I started University when I was 22. One of my first emails from Kingston University was an invitation to a mature students meeting. Yes, I was surprised. I know that I started a few years later than a majority of students but still I felt strange being classified as a mature person. So how is it being a ‘mature student'?
I do feel a little bit different. I have done quite a lot during my 3 years gap and all my experiences have taught me a lot. They made me know what I want. I've taken a very well thought out decision on which course to study and I have never regretted it. I have been criticized by many people back in Poland for not going to university immediately, for moving out, for openly speaking about the things I don't find right in the place where I was born. But now I'm half way through my course, I could graduate in a year if I didn't want to take a year work placement and what do my old classmates do? They graduate at more or less the same time. They repeat some years, they change courses and they change their minds... I just made up my mind before starting uni.
In England, it is nothing unusual to start university later. On my course, Sustainable Development, I am one of the youngest students. The oldest one is 50 and she is doing great. She is one of the funniest girls I've ever met. It's never too late but it definitely can be too early to make such important decisions.
I do feel ‘old' sometimes, especially here in Australia where the majority of students are 18 years old and they still live with their parents. They look at me and quickly calculate that soon I will be 6 years older than them. I find that I have a different approach sometimes too in that I realise the value of money that I pay for my course and I treat it seriously. I want to learn and sometimes I have an impression that they just want to pass.
Mature students also have some advantages. I notice that they write really good reports and it seems that your ability to critically analyse facts increases with age too. University is not the only place where you learn and all the skills you have might be found useful during your degree. English educational systems aim at teaching you skills, not only facts. You might find that you possess many of those skills and it will make you achieve very good results as many of the mature students I know do.
So if the fear of standing out from the crowd keeps you away from higher education, you should know that you are not an exception and there is nothing that can stop you from becoming an excellent student!
Last month I wrote about leaving my VIVA exam smiling and with good reason as I found out a few days afterwards that I got an A! I was pretty happy with that and decided it was a good excuse for cake. The end of the VIVA did signal the start of dissertation work though.
Our dissertation has to be 7000 words long (I think this is a bit shorter than for students on other courses) and is in the form of a research proposal. I'm planning on doing mine on autonomy and midwifery with regards to normal birth. The notion of autonomy is generally that midwives are able to make independent decisions and judgements based on their own knowledge and skills. With many births taking place in obstetric-led units today, I feel that midwives are not always autonomous practitioners and this can have a negative impact on a woman's birth experience. It's not due until June by which time I will probably be tearing my hair out with all the reading I am anticipating having to do!
We also started a new module called Interprofessional Debate (IPD), where we have lectures with student nurses, physiotherapists, social workers and radiographers. The idea is to get us thinking about working interprofessionally because when we all qualify there will undoubtedly be times when our paths cross. It also aims to give us an understanding about the other professions. A lot of people don't seem to like it at all, but I think some of it is definitely relevant. I also can't stand wasting time hating something so I'm trying to get as much out of it as possible and I do find it interesting finding out about the other students. I think some of the midwifery girls are enjoying it because there are boys in the lectures and we work in a very female-dominated environment!
There will be an assignment for IPD at some point for this which is a report. It sounds pretty dull (the word report doesn't help) but it gives us the opportunity to maybe comment on something in practice that could be changed to work better. Apparently in the past one students report was so good that practice in her hospital trust did actually change, so I'm keeping that thought in my head because that's part of why I'm doing midwifery - I want to help make a positive difference. With just over 6 months left on the course (AHHHH!), we are beginning to think about where we would like to apply for jobs, where we want to live and the strange notion that we will be joining the world of real work. We begin applying for jobs around May/June time. All I really know at the moment is I'd like to stay in London!
I do enjoy living in Tooting and rent isn't too expensive so I'll probably be sticking around the area and one of my housemates has similar plans so I imagine we'll have to start house hunting around the same time we start job hunting! As for joining the real world of work, we can't do it immediately after we qualify because we have to wait for our ‘pin', which means that we will be officially registered as midwives on the Nursing and Midwifery Register. Getting our pin will take a few weeks so whilst we wait a few of us have bought Bestival tickets which will be like our end of term holiday. I can't wait...If you've never been I'd recommend going as it's a blast!
When I started my course at University there was one worry which I always had, that being the final year dissertation. I had this worry due to all my friends having previously finished university and stating that their final year dissertation was one of their most stressful and academically challenging times in their life. You are assigned a academic tutor as your mentor to help and guide you through your project. Academic writing was never my strong point either, I was always a numeracy person, so this added to the woes.
So for those of you who are wondering what a dissertation is well let me explain. In your final year you do a individual research project that is typically around 150000 words on a specific topic. Many employers take notice and direct questions to your project in interviews. You need to pass it too to achieve a Honours Degree, so no big burden hey?
Therefore it should not come as a shock that when I entered my final year I had a bit of hesitance with picking my project title. This is where the University can help you. After just one meeting with my supervisor and I was actually excited about my project!! My tutor gave me a topic he knew I would enjoy and actually be motivated to do. My project is to build and test a rocket engine, this is quite a challenge in itself as I have to construct a physical piece of hardware let alone my report.
This increase in motivation does not mean I can relax sit back and jump out of planes everyday as I am in the LRC most nights working on it. I need to design the whole system from scratch and then simulate it in computer software. Any problems I have I ask my supervisor at the time we meet formally each fortnight, so if there is a problem I'm back on track.
I'm hoping this project will grant me some exposure to leading names in rocket propulsion and hopefully a job afterwards.