There are several definitions of ‘mature students’… but what is it really like to go back to higher education after having another career and three kids? MA Publishing ‘mature’ student Suzanne Westbrook explains.
One semester in to my MA in Publishing at Kingston University and it’s a good time to take stock. As one of only a handful of mature publishing students I am often asked about my motivation to return to studying. My friends’ reactions have been varied and colourful. Some think I am ‘crazy’ to be studying so hard with 3 young boys (Calum: 9, Iain: 7 and Harris: 4). Others consider me ‘brave’, and some ‘lucky’ to be able to change career direction at this stage in my life. And me?
Am I crazy?
It does feel a little mad for sure as days are often hectic and I feel stretched by the many demands of Uni and life with busy children. ‘Do you REALLY need dinner tonight? Mummy is just finishing up a little research here’. I have still to find a perfect life/work balance. I know I should be working as hard as I can when the boys are at school but I sometimes find this hard as I’m ‘not in the mood’ after a rushed school run. So, if I’m not up for assignment writing I do some research; if I’m not in the mood for research I do some course reading. You get the gist! And there’s always laundry…
I try to plan for down-time to get the numerous jobs done to clear my head for concentrated study. When I am working well, I am annoyed to be interrupted by the school pick-up. I then get cross with myself as I mull over unresolved issues in my head when I should be chatting about the minutiae of the school day with the boys, which I love to do (so funny, so revealing). Therefore I am studying part-time over two years and trying to keep realistic in my expectations although I really want to do well on the course.
It has been a whirlwind of a first semester with assignments coming thick and fast. Whilst often hard to do at the time (it is an MA after all), I can look back with a real sense of achievement when I consider how much I’ve learnt already, with a blog, a case study on literary agents and a higher education market analysis under my belt. We also had the unique opportunity to present our product proposals to real-life Editor-at-Large, Liz Gooster of Kogan Page – nerve-wracking but amazing! The emphasis on practical application is immensely beneficial. I also enjoy the publishing Masterclasses presented by industry specialists where we get to hear how it really is, and we can talk further with them often over a drink or two. After all, it’s important to network!
And I really enjoy studying alongside the ‘younger’ publishing students, who have welcomed us ‘older’ students, without question, into the fold. It is so interesting to hear of how they have come to publishing, and to hear their stories of home and their hopes for the future. I try to picture myself at their age and admire how focused and confident many of them are. They have taught me how to tweet and to use Facebook groups (love the Facebook groups) and I try not to mother them in return!
Am I brave?
Well, I suppose that turning my back on my previous career in accounting and finance and my degree in languages is a little brave. And of course, the road into publishing is less obvious for students with the ‘life experience’ that I have (I can never hear that too many times…). But, in today’s publishing industry where it’s all about the margins, I’ll put that accounting (and life) experience to good use. And who knows, maybe I’ll get to use my languages too.
And why publishing? Well, I have long been interested in the industry, love books and languages and am reminded every day how important literacy and books are. My boys have all turned out to be little bookworms, which is beyond wonderful. Calum enjoys being cross-examined on his reading tastes for my Uni assignments and loves to hassle me over my ‘homework’. Iain has promised I can edit his manuscript for his first comic book, but I foresee considerable slippage with the publication schedule! As for Harris, where do I start? He has embraced reading with gusto, bounds out of his class every day to tell me what he has learnt and regales us with his alphabet songs. One song for each letter – quite a repertoire!
Am I lucky?
Absolutely! I am extremely lucky to be studying a subject I find endlessly fascinating and to be supported so wholeheartedly by my wonderful husband Mark. In my career break of nine years I have had time to sit back and think clearly about my future. Returning to the workforce was always a given although I do not regret, in any way, taking time off to be with the boys. It has been a delight and privilege to be there to see them grow, but it is now time to ‘get back to me’.
And lucky too to be studying alongside my new friend Helen, also a mature publishing student and mother. We are able to remind each other of our considerable achievements so far – wearing matching shoes to lectures, turning up on time and so on. Oh and we’re doing ok at Uni too. Although, Iain is concerned that ‘I could do better’ with my marks!
So yes, I am crazy, brave and lucky and very very busy… but happy too!
Suzanne Westbrook has a degree in Languages and worked in finance for many years as a Chartered Accountant. She is now studying on the MA Publishing at Kingston University after a nine-year career break.