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From mature learner to PhD and Academic Skills Coordinator… could this be you too?

We might think that those clever and accomplished people that we all know have always been that way. Look closer, they may have been where you are now
The day my best friend started university was the day I had my first baby. I had written off going to uni thinking life had other things in store for me. However, the same day my second child started school, I finally returned to education to complete my A levels. I was really surprised to get great marks for my AS levels and, although up till that point it hadn’t even crossed my mind to think about university, my husband encouraged me to apply. I started uni in 2003, the day my firstborn turned 10. Being a student parent wasn’t easy. I had an hour’s commute each way 3 or 4 days a week and it took a lot of forward planning.
I found if I emailed my lecturers they were really helpful in letting me know my timetable and reading lists in advance so I could prepare for the term ahead. My sons thought it great that I was at school, just like them. I was painfully shy back then - even on my first day, when I walked in and saw crowds of students, I almost turned round to go home. But I stuck it out, and just kept going, even though I found the first year extremely tricky.
In my second year, something just clicked - I realised I wasn’t doing as much work as I needed to do, so would spend a lot of time in the library and really got into my subject area of Sociology. I really caught the bug for studying and wanted to do more. I looked into funding for a Masters degree and PhD even though this involved me really getting out of my comfort zone by moving house away from where I grew up. We moved to York in 2007 and I started my Masters, followed by my PhD.
Knowing that this was a crucial chance to make a headway into some kind of career, I threw myself into every opportunity I could find, but I can’t pretend it was easy. However, 6 months before I submitted by PhD thesis, I landed the job of my dreams .. and here I am. My job entails lots of different things but one area of my work I am particularly fond of, and excited about, is working with our mature students. My colleague Nicola and I have worked together for the last 4 years improving the mature student experience.
From talking to our students, we know that one of the key things they struggle with when they are joining the university is finding someone just like them, so we have introduced a few activities aimed at getting students to get to know each other. We understand that many of our students will be anxious about meeting others so we tailor our activities to suit - and our current mature students help us to design and deliver events too. We have a buddying scheme which begins via email in the weeks leading up to the start of the academic year, and an induction day which is great fun.
Throughout the year we have weekly coffee meet-ups, academic skills sessions and we, our team of buddies and our welcome team are always ready to chat. We have a very lively Facebook group and there is always someone looking to meet for coffee or enjoy a night in playing games, watching movies etc, or a night on the town. We have a great mature student community here at York and welcome any newcomers. If anyone wants to pop along to meet us to find out more, they are more than welcome.

If we look around us, we are surrounded by what we consider to be individuals or groups of people that are smarter than we are, are so accomplished, and are able to do things that we could never do. Has that stopped us from pursuing an ambition, career or lifestyle? Probably.

But think back to what the Imposter Syndrome said about that. We are all concerned that we are going to be found out to be a fraud, and some people decide not to put themselves in a situation where that could happen in the first place.

Let me introduce you to Dr Tamlyn Ryan who is the Academic Skills Co-ordinator at the University of York. Tamlyn was a mature student with family responsibilities, who came back to learning and caught the learning bug. Her story will inspire you. This could be you.

After you have watched the video, do comment on your observations of Tamlyn’s journey.

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Returning to Education as a Mature Student

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