Losing Your Identity While Studying and Working Part-Time

As humans, our sense of identity is what makes our individual selves feel important. The anxiety around identity loss is especially heightened in university. For this task specifically, I will be focusing on university students’ sense of identity in relation to university life with a part-time job. More so, it is to illustrate how university and part-time work, in excess, can impact a student’s identity, and potentially increase the risk of losing it. University and part-time work take up a large portion of a student’s life, so it is important that the impact is minimised as much as possible.

A survey focusing on identity among part-time working students was created and sent out. By the end of the fifth week, 63 students had completed the survey, which totals just over one-fourth of the entire cohort.

It’s important to establish the connection between identity and the affect it has on a student’s ability to perform in school. When asked if their sense of identity impacts their studies at university, 68% of students responded with a yes. Therefore, in order to be productive and maximise their intellectual ability, the majority of students need to prioritise minimising the risk of losing their sense of identity.

Figure 1

Students who spend more time at work each week tend to worry more about their job jeopardising their university studies.

Included in the survey were two questions relating to students’ jobs and uni studies. I began by asking how many hours, on average, each student works weekly. This was followed up by a Likert scale question regarding how much each students’ job has jeopardised their uni studies. The results of these two questions were analysed and entered into a table, and the correlation between both factors became clear. [The italicised numbers seen in the table represent the amount of students who chose the same answers to both questions.]

Figure 2

As you can see from the table above, each time the amount of hours worked each week increases, most participants reported a higher level of risk. This may seem like an obvious correlation, but it only further supports the argument that work does have a huge impact on a student’s performance at university. And considering most students believe their sense of identity affects their uni studies [figure 1], this therefore means overworking at a job indirectly affects their sense of identity.

Figure 3

The more hours students spend doing uni work weekly, the higher the risk of losing their identity is.

Similar to figure 2, there is a clear correlation between the amount of hours spent on uni work and the level of worry experienced by each student. I gave the participants four choices ranging from 0 to 30+ for the amount of hours they put into uni studies each week. This was followed up by another Likert scale question regarding their worry about losing their identity among their uni and work life. It’s plain to see how, as the hours spent on uni work increases, so does the level of worry. 

Figure 4

The main cause of this may relate to overthinking and being overwhelmed. The more a student thinks about their work, assignments or extra study, the more likely they are to feel overwhelmed and exhausted. This may create heightened feelings of anxiety, confusion and doubt. An article on Inc. (2017) outlines that overthinking may increase the chances of mental illness as well as interfere with problem solving.

This isn’t to say students should cut back on the amount hours of work they put into their studies. But rather, provide strategies to minimise the chances of overthinking — seen in figure 6.

There was a strong correlation between students’ stress levels and the types of activities they participated in. The students who reported to have the least amount of stress participated in more productive activities. While students who reported high levels of stress generally participated in more entertaining activities.

In the survey, students were given the option to choose up to 3 out of 8 listed stress-relieving activities to cope with the pressures of university in conjunction with a job. These included: creative hobbies, seeing friends, exercise, Netflix/Youtube, meditation, extra sleep, organising more, and journaling.

I found there was a connection between those who reported to have the least amount of stress (1-2 on the Likert scale) and those who participated in more productive activities. Three of the top four activities included socialising with friends (79% of all respondents), exercising (68%) and prioritising organising (47%). Considering these activities are done by the least worried students, I can assume these are the most effective methods to coping with stress. A study by Moreau and Leathwood (2006) suggests that a lack of social interactions with friends and family can lead to feelings of loneliness and a negative self-esteem. This may be a huge factor to why those who socialise often, tend to have the least amount of worry about identity loss.

On the other hand, there was a connection between those with higher stress levels (6-7 on the Likert scale) and those who participated in activities that were more entertaining than productive. These include watching Netflix/Youtube (86%) and sleeping longer (71%). This tells me that performing counter-productive activities tends to lead to higher levels of worry surrounding identity loss. This may then lead to procrastination and overall stress around exams and assessments.

Figure 5

So, how can we reduce the risk of identity loss and the stress caused by uni work in conjunction with a job? 

A person’s sense of identity may be lost as a direct cause of stress. Persike et al. (2018) states that stressfulness is a part of the identity formation process. They go on to say perceived difficulty and insecurity about work–life balance is a potential risk factor for emerging adults’ psychopathology. Therefore, in order to reduce the risk of identity loss, we must first establish techniques to minimise stress.

Figure 6

I included an open-ended question at the end of the survey that asked students to provide any possible solutions on ways to minimise the stress they may face while studying at uni while working. The most commonly used strategies to cope with stress caused by uni and work were: planning ahead, creating weekly schedules, and staying organised. This includes ‘to-do’ lists and setting out tasks to do each day, and can easily be done with a pen and paper. Another common response was communication with a manager, family and friends in order to manage time better. It’s important to talk to your manager about the hours you’ll put in for both uni and work, so they know not to overwork you, and you’ll then be able to delegate time to each task accordingly. This will also give everyone a better understanding of the situation, and will often lead to more support.

Reference List:

Moreau, MP. & Leathwood, C. (2006). ‘Balancing paid work and studies: working (-class) students in higher education’, Studies in Higher Education, vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 23-42, viewed 19 March 2020.

Morin, A. (2017). Science Says This is What Happens to You When You Overthink Everything, Inc.com, viewed 7 June 2020, <https://www.inc.com/amy-morin/science-says-this-is-what-happens-when-you-overthink-things.html>

Neill, N., Mulholland, G., Ross V. & Leckey, J. (2004). ‘The influence of part‐time work on student placement’, Journal of Further and Higher Education, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 123-137, viewed 23 March 2020.

Persike, M., Seiffge-Krenke, I., Cok, F., Głogowska, K., Pavlopoulos, V., Tantaros, S., Perchec, C., Rohail, I. & Saravia, JC. (2018). ‘Emerging Adults’ Psychopathology in Seven Countries: The Impact of Identity-Related Risk Factors’, Emerging Adulthood, vol. 8, no. 3, pp. 179-194.

One thought on “Losing Your Identity While Studying and Working Part-Time

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s