I didn’t take a gap year, I took a gap life.
I wore my cap and gown at the amazing age of 51 and received my Honours science degree with the enthusiasm of a teenager.
I wasn’t a qualification slouch between leaving school and starting my degree at 48. I am a registered nurse amongst other things, but the degree road was one I didn’t think I’d ever take.
The opportunity came up through the University College Isle of Man in conjunction with Chester University and I embraced it with the naivety of delivering my firstborn.
Yes, I know you said it would hurt, but you didn’t say it would hurt that much!
Combined with working, running a business, supporting my teenagers and their busy lives, the midnight hour became my friend.
The first year was all about learning how to learn again, substantiating, proving and referencing my learning. Hats off to those tutors who guided us through the three years.
The mean average age was way above the norm as the cohort group was mostly mature students. Very difficult to teach people with a raft of life experiences and unbending attitudes!
Every minute of every day mattered and had to be structured so that I could achieve my studying, essay writing, research, data collation, on time submissions, college attendance, projects and accepting dressing downs for substandard work.
A deflated ego is not the easiest things to carry round when you’re an old bird!
The second-year of our learning experience was all about developing and delivering as a group, a mental health conference to a large audience of associated professionals and emergency services personnel.
This was when I really questioned why I had put myself through this experience. I would have had more fun doing DIY surgery than this.
The third year, well that much-loved dissertation had to be written. I chose a subject that I am perilously close to, ‘Preventing falls in the Elderly’. It’s still collecting dust in the college library if you want a skeet! (please don’t).
I quickly realised that data analysis is not one of my key skills and several computers received my wrath in the style of Basil Fawlty.
Was it hard work? Yes.
Did I want to give up more than once? Yes.
Did I question my own sanity? Yes.
Was it worth it? Hell yes!
What has having a degree given me?
Well, I met some amazing people, I developed a desire to keep learning and researching and understood that much of what we read and believe to be true has an underlying bias, question everything!
The list of transferable skills is plentiful: I can deliver presentations without fainting and I can wiggle my way around a computer. I have combined my academic learning with running a business, chairing meetings, sitting on various boards and community work. Activities I wouldn’t have had the confidence to attempt prior to my degree.
Learning at any level is not just about the individual it is also about how it affects our society, community and environment economically, physically and psychologically.
Can I justify the various costs of those three years to myself and relevant authorities?
I believe so. I worked in my given field of Public Health, my business brings freight to the Isle of Man. My dissertation involved developing chair-based exercise for the elderly around the island which is still going strong and mental health in the workplace is one of our company values.
I had the honour of studying with the late great Selina Hunter who went on to complete her Masters after we had finished our degree course.
If your degree gives you or your community nothing of any value, then just think of Selina’s words when she was faced with a particularly difficult individual in her professional dealings, ‘Look love, I’ve got more letters behind my name than you’ve got in yours’.
Sandra Cottam-Shea BSc (Hons), RN, F.A.R.T