The job comes first

Wake-up calls at 5:30 a.m. and past-midnight bedtimes are just a way of life for those brave enough to further their education while working on the Hill.

Whether it is lugging textbooks to football parties or spending hours studying in the Library of Congress, these staffers are doing what it takes to get things done.

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But they can all agree on one thing: The job comes first.

Ashling Thurmond Osbourne, director of operations for Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), wanted a challenge, and that’s exactly what she got.

Osbourne said she is thrilled to be done her two-year graduate degree at American University.

“I was burned out by the time it was over,” she said.

While she was in school, Osbourne would get to the office an hour early and then attend evening classes after work. Her dinner was usually eaten out of a vending machine, she said.

During class, Osbourne was constantly pushed to defend her political views.

“In academia, conservatism is a less taught view,” she said, “Was I outnumbered? Absolutely.”

But that didn’t stop her from finishing; she did what was necessary to have both the graduate degree and the job on the Hill.

While her classmates looked forward to spring break as a week of relaxation, Osbourne spent her breaks working as much as possible.

“Spring break meant I would be working 40-plus hours that week,” she said.

She did her best to maintain a social life.

“If everyone was watching a football game, I brought my books. It was hard,” she said.

Osbourne got through her program with a lot of support from her close friends and also from her office. A supportive employer is the key to success, she said.

Now that Osbourne is done with school, she is supporting her friend Rachel Latta while she gets her graduate degree from George Washington University and works as a legislative assistant to Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas).

“My friends understand what I am going through,” she said, “That is a huge support system.”

Latta has been interested in politics since her first summer in D.C. as an intern. She agrees with Osbourne that the job comes first.

“My job is my first priority,” they both said.

Latta’s biggest tip for education seekers is to research possible evening classes.

While her fellow students might be able to make it to class on time, “Working on the Hill is not a regular 9-to-5 job,” she said.

Latta gets up before 6 a.m. to exercise before she goes to the office, and she sometimes heads back to the office when class is finished at 10 p.m.

Fortunately, Latta is halfway through her schooling.

“I couldn’t do this for more than another year,” she said.

Although juggling a job and a higher education degree can be stressful, Latta said it is worth the stress.

The most rewarding part is taking what she learns in the classroom and applying it to her job the next day, she said.

Paul Mendelson, staff assistant for Coffman, also integrates his schoolwork into his job.

“We are learning about the practical things,” he said.

Mendelson fell in love with politics while volunteering for a campaign in high school. Now, he is getting his master’s at the National Defense University.

Mendelson spends a lot of his time in the Library of Congress. He warns employees who might be considering getting a graduate degree to make sure they have enough time for a healthy, balanced life.

When faced with tempting social situations, Mandelson says, “You are going to have to bite the bullet and head to the library,” he said, “Your social life really takes a hit.”

Sacrifices are necessary on the road to higher education. Although that road is sometimes bumpy and difficult to maneuver, these three scholars agree it’s worth the ride.