The Caffeinated Flutist, Vol. 8: Balancing an Assistantship with Being in School by Mary Hales

Hey there, flute-trepreneurs!

We all know graduate school is a really tough time, either from past or current experience. As you all know by now, mine is currently the latter situation. At this point, I’m just a semester away from having my Master’s degree in Flute Performance, which is plenty time-consuming with classes, lessons, ensembles, and practice. Adding another layer of complication to everything is the fact that I also have a Teaching Assistantship (which, for the sake of simplicity, I’ll just refer to as my TA from here on out). While the upside is that it allows me to go to school without the burden of student loans - and that is a HUGE upside - there are some downsides too, as there are with all things in life. For this column, I want to talk about balancing the duties of being a TA with life as a student.

For my TA in the music theory area, which is roughly 10 hours per week, I have one weekly meeting with my supervisor, one weekly office hour (though I also meet with students by appointment, which adds time), I teach one weekly review session, I attend the class twice a week, and I spend about five hours every week grading anything the students have turned in. That might not sound like much on the surface, but multiply it by about 75, and add on my own classes for my degree, ensembles, homework, andpractice time, and it all adds up. Needless to say, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of the situation.

As a professional, all of these things take up a lot of my time and energy. It can sometimes be hard to remember that I have to safeguard my own time to be a student - which is why I, in fact, came to school in the first place. I recognize the obligation I have to the students I teach to make sure they get the help they need, and I do my best to make myself as available as possible. I do choose some of the boundaries I set, such as deadlines for contacting me for help before a given due date, but that does not change the duties I have, or not answering “work” emails after a certain time on weeknights. My time at home in the evenings is my time to grade and do any other work I need to do for my classes; my supervisor also encourages me to keep that balance of safeguarding my time while doing my job.

During the day, it can also be a little strange to switch gears from a position of some authority to one of no authority at all. Twice a week, I go straight from my TA into my own class; sometimes when I get there, I still have business to wrap up from class, or I have other things to do to prepare for the review session. The lines I try to draw in my head between my TA and my life get a little bit blurred, and I sometimes find myself wondering which one I should be first - if it’s even possible to really be both at all.

As difficult as it can sometimes be, though, I think the practice in switching gears like that is extremely helpful; changing roles is something we all have to do in everyday life. Balancing an assistantship and student life is a micro-targeted example of how we balance our professional and personal lives as musicians. We all have to find ways to balance teaching lessons, gigging, and whatever other side hustles we have to pay the bills; all of those things require different aspects of our personalities.

The thing about entrepreneurship, in particular, is remembering that we can be all of the things we want to be; the key is to balance your jobs as much as you can.

Until next time!

Flutist Mary Hales is a native of Conway, Arkansas, currently studying under Alice K. Dade at the University of Missouri School of Music for her Masters in Flute Performance. Follow more of her writing at; find her on social media with the handle @maryhalesflute.

2 thoughts on “The Caffeinated Flutist, Vol. 8: Balancing an Assistantship with Being in School by Mary Hales

  • January 6, 2019 at 11:42 am

    Great article, Mary! It’s so true that we often have to wear many hats at once and the more we take on, the harder it can be to accomplish our own goals. It can be so helpful to take the time, no matter how busy we feel, to check in on ourselves and reminds me of the quote “You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.” Have a great rest of the semester!

    • January 12, 2019 at 10:45 pm

      Thanks so much, Taylor! You’re so right about all the hats. Self-care is an art that I relearn every day, for sure. Hope you’re doing well!

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