Going back to ‘school’ later in life as a mature student was quite daunting to be honest, but at the University of Suffolk I was always made to feel that my life experiences meant something.
I didn’t do very well at school. I got the minimum grades I needed to be able to get a job, but I never found that I could apply myself to schoolwork. That was 25 years ago mind you! As I got older I found my desire to learn grew exponentially.
I did my A-levels, more out of a feeling of peer-pressure and inevitability than desire, but I really didn’t enjoy school. Everyone I knew was going off to Uni, usually to do subjects that seemed to me to be something completely pointless for what they wanted to do as a career. I only ever wanted to join the Royal Air Force and so I did. I joined in 2001, a few weeks after 9/11 and I served for 7 years doing tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Basic and trade training in the RAF was the first post-school learning that I had done and because it was something I was interested in rather than subjects I was obliged to learn, I excelled. I took every opportunity I could to do new training courses and extra-curricular learning, although work commitments during wartime often meant there was little time for this. I often thought that I might do a degree later in life, perhaps once I retired.
What is the point of all this? Well, this journey brought me to 2017 and to the University of Suffolk. When I left the uniformed services after 15 years I did not know where the next chapter of my life would take me. My wife encouraged me to think about doing a degree. I did not know what subject I would study though and whilst looking through the prospectus I noted that the University of Suffolk History department was ranked very highly. I realised that I really had an interest in History, despite not studying it for GCSE or A-level. I went along to an Open Day event and met the course team, who were super supportive and accepting of me despite my lack of academic qualifications. I think they instantly saw beyond that and saw what I was capable of, and possibly that I would be a positive influence on the rest of the students in my cohort due to my experiences. I had looked at a few different courses at some other universities in East Anglia, but when Suffolk offered me a place I snapped their hand off.
Getting started on the course itself was daunting. The amount of reading I had to do was not something I was used to, and a lot of the academic ‘flowery’ language was tough for me to get my head round initially. I attended a variety of workshops to get ready for study at this level which helped ease my nervousness immensely. I failed my very first assessment, which was quite a set back, but the lecturers were great at pointing out exactly why I had failed, and reassured me that it did not matter in the long term, as the first year was all about easing us into the higher level of study. I was attentive in lectures and an active participant in seminar discussions about the weekly topics, which helped me to gradually become accustomed to the subject. As the first year went by I gained more and more confidence and the final essay I had to submit for one of my first year modules was marked as a 1st. I was so happy. By then I felt that I had grasped the principle of how to do this. Simple processes like how to format essays, and how to write footnotes properly were my key take-aways for the first year, and by learning those early, my writing could then develop over the rest of the course.
I finished my studies in May 2020 receiving a high 2:1 grade overall, but more importantly for me, my dissertation was very highly marked with a 1st. This was proof to me that I could do it. I had been so worried about whether I would be able to match up at this level of academia, but it turned out that I had the rights minerals after all. To receive high praise from my lecturers was such a thrill. They were so great throughout the whole 3 years. Supportive, engaging, funny, sweet, tentative and motivating to name but a few buzz-words to describe them. The broad range of skills that they possess and the level at which they were able to disseminate these meant that I leave University of Suffolk as a thoroughly rounded historian.
My dissertation had been such a success that I decided to enter it into some competitions in 2020. It was honourably mentioned in the Lancaster University Merriman Essay prize; a shortened version of it was subsequently published in the Lancaster University History Magazine EPOCH. Then in January 2021 I was informed that I was the winner of the Royal Air Force Museum’s 2020 Academic Prize for Undergraduates. This was such an honour and an amazing way to verify the transformation that I had undergone through three years at University of Suffolk. My lecturers were absolutely thrilled for me, and although they would never think of it in such a way, the prize is as much for them as it is for me. It highlights how good their teaching has been, and verifies the high regard that their History course deserves. I am now working through the process of modifying my dissertation to meet the requirements for publication in the British Commission for Military History journal.
I had planned to continue my academic journey with a Masters degree in Museums and Heritage at University of Derby however I decided not to pursue this due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In August of 2020 an opportunity came my way and I now work at University of Suffolk as a Graduate Intern Digital Learning Designer, helping lecturers to get the most out of their course content on Brightspace. COVID-19 has pushed most learning online and so I am learning some valuable skills around online teaching. I am considering taking the UOS Masters in Education studies in September 2021.
You can read more of our UniSuffolkMadeMe stories at www.uos.ac.uk/unisuffolkmademe