Monday, 24 September 2012

The Angst of the Mature Student

So you’ve finally made it to uni!  All those years away from study doing other things; taking a break from the trauma of schoolwork, getting your social life sorted, getting work experience, travelling, raising children, and now here you are having a complete change of direction.

After the trauma of searching out those ancient certificates, negotiating the maze of the application process, surviving writing the dreaded personal statement, you are finally sorted and ready to start.

Now the angst begins!  If you are anything like I was when I started my undergraduate degree, you will be still doubting your ability to keep up with all those bright young students still sparkling from completing their A levels, and  enjoying a study free summer. However you will have spent ages getting everything organised, your timetable and reading list highlighted, your diary completely filled in to facilitate the successful juggling of work, child care, shopping , cooking etc.  I began my undergraduate degree twelve years ago as not only a mature student, but an extra mature one.  I worried that I would not be able to keep up, that I would miss all my deadlines, that I would fail miserably and generally look really stupid – and really old!  I was that student who, when presented with the first course work had to go off to a tutor to ask what an essay really was and ask how I was going to know what to write. Then I realised that I was one of those really nerdy ones who have all their reading done ready for seminars, that get to the library first to take out all the recommended books, who are always on time for their classes, and get their work in on time or well before the deadline, not trusting that computers wont crash just before the deadline!

As I settled into my first term and began to socialise with my group I discovered that the other students weren’t nearly as scary as I had thought at first.  I naturally gravitated towards certain students and those were the ones I spent many hours with as we formed revision study groups, threw ideas around for essays and course work, fretted over readings being much too hard and sought sympathy as I moaned about my recalcitrant teenagers and their messy habits.

The adaptation to study is very different for mature students. Your relationships, social life and household management will be affected and you may have serious financial considerations to take on board. You’ll find that you don’t bounce back as easily anymore so all nighter essay writing sessions fuelled by strong coffee or Red Bull don’t work in the way they may have done a few years ago.

Once I went on strike and refused to cook when my teenagers left all the washing up for two days.  I got a takeaway for myself and told them I didn’t really mind what they cooked for themselves.  After accusing me of being very childish they left the washing up for a further day.  I got another takeaway meal and made sure I told them how delicious it was.  They eventually caved in after three days of eating pasta with cheese, and washed all the dishes. After cooking a lovely meal together we sat down to discuss a fair distribution of household chores. The next three years were not entirely plain sailing as we battled over computer access, they complained about their distracted grumpy mother as she tried to concentrate on reading a paper while not burning the fish fingers, I refused to wash any clothing not placed in the washing basket meaning that on more than a few occasions they went to school looking decidedly crumpled and with odd socks! However we also became very close as we agonised over essays together and helped each other survive the panic of looming deadlines.

However, it was all worth it.  My children are now grown up and they often tell me how my efforts to study and work hard have helped to inspire them to work hard to achieve their goals. I think one of the most important survival tools for the mature student is to remember your sense of humour.  If you can find the ludicrous in a seemingly awful scenario, it can become a valuable tool to diffuse all that mature student angst and help you to really enjoy that journey of discovery ahead of you. Throwing  a full size toddler tantrum on the floor in rebellion against my grumpy teenagers was far more effective in getting a point across than yelling at them as they collapsed into giggles at the sight of their mum thrashing around on the floor pounding her fists and stamping her feet!

As a midwife I had worked in situations where my decisions could make the difference between life and death.  At uni, whenever I began lapsing too seriously into mature student angst, my midwife friends would remind me that it was only an essay and no one was going to die so there was no point in losing sleep over it, just carefully plan so that there was enough time to submit work comfortably (making a personal earlier deadline worked well for me) then sit back and forget about it. 

It is always better to pre-empt a situation rather than having to react.  You can monitor your progress and if you are slipping, don’t suffer in silence.  Ask for help while there is still time; depending on what your problem is, there is  your personal tutor, course leader, study skills mentors, or library staff. They can pretty much guarantee that whatever your personal challenge is, they have seen one pretty similar. Don’t suffer in silence – there is absolutely no need to, and the only person who will lose out will be you.

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