from doing that. And so he’s helping keep me accountable. Mentally, I do it as well, so that I know every evening I’m going to spend some time in my office doing homework. And I know if I don’t schedule that time that I won’t set that time aside. At the beginning of the week, if I just leave it to fate, as in “I will do my homework when I have time,” it won’t happen. So, I have to, at the beginning of my week, really sit down and schedule my time so that I make sure and get that homework time in.
NIK: Yeah, it sounds, Amy, like what I used to call in college an “accountabilibuddy.” You know, a buddy—in this case, your husband—who keeps you accountable. Um, and I think all of us need that regardless of, you know, what stage we’re at in the writing process.
So, Amy, you’ve mentioned your husband and your two kids, and I’m just wondering, from your perspective—given that you have such a full schedule both professionally and personally, raising a family—what motivates you to that long-term goal of seeking a degree?
AMY: My pursuit of a doctoral degree has been a dream of mine since I was an undergraduate. It was always something I wanted to do, and now that I have kids, I want them to see me pursuing that goal and accomplishing that goal. So really, my kids are my motivation, because I want to be a good role model for them. I want them to be able to learn things such as delaying satisfaction, pursuing a goal even when it gets tough, and I also want to instill the idea that education is important. I openly talk about doing homework in front of my kids all the time, and I can see the effects it has. My husband and I were chuckling the other day because in my office I set up a little table for my kids where they have crayons, pens, they have a little basket of scrap paper, and sometimes when I’m doing homework they will come in there and color or draw because they see me working and then they want to work, too. But the other day, my three-year-old came up to me and said, “Mommy, I’ll be right back” and I said “Well where are you going, Sweetie?” and she said, “I’m gonna go do homework.” And she went into the office and closed the door, like I often do, and when we opened the door a crack and peeked in, sure enough, she was sitting at her little desk with her pen in hand and she was practicing her letter of the week, which is the letter Z. So she was mimicking me in the fact that she was “doing homework,” but she’s already learning that education is important and that education is something that you actually have to invest time in—it’s not something that just happens to you.
NIK: That is so cute. I think we need to see, like, a home video version of that eventually.
So when you say that your motivation is your children, I think, um—that’s really inspiring and probably something that a lot of our audience can resonate with. So, given that that’s your motivation, how do you achieve a workable balance between your professional work, your academic work, and also your personal and family time?
AMY: Well I have found that there are three main things that help me achieve that balance. The first is time. It’s that time-management piece, carving out time so that I know in the evenings I have that specific two hours that I devote, and then that way, I’m not worrying about it throughout the day when I’m playing with my kids or making dinner; I’m not worrying about my assignment or how I’m going to fit in time to respond to a discussion post. I know that I have that time carved out, and that takes the pressure off to some degree. So, having that time piece, um, is really crucial.
The second thing I have found to be important is space. A while back, I was doing my homework and I would set up my computer at the kitchen table or I would take my textbook and curl up in bed before going to sleep and try to do some homework there. And it just wasn’t working out because I could see my homework when we were eating dinner and it was on my mind, or I was bringing homework into my bedroom, which I prefer to think of as a sanctuary or a relaxing place. So, what my husband and I did is we reconfigured our house a bit. Instead of letting our two kids each have their own rooms, they now share a room, and we converted our third bedroom into an office. And this way, I have a specific space where I do my work. I’m not leaving my materials on the kitchen table where I see them and they’re a constant reminder. I’m not bringing the stress into my bedroom. I have a very carved-out space where I do my homework. And, most importantly, the office has a door, so that when I’m finished at the end of the day or at 9:30 when I decide to be done with my homework, I can shut that door and I can mentally shut it out of my mind for a little while. And I think that’s really crucial in being successful as a student, is having that separation, being able to compartmentalize: Now it’s time for homework, and when I’m done with it, now it’s family time, or now it’s time to go to work. That was one thing I really struggled with before is that it was constantly overlapping, and I was constantly stressed out that I was forgetting something, that I wasn’t doing something, that I wasn’t paying enough attention to my kids. But now that I am able to say “here is a time and here is a space to do my homework,” it has been really helpful.
And the third thing that I have found to be super helpful is coffee.
NIK: Oh yeah, coffee. Well, I do the route of chocolate, but that’s basically the same thing. Um, so Amy, a lot of our students, as you know, come in to Walden professionally accomplished; uh, they’re doing a lot of really exciting things in their careers; like you, they’re balancing family and other commitments outside of their academics. Um, but I think one difference is that, you know, you obviously are very skilled in writing and you have a lot of experience in that area—I mean you’re the manager of writing services, you know? So, not all students may feel as confident in their writing. So, what advice do you have for students who might not view writing as their strongest point?
AMY: The best advice that I can offer is to keep with it. Writing is something that you’re not born knowing how to do. It’s a skill that you actually have to learn. And, just like any skill, if you want to be better at it, you have to practice it. I would also suggest to students not to be discouraged by feedback by your peers or your instructors. To get constructive criticism and feedback on something so personal and something so close to your heart is really difficult at times, so try not to take it personally. I think that was something really as an undergraduate. I remember getting a paper back from one of my professors, and there was more red from her pen than black from the computer printer. I mean, she had marked it up so much, and to the point where my eyes teared up, I couldn’t read what she had written because I was so upset, and I think she realized later how devastating that was or could have been for me and actually pulled me aside and said, “You know what, I see a lot of potentially here, that’s why I was being so hard on you.” So always take criticism and feedback from instructors and peers as an opportunity to learn and to grow as a writer rather than as a personal attack.
NIK: Well that’s a great piece of advice. And I think it’s important, as you said, Amy, to make sure that you remember constantly that your instructor, your chair, and your fellow students are actually there to support you. And I think that’s so important to realize, even if you seek help from us here at the Writing Center.
So, Amy, a lot of our listeners are probably familiar with our general resources available on our website, but we actually have a lot of targeted information on things like time management and the writing process. So, what resources would you recommend to students for achieving a good work and school balance?
AMY: The Writing Center offers numerous resources to help students on things such as time management, and one of my favorites is our blog posts. One post I’m thinking of in particular is the “Capstone Calendars: A Plan for Success,” where one of our writing instructors, Sarah Prince, discusses strategies for sticking to a writing schedule. You can access this post by visiting our blog and selecting the “dissertations” label.
NIK: Right, and another thing I know that is helpful that we’ve developed is our writing resources tab. Amy, could you explain more about how to access that tab and what is available on it?
AMY: Absolutely. The Writing Center website, which is, writing center dot walden U dot E D U, has a fabulous writing resources tab. And on that tab, there’s so much information about the actual writing process. There are resources on prewriting, there are resources on outlining, on organizing ideas—there are so many resources there to help students through that writing process.
NIK: In addition, we have the particular webinar called “Life Cycle of a Paper.” So, what does it mean to have a life cycle in the context of a paper and how could this webinar be helpful?
AMY: The “Life Cycle of a Paper” webinar is really helpful in showing students that there is this process—there’s the thinking process, the prewriting process, the outlining process…where you actually have to invest time thinking about what you want to write about, what ideas you want to include, how you want to organize those ideas. And then there’s the process of actually putting words to paper. But it doesn’ t end there. There’s a whole other part of the process that has to do with revising and proofreading and finalizing the draft. So the “Life Cycle of a Paper” webinar really pulls students through that process and shows them that it isn’t something that they can or should just do in one sitting or in maybe half an hour or an hour increments. And I think that’s helpful, too, because a lot of students sit down to do it in one sitting and find that they can’t or that they have to come back to it.
NIK: And as part of that process, we offer something called a paper review service. Amy, why is this process so important to a student, especially early on in their time as a student?
AMY: I’m really glad you brought up paper reviews, Nik, because I think it is one of the most important services we offer to students, because we can offer students feedback. And I mentioned the importance of feedback before, but having an instructor or a peer or someone from the Writing Center being able to offer students advice, feedback, suggestions, is really, really helpful, especially in that revision process. As I mentioned before, writing isn’t something you’re born knowing to do, and we’re here to help you improve those skills so that you can convey those ideas on the page.
NIK: So, students, the bottom line is that we have a lot of stuff for you to work with. Whether it be our website, our blog, our webinars, we have paper review services—we’re here for you, and we have so many avenues for you to reach us.
So, Amy, really, thank you so much for taking the time to join us. I know you’re very busy, and your two daughters should be very proud because you are really admired everywhere here at Walden. And I’m sure we’ll all be very excited to read your final dissertation.
AMY: Thanks for having me here today, Nik. It was a pleasure.
NIK: In our next episode, Brittany will be back and we’ll be talking about collaborative writing and strategies for working on group papers. Thanks for listening, everyone.
NIK: This podcast is a production of the Walden University Writing Center.
BRITTANY: This episode was produced by me, Brittany Kallman Arneson, my co-host, Nikolas Nadeau, and Anne Shiell.