Asking Adult Learners: Julia

Julia is a Biomedical Science student who started studying at the University of Bradford during the Pandemic. In this blog, she talks about her experiences as an adult learner student during her first year at Bradford. 

Headshot of adult learner student, Julia Pennington.

Julia Pennington

Why did you decide to return to learn?

I was brought up on a council estate where kids didn’t even go to sixth form, let alone university. We left school with few qualifications or aspirations and became factory workers, cleaners or, if you were lucky and male, bin men. By the time I reached my twenties, I had joined the ranks of single mothers living in council flats and was dependent upon state benefits.

Over the years, I took adult education courses here and there, until eventually I was able to apply for a term-time position as a school science technician. This indulged a growing love for all things science, but more importantly meant that I didn’t need to arrange childcare. This role suited me for many years, but eventually, I wanted to go further and to see how much I was capable of.

After really looking into my options, I realised that swapping full-time work for full-time hands-on study was not the impossibility I’d always assumed, but entirely realistic; I’d be eligible for full financial help and intended to get a part-time job to supplement my income. I first completed an Access to HE course, which was helpful in many ways, particularly with applying for university courses.

Two prospective students chatting to a member of staff at an Open Day.What support have you been given as an adult learner?

The Access to HE course is designed to help adult learners get back into and further their
education, and I was able to apply for an Advanced Learner Loan to fund it. The tutors and co-learners were knowledgeable and always willing to give help or advice. There were visits from former students who had gone on to university and from recruitment teams from local universities. We were given all the information we needed to successfully apply to university.

I was also able to attend university open days where there were people to advise from all disciplines, tours of the departments and facilities, current students giving their perspective and much more.

Whilst I have been studying at Bradford, there has been help available, should I want/need it, from many sources, be that mental health and well-being, general study skills or specific subject help in the form of peer-led lectures or one-to-ones with lecturers. Should my aging laptop fail, I know that I can arrange to borrow another to work on, I can book a quiet place in which to study or book an appointment with a librarian.

One major area in which I have received support has been financially. Beginning my studies in the middle of lockdown, with many people losing jobs, I had a hard time finding part-time work and only managed to work over the Christmas period. I applied for, and was awarded, significant financial help from the University, for which I am hugely grateful; it helped enormously and relieved the stress I had been under, which was beginning to affect my studies.

What’s your favourite thing about campus?

I have so far been on campus only a handful of times, given the pandemic, but I love being in the lab. I feel like a real scientist, and part of a community. That, and the Starbucks!

How do you manage your work-life balance?

Honestly, I’m still working on it, but a little every day really helps. I’m lucky enough to have found a job in the area I’d eventually like to work (biomedical science within the NHS) with a zero-hours contract and plenty of hours available: if I’m busy studying, I am under no obligation to work.

What’s your advice for adult learners considering applying to Bradford?

What are you waiting for? Come and speak to someone who can advise you, be it on taking a foundation course before a degree, advice on funding, or what help is available if you have a learning difficulty. Don’t assume that you can’t because (insert excuse here). Go for it. It’s never too late (I’m 51!). Believe in yourself!

Looking for support in returning to learn? Head to our dedicated Adult Learner webpage. 

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