Brandeis Graduate Professional Studies

Balancing work, home, and school

November 27, 2023

Headshot of Kristin Zawatski

GPS gave Kristin Zawatski MS’20 the ability to advance her career without making sacrifices at home.

Working a full-time job and being a full-time parent did not leave Kristin Zawatski MS'20 with a lot of time to head off to in-person classes.

As a professional working in the Office of Planning and Operations in ITS at Brandeis University, Kristin wanted to learn how to be a better project manager — especially as the University began implementing major technology changes and her role began to expand. However, as a dedicated parent of young children, Kristin did not want to sacrifice time with her kids in order to earn a master’s degree.

"My husband is a great and amazingly supportive partner, but asking him to shoulder the burden of parenting alone while I attended classes didn't feel right," Kristin told GPS. "I love being with my kids and helping out at school and going to all their games and play dates. But I also wanted to improve my career prospects. … Online learning felt like a great way to both expand my project management knowledge and keep being an involved parent."

For Kristin, the flexibility and convenience of Brandeis GPS’s asynchronous classes were a lifesaver. "If not for GPS's Project and Program Managment program, I probably would not have pursued my master's degree. It was a great opportunity and the flexibility of online learning meant I didn't have to sacrifice as much time with my family and friends and work as I thought I would."

Aside from the flexibility that GPS offers, Kristin also found the format of classes to be helpful for her own personal learning process. "The learning format worked for me because I was able to really think about the things I wanted to say and respond in a thoughtful manner to my classmates," Kristin told GPS. "Sometimes having time to parse your words is better than speaking off the cuff."

Of course, this does not mean that Kristin’s journey at GPS was easy. After spending over a decade in the professional world, Kristin admitted that she had to "re-learn how to study." In addition to this, Kristin was also completing her degree during a high-stress time — both in her personal life and in the world in general.

"I earned my degree while parenting two incredibly busy young kids and during a pandemic," Kristin emphasized. "I think there's a misconception that online classes are less challenging than in-person classes and I did not find that to be true. Time management was key for me."

However, although balancing a full-time job, parenting, and her schoolwork was challenging, Kristin did not feel alone in her endeavors. In her courses at GPS, Kristin found that her classmates were often in the same place she was. This made collaborating on group projects easier: "Because we were all professionals with busy lives, we were able to be understanding of each other's time and work together to share workloads."

Throughout her time at GPS, Kristin found that not only were her classmates balancing similar workloads, but they also had similar goals — even though they had largely different backgrounds and careers. "I met a lot of professionals in different fields through my classes, and we all shared the same experience of not just wanting to improve our career prospects, but wanting to truly learn how to thrive in our professions."

Being part of a community of individuals who were equally as dedicated to growing and learning as working professionals meant a lot to Kristin, especially considering the changes that were occurring in her career at the time. She used what she learned at GPS to leverage a promotion, and she now uses the tools and skills she gained in her new job as an IT Change Manager.

"Since I received my degree I've switched from project management to change management, but I still use a lot if not all of the tools I learned in the Project and Program Management program," Kristin told GPS. "My main role in ITS is preparing the campus community for technology changes — developing communication, training, and other readiness strategies, plans and products. … [In this role,] I've been able to take a lot of the ideas I learned in my classes — particularly around communication and organization and risk management — and put them into actual practice."

Aside from being useful in her job now, Kristin’s GPS degree ultimately held a lot of symbolic meaning for her. “While my graduation was not in person due to COVID-19, my kids were able to watch me receive my degree over Zoom and they were so proud of me,” Kristin told GPS. “I was genuinely surprised by how much earning my degree meant to me. … But the three years I spent studying project management gave me the tools to be better at my job and be a better colleague here at Brandeis.”

Learn more about the MS in Project and Program Management and other online programs at Brandeis.