#UNIADVICE – Never too late or too old to learn something new

Widening access to higher education to non-traditional students has become quite an important target for Universities in the UK. It is known to improve the outcomes and opportunities for people who would not otherwise get such chances. On the aspiring professionals hub, we like to share inspiring stories about people from diverse backgrounds with interesting and inspiring stories about their experiences or career successes. In our latest ‘Reflections’ article, Anna shares her experience of higher education as a late-starter aka mature student and hopes her experience would serve to inspire others.

I am 46 years old and in my second year of an MSc degree in Social Work. I was one of 5 children raised by both parents who struggled financially due to unemployment. I left school at the age of 16 with two standard grades- Music and Art. I then went onto work in a shoe shop under the Youth Training Scheme (YTS). At the age of 17 in 1988 I started working in a electronics factory, this led me to working in international companies. However, as the electronic industry began to decline, with many people facing redundancies, I decided to take the step and go to college where I achieved a national certificate and higher national certificate (HNC) in social care in 2005.

So how did you end up at University at a later age?

At 35, I gained full employment as residential child care worker in a residential school for girls with emotional and social problems. Due to unfortunate circumstances, the organisation closed down. I also became a mum and was left again thinking of what the future held for me. When my daughter was 2 years old, I applied and was accepted at University of the West of Scotland in 2010 on the Social Science Programme. I graduated with a BA Hons in Politics and Social Policy in 2014, age 44. Sadly, during my final year my Mother died unexpectedly, and I took a year out to care for my Father and daughter and then applied to do a Post grad/Masters in Social Work. I began this is 2015 and have 80 days placement to complete to become a fully qualified social worker.

What was university like considering you were a late starter?

Starting University was daunting!!! I was forever getting lost, but I made friends (some mature) and some in their 20s. We all got on great and student support between us was great. We were all in hand to support each other. I formed great relationships with lecturers who offered great support and guidance. As I went from first year to my final year I was lucky enough to build on these relationships and even today I still keep in touch with my lecturers.

What challenges did you encounter as a mature student and parent?

As a lone parent, I had to manage my time efficiently. I found it difficult to study around my daughter and didn’t want to be distracted studying when I was meant to be with her. I am an early riser, thus, getting up early in the morning and studying for two hours before my daughter wakes up is more productive for me as I find studying at night harder. Financially, I did ok, I was unable to work due to childcare issues, but I managed through financial support from the University which eased the pressure. I would be worse off on benefits. The University paid a considerable amount towards child care, so I’d advise to always check to see what support is available to students at their respective Universities.

Really useful advice. How are things shaping up in your career now?

Currently, I am about starting the last year of my masters’ programme. As it is a social work degree, there are many positions I can apply for. These are normally within children and families, criminal justice or community care teams and covers a whole range of needs.

Would you say your degree course is moving you towards your career?

There are always jobs advertised in local authority social work departments. So in terms of my career, I should be able to find employment within six months of qualifying.

Why did you choose to follow this career path?

I was drawn to this career path where I hope to work with disadvantaged children who, like me do not have the same life opportunities as other children. Every child should be given the same opportunities and encouragement to fulfill their dreams and inspirations, whether it leads to University or otherwise. I was the only person in my family to enter further education. I had a great experience at college and at UWS, and I cannot thank the lecturers for their support I received throughout my 4 years at the University. Without their encouragement and enthusiasm I would have struggled to manage as a mature student who would never have dreamt that university would be an option for someone like me. The believed in me and saw qualities in me that I didn’t know existed.

Every child should be given the same opportunities and encouragement to fulfill their dreams and inspirations, whether it leads to University or otherwise.

What advice would you give others in a similar position considering going to university as mature students/parents?

I would say to anyone considering University to go for it. If you want something bad enough you will work for it. Yes, it can be stressful and at times you wish you can walk away. Personally, I always wanted to support and help people and I wanted to be a positive role model for my daughter and give her a good life.

You are never too late or too old to learn something new. Follow your dreams because it can be your future.

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Anna Scullion was a late starter to higher education and is currently in the second year of an MSc degree in Social Work at the University of the West of Scotland. To follow Anna, you can find her on twitter @scullion_anna

 

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#MyUniStory – The Dilemma of an African International Student

11669993-collection-of-african-flags-with-continent-stock-vectorRecently the APH met up with two vibrant individuals Brian and Belinda, recent graduates from a higher education institution in the UK. They are both passionate about supporting issues around global health and about Africa. In their two part opinion piece, they share their experiences as African students  as well as of interning in Africa (Part II). Enjoy reading and do share your opinions in the comments section.

Many Africans can only “dream” of the opportunity to pursue  quality training overseas at  Ivy league and Russel Group Universities of this world. Institutions to which the local education system that has nurtured our knowledge and skills through years of learning, contribute to the almost blind belief that there is no better source for top quality education and I dare say, developed intellect. It doesn’t help that our African education systems have hardly changed for decades, left behind by colonial masters whose teachings of everything from the alphabet to our understanding of African borders in geography and scientific discoveries of Alexander Fleming we still cling to. An archaic system that still equates learning with memory and teaches the partition of Africa, the prairies of Canada, and for some of us, a grid by grid map of New York City.

#UniAdvice – 10 great apps for University students!

It’s September and the beginning of a new academic year. Whether you’re just starting out or preparing for your final year at University, we can guess that your smart devices (phone or tablet) play an important role in your daily activities. Apps should not be left out of University life either and can be used as learning tools, to increase productivity as well as staying healthy. In this article, Amara shares a list of great apps* to kick start your studies this year. All  apps mentioned are available on both iOS and Android platforms with price plans from free!

*This is not a sponsored article. Neither the author nor APH has received any direct or indirect compensation for any products discussed.

Your University’s app – I would always recommend starting here first. As Higher Education continues to embrace technology in facilitating teaching and learning, almost every Higher Education Institution delivers their teaching using an online platform such as Blackboard™ which have associated apps. Apart from giving you access to all the teaching material, you can check your assessment deadlines, get feedback on your coursework, and communicate with other students in your class. Some University apps have more enhanced functionality providing students with information and services anytime, anywhere.

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Blackboard app

Evernote/Penultimate for Evernote – Have you ever written something important on a piece of paper just to lose it when it really mattered? With Evernote, you can have all your important information not only in one place but well organized for instant access. Every smartphone usually has an app for notetaking but with Evernote, you can attach images, embed voice files, scan documents, prepare to-do lists and set reminders. If you find typing your notes in class too difficult, Penultimate for Evernote is a great ‘type to text’ app that can convert your written notes to text and save into Evernote. The app also syncs your notes across devices so you can write a note on your iPhone and read it on your Samsung tablet. Another important advantage is that there is a website behind it so if you ever lose your device, your notes are still available.

Dropbox – My biggest fear at University was leaving my floppy disk in the library’s computer! Yes, there were storage devices before the advent of the memory stick! No more excuses of your dog eating your homework! With Dropbox, you have cloud storage of all your very important work which you can access from your phone/tablet. Ensure you always back up your files so the least you can lose is your latest draft and not all your work from 2010! It is also a good place to store and organize your holiday snaps and other memorable photos. We could all use some more gigabytes!

A flash card app for revision – We are so sure that if you are reading this, you are one of the conscientious students who prepares for revision early on in the semester by making their own notes. If you are, keep it up. If not, what are you waiting for? Flashcards are a great way of summarizing your taught material using your own words. You can note areas you need to conduct more research in or keywords that need to be more clearly defined. If you use flashcards already why not try an electronic version? These are less susceptible to loss and can be synced across your devices. Some allow you to embed pictures and audio into your flash card. What’s not to love about that? Examples include Evernote peek, StudyBlue, Quizlet and Chegg (available for iOS devices, please check for Android).

Read More – Sign up to get our essential checklist for succeeding in Higher Education

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Flashcards have been saving our lives for centuries : )
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Carry your revision everywhere you go!

#CareerChat – Finding Your Creative and Innovative Spark

 

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Image source – http://www.wethinq.com

To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.

 Albert Einstein

Creativity and innovation are key tools integral in growth of any business which has a long term strategy. In my consultancy roles for small, medium enterprises (SMEs) I quickly learned how cut-throat the business world is and how much creativity and innovation is needed for the businesses to thrive or even survive. The ability to create and innovate whilst integral to business is at the core of science and informs the everyday research and scientific developments we have observed through time.

In the UK, the government has identified innovation as an important factor in growth and sustainability and as a result has created several schemes to encourage creativity and innovation. These schemes are meant to link businesses with each other or with academic institutions to harness ideas and turn them into marketable products. Examples include the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP), Invention for Innovation (i4i) and from a global perspective, the Global Innovation Fund aimed at providing grants to transform the lives of people living in poverty. For anyone looking for innovative projects, I often recommend the KTP as it is a superb route to innovative funded postgraduate degrees which also gives experience working with an industrial partner.

What I find particularly odd and often worrying however, is that in the sciences we are always expected to create or innovate (in the eyes of the external “real” world) but more often than not, innovation or enterprise is not a core part of the curriculum. Even more mind boggling is the expectation that PhD candidates are expected to create something novel from their research or add something new to the body of existing knowledge. Going with the quote from ol’boy Einstein above, they are expected to be innovative without giving them the tools to be able to enrich or harness that creativity.

#CareerFocus – Neurosurgery

1. NeurosurgeryIn today’s #MyCareerStory, the APH had the opportunity to interview Dr Douglas Okor.  Douglas is a brain surgeon in the UK and Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (the oldest Surgical College in the World).. In this insightful interview Douglas offers his perspective about life as a neurosurgeon and demystifies this pathway for aspiring surgeons. Enjoy!

APH: Can you tell us a little more about yourself?

I am Douglas Emeka Okor, Nigerian born, in Benin City in Nigeria. I am a brain surgeon and a passionate Nigerian health sector advocate and an entrepreneur. I grew up in Nigeria and had my education in Nigeria. I saw there was a significant gap in the healthcare space in Nigeria hence my decision to become a brain surgeon.

APH: Can you tell us about the different stages of your educational career to date?

Douglas: I had my nursery, primary and secondary education in Nigeria. I went to a grammar school in Benin City and the University of Benin where I graduated in 2002. I worked for a couple of years in Nigeria then left for the UK where I spent 8-9 years training to become a brain surgeon. In the last year I started my sub-specialist training in two areas – skull based and vascular neurosurgery.

APH: When did you decide you wanted to become a medical doctor?

#MyUniStory – Making the most of opportunities as an international student

StudyChatIn today’s study chat, Amara shares her discussion with Cynthia Ochoga, the President Elect of the Student Union at the University of Salford. Cynthia shares from her perspective as an international student and offers advice on managing the opportunities and challenges within Higher Education to maximise your experience. Enjoy!

APH: Can you tell us about your educational and professional background? 

CO: My educational pursuit began at Home Science Nursery and Primary School, Ikoyi Lagos. In 1998, I moved on to Queens’ College Lagos for my secondary school education.

In 2006, I attended the University of Lagos where I undertook a diploma in Cell Biology and Genetics. By second year it became apparent to me that science was not a field I wanted to pursue and then left Nigeria to Middlesex University (MDX) Mauritius campus in 2010 and studied Psychology and Counselling. In 2014, I went to Oxford Brookes University and did a conversion to Law degree (GDL) as my 2nd degree and in September 2015, I came to University of Salford for my MSc in Media Psychology and I’m half way through it at the moment.

I have worked in a number of different roles too. My first job was a three-month internship at Action Health Incorporated. In 2010, prior to moving to Mauritius, I followed my passion in journalism and worked as an intern at a radio station in Nigeria.

While studying at MDX, I was elected president of the International Students’ Society for Mauritius campus. I also joined AIESEC, an international youth development organization and rose to become Vice President of External Relations which I did simultaneously with my role as President. In the final year of my undergraduate degree, I worked for a month with the Mauritius Institute of Directors as part of a team that delivered an international conference.

After graduation, I went to Nigeria to participate in the NYSC programme. Since then, I have worked with BBC Media City as a research assistant for Mozfest 2015. I have also worked in a customer services role for Doddles Parcels in Manchester. I recently resigned to take some time out to prepare to take on my new role as the President of the Student Union at the University of Salford.

You started out your Higher Education journey in the Biological sciences, what spurred the switch to Psychology? Was it a smooth transition?

#MyCareerStory -Science Policy

Career2In today’s #MyCareerStory, Amara had the opportunity to interview Gabriele Butkute. Gabriele currently works as a Science Policy Assistant at the Royal Society of Biology and the Biochemical Society and in this insightful interview helps to demystify an often overlooked pathway for science graduates. Enjoy!

APH: Can you tell us about your educational background and career progression to date?

GB – I’m originally from Lithuania, which is where I completed my high school diploma cum laude. Soon after my graduation I came to London, had a gap year working in the hospitality business – which is really what people say when they worked as a waitress/waiter! I then embarked on a BSc Biomedical Science degree at London Met, from where I graduated almost two years ago now. Right after my graduation I got a fixed term job as an Events and Administrative Assistant at the Royal Society of Biology where I was tasked with organising three national Life Science Careers Conferences. Looking back, it seems ironic that I got this job when I didn’t have a clear career plan for myself! My next job was a Student Enterprise and Marketing internship at London Met where I spent seven months developing and integrating  enterprise into the science curriculum and encouraging students to develop softer skills and business awareness which are key for a successful career nowadays. Finally, a year ago I started my first science policy job at the Royal Society of Biology and the Biochemical Society, which is where I am now. I believe in internships and placements because I undertook two between completing my degree and starting my current job. My experiences  made me feel more comfortable with the career decision I have made.

You obtained a first class degree in Biomedical Science. Did you ever consider a career as a biomedical scientist in the NHS?