The story that led me to where I am today
The course I’m studying now is actually my second degree, having graduated from a different uni in 2012 where I studied Theatre: Performance Practice. In between these two periods of study I worked in the theatre industry as a freelance practitioner and as artistic director of a small company, before briefly spending some time as an instructor in outdoor education.
So why would someone go from working in theatre to retrain as a physiotherapist? You might think they’re two subjects and careers that are as far away from each other as you could imagine. However, arguably there are overlaps in what’s required to work in each industry, for example; working with people, being a great communicator and the fact that they’re both not as glamorous as the general public usually think.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved working in theatre, but I began to be disenfranchised with the industry. I was expected to work a lot of the time for free and spending weeks unpaid applying for projects, never to hear back from them. I felt that my skills and time were worth more than that, so one day I sat down and planned out a new career. I was thinking about what skills I have to offer, and the experiences I’d gained in my former career when I started to think about a physio career path. Working with people, check. Communication skills, check. Being able to cope with the unexpected, check.
After a year out working in outdoor education followed by a biology-based access course, I now find myself back at uni, at the ripe old age of 31.
My experience on my course
Being 31 puts me firmly in the demographic of mature student, or as one of my fellow cohort described me, a senior adult. He was trying to be complimentary about me being organised, but to be 31 and referred to as senior made me feel like a proper grown up. Whilst I did play up to being offended by the comment, the sentiment was in truth a nice one. Mature students are often seen as leaders and are welcomed by the year group as voices of experience and emotional maturity. In my cohort I am one of three elected student reps, who are responsible for knowing how everyone is feeling about the course and relaying this to the course staff. All three of us are mature students, which I think shows how respected we are for what we bring to the table. Approximately one third of the 55 first-year physio students on the course are mature students. We all have different reasons for returning to education and all bring unique backgrounds and experiences.
Some things I have reflected upon since beginning the course
I have found confidence. Although I’m naturally an introvert, I have confidence knowing why I’m here (on the course), and what I’m working towards. I think this is a thought shared amongst all us mature students in my year group. Even though the end goal is to be a physiotherapist, I am open towards what the future has in store.
Whilst academic writing will never be my forte, I am academically more capable than ten years ago when I did my first degree. This was helped in part by attending the access course which prepared me for my return to uni.
There’s loads of help available. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease three years after completing my first degree. The disability advice team, which is part of student services at Leeds Beckett have been great and supported me. They’ve had discussions with me about how my condition could affect my studies and life, so that changes can be made if necessary. Every member of staff is also really good at steering you in the direction to the right department or person if ever you need help.
My top tips
Finally, if you’re considering returning to education, here are some top tips that could be of use.
- Figure out where you want to be in five or ten years’ time. Will returning to education help you get there? Knowing your personal goals will give you something to work towards and figure out how to get there.
Check the small print on entry requirements. Don’t write yourself off applying for a course because you’re not sure you meet the entry requirements – if in doubt contact the uni directly to clarify. There are several ways to get onto a degree course, including relevant transferable experience, so what’s written online or in a prospectus isn’t necessarily black and white.
Look for bursaries, scholarships and grants – there’s lots of financial help available, ranging from the cover of childcare costs to a disabled student allowance (DSA) and the recently instated NHS learning grant.
Reflect on what you have learnt from all your life experiences, whether that be from your personal life or profession. Your unique outlook will be valued by the uni and your peers as you will have learnt loads about yourself and other people in your time away from education.