Our students come from diverse backgrounds and have a wide range of life experiences. We love sharing their unique stories to encourage others to pursue their aspirations.
On the blog today we’re sharing James’s inspirational story about returning to education at a later stage in life and juggling his studies with work.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
In many ways I represent an atypical student. Many are taking courses to aid their progress up the corporate ladder. However, at 64 years of age I have already had an interesting career to date, having been a salesman, licensee, production manager and cellarman, covering B2B and B2C sectors; and I have memory of a time pre-internet, pre-computer, and believe it or not pre-fax.
My heritage: I’m North Coast Cornish, from farming stock, which breeds resilience and self-reliance, with an independent streak which borders on stubbornness. Like a number of my generation, I failed my eleven plus and entered a technical school. But that failure stigma did colour my thinking for many years, compounded by losing both parents before I reached eighteen, so I did not get a chance to show them any form of success.
Looking back, I performed roles successfully that today I would be considered unqualified for and certainly untrained. This was highlighted when I was made redundant and my CV showed several senior roles, but no degree. I was asked, “how did you do these jobs when you’re not qualified for them?”. The jobs were there, and I did them. During job searches, I was in competition with graduates and as a result at a distinct disadvantage.
Why did you choose your course?
I selected Business and Management, considering it to be of broader appeal in the workplace. I would strongly advise any prospective student to read their way through the syllabus and get an overview of what is required.
I must add something here that took me very much by surprise – and an active encouragement to keep going – from quite early in the course. In my career there have been several occasions where untrained managers have challenged or disputed my decisions. In study I found that although at the time also untrained, my course of action was the academically correct one. So, you may be surprised too when you examine methods around you.
Another thing that surprised me was people’s reaction to my decision to take on my course. These varied from “well done” or “good for you” to the dismissive “a vanity project then, you won’t use it” and “why are you wasting your time?”. But to the gainsayers I encountered, I considered that they suffered from ‘Crab Bucket Mentality’ (Pratchet. T. 2009) i.e. I can’t so you mustn’t.
Why did you choose to study online?
A good question! As I was unemployed at the start of the course the option of full-time study ‘should’ have been available to me. I did investigate this only to encounter the sharp intake of breath, and the advice that AS and A levels were required for consideration, not guaranteeing entry.
As I was seeking some way to make myself more employable, I took a project management course online and quite enjoyed the process. I responded to a speculative email from the university and with tongue in cheek applied. I was very surprised that I was accepted and with assistance applied to Student Finance England and granted funding.
As time progressed and the ‘real world’ pressed in, the format gave me time to work and study, and have a life. Even if that required an amount of compartmentalisation, particularly when study and work had the same focus.
How did you find studying 100% online?
I hope that my honesty here is not taken wrong. It may be thought that online study is a soft option but may I tell you it’s not – it is hard work. It is also lonely not having fellow students to bounce ideas off, even with the regular use of discussion forums, there abides a feeling of uncertainty of ‘am I heading in the right direction, or am I coming to the wrong conclusions?’.
If like me, your formal education ended well in the past, preparing for assignments initially is a daunting prospect. Having spent some years learning to write in business English, the change to academic English is challenging: having to remember formal punctuation, grammar and still getting your message across, while considering word count. This may sound impossible at this point, but even a limit of 2500 words can vanish, leaving you wondering what to edit so you can add a conclusion!
The lecturers have without exception been willing to assist and guide my study; not point to the answer but suggest starting points for reading for learning and explanations. I also have to mention the Student Support Advisers, upon whom I can only heap praise. One assisted me to get started and supported me when I relocated and lost internet access for a month. Another was a calming voice when the finals deadlines loomed, and my world started to disintegrate.
Can you share your favourite study experience?
Quite possibly my favourite part of the course has been discovering that the internet allows access to a vast array of scholarly publications and academic papers on every topic imaginable. The prescribed reading is vital for understanding the subject. Where it gets interesting is investigating the foundations of subject and assessing the future possible direction indicated by subsequent publications.
What advice would you give someone considering online study?
I would advise any prospective student to examine their motivation in taking the course, as you are making a commitment, a big one. Expect to be stretched intellectually and to learn a lot about yourself when challenged.
Bear in mind the course is flexible if the ‘real world’ gets in your way, so you can take a break between modules – it is not a race. The university structure is such that if you are struggling in any aspect you can discuss it with someone: lecturers, student advisers are the front line, amongst others.
Most importantly: don’t stop, don’t be intimidated, there is no such thing as a daft question… it’s probably the one that everyone else is too embarrassed to ask!
Has James helped you decide that now is the time to further your education? If so, download a prospectus now to find the course for you.