Overcoming everyday obstacles like family and work obligations to commit to online study isn’t easy, and it only gets harder when you work in the military. Working in the services, a student could be transferred to another location at any time or even deployed to a warzone and still have all the usual deadlines and reading to complete. So how do they do it?
We caught up with one of our Business and Management graduates Katie Mitchell, a Sergeant in the Royal Signals, to ask how she managed her time between study and work.
Please tell us about your education background
I joined the Army at sixteen years old having only taken the three GCSEs that I needed for my chosen trade.
What rank have you reached? And what do you do on a day-to-day basis?
I am a Sergeant within the Royal Signals. Having worked as a Troop Sergeant (manager) for the last four years, I am about to start training to become a supervisor within my trade, which will involve promotion to Staff Sergeant in completion.
Why did you decide to start studying?
I decided to start studying because I felt that I was wasting my evenings just going home and watching TV every night. I also wanted to be prepared for the inevitable career in ‘civvy street’; although my intention was to complete a full career in the military, I knew that my circumstances could change and so I wanted to make sure that I could get a good and interesting job regardless of when my military service ended.
Why did you choose online studying specifically, rather than just studying on a normal campus?
With such a busy and varied job, it is impossible to commit to anything on a weekly basis and so the only option for studying was distance learning. Being a tech-savvy individual, the idea of studying online was perfect.
How did you feel about the fees?
I was serving in Wales at the time, so I had the benefit of reduced fees, but I still made use of the ELCAS funding which was provided through the Army’s Enhanced Learning Credit scheme. I wouldn’t have been able to afford the fees if it weren’t for this support. The process was easy and fairly quick; the local education centre was able to give me all the information I needed.
Why did you choose the University of Essex Online?
I chose the University of Essex Online because I liked the fact that the course was entirely online-based. It also provided subjects that I was interested in.
Why did you choose your course?
I felt that it would provide me a sound basis for whatever career I chose in the future.
What did you enjoy about the course?
I enjoyed the variety of topics that were covered. Whilst they were all interlinked, they were all very different. I was also able to make a friend or two during the course!
What didn’t you enjoy about the course?
Being a bit of a perfectionist, I think I spent more time on my coursework than I needed to at times, so I did find that it took up a lot more of my time than I had expected it to.
Tell us about the student support at University of Essex Online
I had great support from the university throughout. My student advisor, Matt Tamplin, was always willing to help. He helped me to arrange some additional flexibility in my coursework prior to deploying to Afghanistan in 2013 for seven months as I was concerned that I would miss deadlines or lose marks for not contributing regularly enough.
It turned out that Afghanistan was the perfect place to get on with studying in my spare time because there were none of the distractions that you get back home like family and a social life!
How did you manage your time?
Time management was a learning curve throughout the course. I had to fight the urge to procrastinate! I tried to plan ahead and give myself deadlines for completing the course reading and contributing to the discussions, for example, that would fit around my work and social life, but it wasn’t always that easy.
Were you able to apply any military-specific skills to your online studying?
Discipline is an essential trait for military life and I found that it was key to achieving good results in my coursework. I had to have the discipline to get on with my studies when I could have been doing something much more exciting!
Where did you actually manage to sit down and study when you were deployed?
I took my books to work and read whenever there was an opportunity to do so and then worked away on my laptop in my bed space at night.
How has your study affected your career?
Although some of the key leadership and management theories covered as part of the course were first introduced to me during military command, leadership and management training, I developed a much greater understanding through my studies and have tried to apply these to my role as a military manager. Regularly producing essays has improved my written work, something which featured as one of the key selection criteria for the supervisory training I am about to undertake.
Have you considered continuing your studies?
I had the option to top up my Foundation Degree to a BA with just another year and a half of studying but I have decided against it for now as I need to focus on my career. I also have the opportunity to work towards a BSc in Communications Management as part of my supervisory training so I intend to add more variety to my CV in that way.
If someone else was in the military and considering online study, what advice would you give them?
The learning credits are there to be used – don’t waste them! Studying part-time takes a lot of time and dedication, so make sure you really can commit to it.
Feeling inspired by Katie’s story? Download a prospectus today!