What a pleasure to meet the latest Go Higher students in the session Claire Jones asked me to deliver about my experience as a mature student. Currently on secondment in the Corporate Communications dept of the University, it was great to return to my spiritual home and find out how some of the students I had the pleasure of interviewing last summer are getting along. Having been a mature student myself, completing my Masters at the University of Salford at 35 and my teaching qualification at the University of Chester in my forties, I can definitely identify with some of the pressure that the ’Go Highers’ will be feeling now as final assessments are due.
Juggling all that life outside uni doesn’t stop just because you have an assessment due and I have every admiration for those students who have remained committed on this fast track access course. Coming to the end of what is a full on schedule of learning and growth, I could sense the yearning in the room for assessments to be complete and the marks to be in the bag. Not long now.
Education is such an emotional business and, sometimes, just having the opportunity to share the experience and compare notes gives perspective and helps to lift the lid off the pressure cooker, before diving back into the latest essay or assignment.
As a rookie in the world of academia, after 20 years in industry, I think I’m at a position in life where the importance of education and learning in my life journey has become increasingly clear. I can see the returns I have gained on my investments – of money, time and effort – and I hope sharing some examples helped bring clarity for those who may be wrestling with that question that pops up whilst burning the midnight oil “Why on earth am I doing this?”.
Likewise, some of the interesting twists and turns in my mid life have, for me, led to real soul searching about the direction I should follow next. Decisions can be particularly hard when you have a defined set of skills and it is easy to fall back into what you know you can do, rather than what you would prefer to be doing.
Several times over recent years, I have hit those ‘Dorothy Moments’, where she stood uncertain at the crossroads in The Wizard of Oz. The challenge I have tried to set myself has been to understand what will make me fulfilled and happy – which, in my case, has not always aligned to the traditional definition of a successful and rewarding role.
Looking back, my ‘Dorothy Moments’ have led me to pursue further personal development – whether gaining awareness, exploring new options or structured, formal qualifications. Without doubt, burning my midnight oil has definitely paid off.
Finding a way to have the confidence to follow your passion and agree your own definition of success is challenging. It sometimes means swerving the easy path, taking the harder road, making sacrifices and sometimes missing out on the beer down the pub with mates. However, in my experience, it has been infinitely worth it. The fulfillment of growth through learning, of finding my way and following my passion is beyond description and worth every missed episode of Coronation Street (my guilty pleasure!).
Having a clear view of your personal brand – your skills, experience and knowledge – is important. Being focused on where you are heading ultimately helps make the most of all opportunities. Every assignment or project that you lovingly craft as part of your degree studies is more evidence to help persuade employers that you are that bright, well-equipped and experienced individual who will fit their role. So when choosing questions in assessments, think about how it will add to your toolkit and make the most of the opportunity to bolster your sales pitch.
So I hope my story helped. Having some strategies and tactics to help navigate that yellow brick road to fulfilment really helped me. Thanks to all who shared their ambitions and good luck completing those essays. It will all be worth it. Promise!
Carol Brown is a tutor on Go Higher, currently on secondment in the University’s Corporate Communications Department; we are very much looking forward to her return to the teaching team in September!