The Ph(D) balance



Jessica Mitchell in the field

Zoology/Animal Behaviour student and Student Advocate Jessica Mitchell on the demands of studying as a postgraduate and how the inclusive atmosphere at LJMU benefits students of all ages

After the Christmas break it was surprisingly nice to get back to Uni early in the first week of January. You see, prior to exams the first week back is almost completely bereft of students meaning you can use the printer without a fight, stroll down the corridor at a normal pace (why is it people born in the 90s walk so slowly!?!) and most of all be incredibly productive with whatever work you need to get on with.

This is just one of the little gems of info I picked up when I begin studying as a mature undergraduate at the University of Sheffield. Now, nearly ten years on I am back in academia as a PhD student in Zoology at LJMU.

I can safely say it was one of the best decisions I ever made to come and study here. Mature students seem to account for a relatively large proportion of postgrads and I also know several who were mature undergrads too. The atmosphere is incredibly inclusive; mature students often appear to contribute more during group projects and interactive workshops and this in turn helps the younger students become more proactive and confident in their studies. On the other hand I recently witnessed an 18 year old first year explaining the benefits of Twitter to several members of her mature cohort and even helping them set up accounts!

Although I am on a fully-funded scholarship there are ample ways to earn extra cash at John Moores and money was one of the main worries I had about returning to study.  During term-time I work as a learning support assistant, teaching on courses relevant to my degree background.  However I also do outreach activities as a Student Advocate: these range from delivering inspiring assemblies to primary school kids to helping at open days or even answering student queries. It’s a great way to bump up your earnings without compromising your studies as hours are extremely flexible.

Liverpool is also an easy city in which to secure part-time work and with the LJMU campus being spread across the centre you can fit shifts around lectures and library time with ease.

Socially, Liverpool is an excellent city for music and theatre but also for sport and exercise activities. I am a keen runner, racing half marathons and 10ks most years, so I was keen to get involved in a local running club. I’m please to say I was spoilt for choice and tried several out before settling with one club.

The free off-peak membership at Lifestyles fitness centres is also brilliant and can be upgraded to full membership for just £7 a month. With centres across the city and suburbs and a wide range of classes on offer, there’s no excuse not to be active as you begin student life! Both running club and the gym were great ways of meeting new people beyond university and expanding my social circle. On a less healthy note this city does offer a good night out with cosy pubs, loud clubs, wine tastings and everything else in between!

Anyhow, I am now going back to my pile of statistics as I attempt to finish the biggest chapter of my thesis. It was lovely to have the first week of peace, but term has now officially begun and other students are back in full force. Only another week before my teaching begins so I’d better make the most of this down time!

You can read more about returning to University as a 21+ student and chat to the team online at Returning to Education. For more information about Zoology and other courses visit the School of Natural Sciences and Psychology web pages.



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