A Working Parent’s Guide to Surviving INFO-200

By Sarah Zaharako



I began my MLIS degree last winter. I am 39 years old, the mother of three young children, and a professional violinist. This is not the typical graduate student profile at many universities but at SJSU’s iSchool, I fit right in. In fact, 50% of students at my orientation session reported being over the age of 30 with full-time jobs. Many students also have children. This is not to say, however, that my first semester was a breeze. In fact, my first core course, INFO-200, came as a shock. It wasn’t so much the coursework itself, rather the combination of family responsibilities, career upkeep, and academic demands that threatened to derail my sanity. However, I not only managed to complete the course, I am proud of the work I produced, inspired by what I learned, and motivated to dive into another semester. You can do it, too. Here are some tips to keep you on track:

Create a dedicated space for study

Ever heard of “baby brain”? This is a condition experienced by parents of young children in which intellectual capacity in the brain is significantly suppressed. Causes may include lack of sleep, too many board books, or socializing exclusively with toddlers. When it comes to entertainment, adults who suffer from baby brain gravitate more toward sitcoms than scholarly articles. Unfortunately, the condition must be overcome when one is in graduate school. If you have young children, you must compartmentalize in order to concentrate on the course material and assignments. Ideally, you will be able to work on assignments when your children are not in the same building. But often you will need to grab whatever minutes are available between snacks, squabbles and potty training and you will need to be able to switch your mindset to academic mode quickly. Make a designated space for studying. When I took INFO-200, my twins were two years old and I had no childcare. I did much of the coursework during their naptime. I set up a table in the corner of the living room where I kept all the material for the class as well as my laptop.  As soon as they fell asleep, I’d grab a cup of coffee (essential) and head to my mini office. Even if I was still in my pajamas, relocating to my designated learning space helped me focus on the task at hand.

Look at the big picture

All the assignments in INFO-200 are related and designed to encourage students to deeply explore a research topic of their choice. Before choosing your topic, read the summary for each assignment including the culminating research paper. As you progress through the semester, keep a brainstorming notebook of ideas and questions relating to your topic. When it comes to readings, they are all valuable but some will relate more to your field of interest and research topic than others. If you are feeling overwhelmed, read these articles first and save the others for reading at the end of the week if time allows. Collect, catalog and organize any readings that apply to your research topic. I printed these out and organized them in a binder. Label each article with a tab containing the author and publication date. This will help you remember which is which and will make citing the readings in your assignments easy and efficient.

When it comes to Citation

It is typical to get hung up on a tricky citation. There are so many new publishing formats that correctly entering an unusual reference can feel like solving an international crime case. Instead of wasting time, if you can’t quickly locate the information you need in the style guide or on a style website, just ask someone – your professor or one of the many qualified librarians at the King Library. They answer emails promptly and give knowledgeable advice. Furthermore, keep a master reference list of all materials relating to your research topic. You can pick and choose for each assignment and make citation corrections as you go. Keeping a master list will save time and allow you to concentrate on the body of the assignments.

Stay ahead of schedule

Your entire family might get the stomach flu the week your research paper is due. Mine did. If an assignment is due on Sunday, make a personal goal to complete it by Wednesday because, when you have kids, you never know what may take precedence. As a parent, you have most likely developed mega-efficient multi-tasking skills so getting assignments done a few days early is completely within your super powers. An added benefit- if you have last minute problems or questions, it gives your professor time to respond to your inquires before the assignment is due.

Include your family

My seven-year-old relates more to my plight as a student than most of my friends and colleagues do. This is because he is also a student. When I stressed about not spending enough time with him, I’d ask him for help with an assignment. I’d explain what I was working on and he enjoyed offering his opinions and ideas. The interaction motivated me, made him feel valued, and helped us all feel like part of a team. Discussing your assignments with your family can set an example and also help them appreciate the time commitment it takes to achieve success.

Make a friend

During the first couple weeks of class, take time to peruse the profiles of your fellow classmates and make a connection with someone you can relate to. You don’t have to meet in person but it’s helpful to have someone to email for commiseration and encouragement. I met a fellow mother/career woman who lived in my town. We emailed throughout the semester and celebrated with a nice dinner out when the semester ended.

Accept that you’ll miss the occasional BBQ

There will be weekends that you will just need a few extra hours alone to study. As you search for articles and edit assignments, the sounds of laughter and the aroma of the grill may waft through the window. You may want to wallow in self pity about spending Saturday chained to your laptop. Get over it and get some work done while you have the house to yourself. Later, read the kids some books and have a drink. Reward yourself for making progress.


At times, you may feel frustrated that the class takes up more space in your life than expected, that you are neglecting your home and your family, that you’ve made a huge mistake by going back to school. However, the content and readings are thoughtful, engaging, and intellectually stimulating. Your family is proud of you and your house doesn’t mind a little dust. Most importantly, you are investing in the first step of a new career that is meaningful and inspiring. If these thoughts don’t encourage you, just remember that the class only lasts a few months.




Sarah Zaharako

Sarah Zaharako is a graduate student in Library Science. She hopes to become a children’s librarian. Sarah is currently a professional violinist and music teacher and lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Kristi Bryant

    Great post and excellent advice, Sarah! I am also a new student at SJSU in the MLIS program as well as a full time librarian, single mom, homeowner and avid football fan! Your post made me chuckle and there were so many things that were ringing bells with me as I read.

    One of the difficult parts of this new experience is the distance between me, the school and my peers. Living in Maine I am about as far away as you can get from SJSU and still be in the contiguous US. Your idea about connecting with a peer and utilizing your professor and the librarians was a great suggestion for reducing the isolation and feeling that I’m in an intimate relationship with my laptop!

    As a fellow INFO 200 student, I’m writing about students and agree that more collaboration and interaction would be greatly useful for various reasons: psychological, research partner, peer mentor, and eventually as the beginning of forming a professional network of colleagues.

    I appreciate this article and recommend it strongly as a useful piece of advice to students at SJSU and beyond! Best of luck on your journey.

  2. Kristi Bryant

    Oh, and if you would like to see what I’ve discovered thus far about students and their information seeking behavior, check out my blog. The first post isn’t related to students, I changed topics after the initial blog posts, but as you drill down into the later posts you’ll find some interesting (I hope) information and insights about how students research and find information. http://ischoolblogs.sjsu.edu/info/kristibryant/2015/08/04/day-one/

    Kristi Bryant
    SJSU- MLIS Program

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