I almost had a heart attack when a notification popped up around midnight on September 1, notifying me that the grades for our last assignment had been released on the portal. It’s not unusual that I get emails and notifications late at night. I currently reside in Hong Kong (+8 GMT), but Falmouth University is in the UK, where I’m studying for my postgraduate degree in Photography. I must admit that distance learning is not for everyone, especially if you’re a mature student having to manage full-time work at the same time. For those who are looking for constant supervision and hand-holding, being away from the university is definitely not easy. Unless you are highly passionate about the subject, studying alone could be very difficult without peers and faculty support. Exercising self-control is not an easy thing!
Studying as a mature student
Whenever I told someone I was studying for my second postgraduate degree, they would immediately show me an expression of disbelief. “Exactly how did you get admitted to study Photography?” most would ask. I can’t blame them though, as photography is totally unrelated to my academic or professional background. But honestly, the Internet has made it so much easier for us to do things that are hardly possible in the past. Now is the best time to pursue a new hobby, acquire new knowledge, or accomplish something that you would never have thought possible – as long as you are determined that you’d stick with it and get over whatever obstacles you face. Because there will be.
A rough start to the postgraduate programme
After submitting my application with a statement of intent and a portfolio of work to the admissions office, I soon received an unconditional offer and was offered a bursary to start the course in January 2022. I was thrilled but at the same time, a little intimidated.
First, it’s been over 10 years since I completed my master’s degree at the University of Hong Kong. So going back to school looks pretty foreign to me.
Secondly, for a person who’s been dealing with models, logic, formula, proofs and optimisations all her life, an arts subject is completely beyond my comfort zone!
And my fear was valid. When I first started the course, for several instances, I really, REALLY wanted to give up. Especially when it comes to reading academic literature and actually understanding what arguments and ideas they were trying to get across were extremely hard. It could take me days to read a journal and then a few more days to actually figure out what it’s trying to say.
And writing for reflective and critical assessments drove me absolutely insane.
Mastering new skills from academic studies
As much as I wanted to give up, I didn’t. Thanks to my logical mind and rational thinking, I figured the additional effort might be worth it because I’d acquire some new skills that might prove useful in the future. These are immensely practical skills that could potentially open up new opportunities, personally and professionally.
So I gritted my teeth, strategised on my study plan and delivered what I was required to. As an amateur photographer with no prior training in any art discipline, I tried my best. And being surrounded by talented peers and helpful tutors was essential to keep me on track.
Fast-forward 9 months, I have already completed 2 modules, finished 4 impossible assignments and am ready to embark on the third module with the following new skills.
- Out of my expectation, the kind of research required was not something I had done as much in my previous studies. But even if we had to, for Economics it’s more structured with solid goals or assumptions to prove. For this MA, I guess the research was more freestyle and much broader in terms of subjects to cover. Basically, you might have to look everywhere in order to find something that is remotely relevant.
Visualising a concept
- It’s like having to get into other people’s minds and try to visualise the idea that they are trying to portray, describe or express. Not everyone is a good communicator, and the understanding of a certain subject is always subjective.
- I’m so used to experiments aiming to find a definite answer (think A/B test and prove a theoretical assumption). But now, most of the time I’m experimenting to find out what I’m trying to look for. Complicated, I know, but I’m starting to appreciate the new methodology. It gives me a different perspective on problem-solving.
Appreciation & Knowledge
- Naturally, my understanding of the subject, as well as my practical skills, have been improved.
Studying is a rewarding experience.
Some people say “the journey is more important than the destination”, to which I agree 100%. You have to find a path you enjoy, pick up some goodies on the way and celebrate a fruitful outcome when you get to the destination. Would I continue to study after this MA? Most probably, as this is definitely a journey that I enjoy. If you are also considering going back to school as a mature student, I’d definitely encourage you to do so. You’ll be fascinated by the new concepts and start seeing things with a refreshed perspective. Find a subject that is worthwhile to the opportunity cost you’re paying with your time and money, and really commit to it. A positive mindset is always a powerful tool to overcome challenges with age and experience.