Emma is a PhD student at the University of Bradford. In this blog she chats to us about returning to education after a long gap and her journey from undergraduate student to postgraduate researcher.
Emma Eyers, PhD Student
Returning to education aged 36 was more daunting than the first day of secondary school, I felt like ‘class mum’. I had responsibilities to my family, poor physical health and felt that I could never achieve my ambition; I felt like it was too late for me.
Regardless of my inner worries, I attended an open day where I soon realised that there were many mature students from all walks of life, looking to embark on their new career. This gave me a new hope.
Before I knew it, I was enrolling on a 3-year undergraduate programme in Health, Wellbeing and Social care (now called BSc Community and Public Health), and soon found myself back in the classroom with my shiny new laptop and notebook, still feeling like I shouldn’t be there, but I was, so I gave it a go.
What was the course like?
There was something for everyone with a learning experience that included traditional lectures delivered by some of the leading experts in the field. As traditional learning methods aren’t for everyone, there were also workshop sessions which brought the theory to life and placement opportunities that put me right in the heart of the communities where I was looking to put my knowledge into practice. This blended learning structure, resulted in me graduating with a first-class honours degree that I will be forever proud of.
What was it like returning to education?
As a mature student with children, studying was extra challenging, as finding the time to read and learn initially felt like less of a priority than looking after my family. I found it particularly difficult to prioritise my workload, keep up with the pace of learning and retain the information that was given to me.
That changed when I engaged with Disability Services after finding out that I was dyslexic. The support that they offered was exemplary, both in terms of my academic issues and the social and emotional skills required to support me in managing a hectic workload: study coaches to help with time management skills and librarians who strengthened my academic skills left me well prepared for a life in the world of academia.
What are you doing now?
Immediately after graduating I enrolled on a postgraduate taught programme in Public Health. The first part was plain sailing, but in March of last year, the time I really needed to be in the University environment, the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in me being forced to continue my studies from home.
This was a challenging time, as it has been for everyone, but the rapid response to managing the new restrictions and commitment from each and every member of the University team meant that I was able to become a Master of Public Health in 2020, despite the additional challenges that Covid-19 presented.
In October 2020, after completing my postgraduate taught programme, I was successful in securing a PhD scholarship with the University and I am now working alongside the lecturers and professors that taught me everything I know. I am using my knowledge in the field of social science that the BSc in Community and Public Health gave me and using it to develop my own research whilst working towards my PhD.
In 2016 I was nervous that I would struggle to balance work, study and a family, and now I am studying and working towards a career in research and academia. I am part of a team of trailblazers who dedicate their working life to harnessing the power of technology and developing new methods of care to benefit patients and the healthcare workforce. And in year 2 of my PhD journey, I am hoping to give lectures myself to some of the new undergraduate students.
What advice would you give to mature students who are thinking about returning to education?
I’d say do It! Being a graduate from university was always the dream for me; my ultimate goal you might say. I always wanted to wear the cap and gown and be the first person in my family to own a degree. Now, five years since that terrifying first day, I am still at the University as a postgraduate researcher, studying and working alongside some amazing people who are just as passionate about the health of our nation as I am.
I owe it all to those first days at ‘big school’ and the support given to me by the University of Bradford, in particular, the BSc Community and Public Health undergraduate team and a truly fantastic learning experience.