Wife, mother and full-time employee Linda Liu Suk-wai proudly shows the photographs from her graduation dinner last month. As the secretary for a head of department at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, her duties require a high command of the English language. So, two years ago she embarked on a part-time Master of Arts in English for the Professions, simultaneously relieving her calendar of leisure activities for the 24 months that would follow. While admitting the degree would not increase her promotional prospects, realising the knowledge gained from the programme would make her job easier was motivation enough for Ms Liu. Having also spent six years as a mature student studying for a Bachelor of Business Administration degree, she knew the discipline that would be needed to make the grade. 'I already had experience in part-time studies so I had the confidence that I could finish. So, the two years was not very long,' says Ms Liu, fresh from her social hiatus. If she was to be successful in her studies, Ms Liu knew the support of her family was essential. Before committing to the programme she, her husband and two children discussed how the family dynamics would have to change. 'I told the kids I would not have time to be with them ... my husband represented me,' she says. Despite the pressures of taking over the responsibilities that come with running a household, Ms Liu and her husband, Tony, say her studies benefited the family unit. 'We learned how to understand each other and support each other,' he says. By the time studies began, one son was old enough to take on responsibilities around the home and finish homework without supervision, alleviating another pressure. 'I discovered if I let the kids try they can be more mature and help me look after the family,' Ms Liu says. With new roles and responsibilities in place, for Ms Liu family dinners were replaced with text books and sandwiches, family outings went ahead without her and she was free to concentrate on her studies. A methodical approach where study became her sole occupation during 'free' time was applied. The office became a private classroom after work, and weekends were spent in quiet labouring over books and essays. The only activity not surrendered to study was attending church each Sunday, swiftly followed by lunch, which doubled as family time and gave her a break from the books. For those with family commitments contemplating studies, her advice is to question whether you can invest the time. 'Talk with the family and make sure they understand you cannot commit to anything with them,' she says. Apart from the support of her family, she also formed a network of classmates and tutors who could be called upon when the late nights and persistent tiredness threatened to get the better of her. All were much-needed pillars of support throughout. As well as the obvious choices such as the internet and libraries, Ms Liu explored other avenues to find expertise on her subject matter. She joined a weekly English lunch group initiated by a staff member at PolyU where native-English speakers were present, which she says helped improve and expand her spoken English, and subsequently helped with her studies. TYPICAL WEEKLY DIARY WEEKDAY 9am - work 1-2pm - lunch (some days attending English lunch group or lunch-time Bible study) 2pm - continue work 8pm - begin studying 11.30pm - home SATURDAY 10am - begin studies 1pm - lunch break 2pm - afternoon spent studying 8pm - finish studies for the day SUNDAY 9.30am - church 1pm - lunch 2pm - begin studies 8pm - finish studies The last 10 weeks of the programme were spent working on her research project, studying until midnight. In addition, 19 days of annual leave were taken to finish the project.