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Calvin Asks: Any tips for a mature student?

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  • Advice Needed!

Calvin Asks: Any tips for a mature student?

Posted by Calvin T. Engineer on Nov 29, 2018 10:12 am

For a few years now I have been thinking about doing a degree in Biomedical Engineering. I already work in the field, but my lack of degree is making it harder to move onwards and upwards in my career. My employer is a small company and can’t (i.e. won't) help with financing so I would have to fund this myself, making it a huge investment.

Do you have any tips for a mature (ish) student about to take this big step?

No Degree - Dublin
 
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Re: Calvin Asks: Any tips for a mature student?

Posted by Andy Millar on Nov 29, 2018 1:09 pm

  1. Do it. You won't regret it.
  2. You may get frustrated with the academic process, or with the attitude of some of the "non-mature" people on the course, but actually it's a good experience to get out of the day job and realise that other people work and think in different ways.
  3. Definitely do it.
  4. Be aware that some of the course may seem really obvious, and some may seem irrelevant. Be prepared to stick with it otherwise when you get to a really important and new bit you'll suddenly realise you completely missed some of the background info and have to struggle to catch up! (You can tell that this is written from experience...)
  5. It will involve time and money sacrifices, but it's only for a finite time, so do it.
  6. Use your colleagues at work for support. Some will be disinterested, don't let them put you off. Others who've been through it will be pleased to help and will be pleased that you are interested - although they will also get frustrated about how much of their own degrees they've forgotten!
  7. You will have less free time in the evenings and weekends (assuming that you're trying to do this alongside a day job), so use it as an opportunity to focus on how you really want to spend your free time, and to clear some of the clutter from your life. Good reason to do it.
  8. Warn your family and friends that you will be very grumpy and harassed each May / June. I wrote my Masters' dissertation at the same time that my daughter was going through A level exams and my son was going through GCSEs. My wife eventually realised that it was best to just stick food and cups of tea in front of us and that we'd eat and drink them at some point...hot or cold. Again it's only for a month or so.
  9. Having studied for one university qualification at the age of 40 and another at the age of 50 (even though in my case I had my original degree as well) I found it's had a huge impact on the way I do my work. A well tutored course will not just give you new information about your field, but will also make you think about the whole way you do your work - in particular making sure that you're really thinking about where the evidence for your work comes from. Are you doing things because "they just work" or "we've always done it that way", or is there actually a really sound scientific and technical basis for it? And if there isn't, what can you do to make it better? So (and I'm not sure if I've mentioned this yet smiley ) I really recommend that if at all possible you do it.
  10. Do be prepared to feel quite old. And to be entertained by the sheer optimism of school leaving undergraduates. Try not to come across as a cynical old buffer - instead try to absorb some of that energy and enthusiasm. Also you'll find that just having your general experience of the world of work means that you'll cope with the nuts-and-bolts of dealing with tutors, finding your way round bizarre university admin and managing your own time much better than the typical undergrad.
  11. So overall, on balance, all things considered...I think I'd recommend it. 
P.S. I haven't commented on funding since I don't really have experience, having managed to get my employer to finance both my postgraduate qualifications (I do feel for the poster on this issue). But as an idea of how to get this funding: For my first postgraduate course I was really struggling to get support from the company, but then our Swedish Vice-President came over to present an all-employee meeting at which he said (as they always do at such things) "this company is 100% committed to training and developing our workforce". So my manager and I got him to sign the approval there and then while he couldn't back out without huge loss of face!
Andy Millar CEng CMgr IET Mentor / IET PRA uk.linkedin.com/in/millarandy

Re: Calvin Asks: Any tips for a mature student?

Posted by Roy Bowdler on Nov 30, 2018 4:00 pm

I would advocate some form of analysis and investment appraisal.

I assume that because you already work in the field, you have an existing portfolio of knowledge and skills. I don’t know anything about your employer, but I assume that your opportunities for progression are limited , so to them the proposition may seem something like; pay out more for potentially reduced productivity during a period of study, only to see you move on at the end. If they can identify a return on investment, then they might consider helping in some way. In my experience, most employers want to support good productive employees to progress their careers, for business reasons including a sense of moral and ethical principles, good reputation etc. However if you are a key player in your current role, for them investment might be better directed in keeping you in it, rather than helping you out of it.

As your question is phrased, it suggests that you have sought other positions or at least looked at advertisements , leading you to believe that without the right degree you are either ineligible or out-competed by others with such degrees. This might be true, but you need to understand what your problem is (if any) before you take an expensive medicine to cure it. For example, advertisements for “graduate engineers” are often targeted a specific age group and you will still find difficulty, if you don’t fit what they are looking for, degree or not.  You might for example, identify an organisation looking for someone like you to progress. I note that you are not in the UK, but I assume that it could be an option. This example that I saw today isn’t Biomedical but shows an option https://www.centreforworkbasedlearning.co.uk/news-events/2018/march/a-second-chance-for-william/ .

If the first phase of your “due-diligence” convinces you that gaining a degree will be potentially beneficial to your career and/or yourself as a person in the short term, then you need to shortlist some choices.  Many universities offer part-time masters programmes and allow admission credit for career experience.  Some would allow you to focus towards biomedical engineering, even if they don’t carry that title. Undergraduate degrees are primarily designed to prepare young people for a career, and although such learning may be of benefit to you , much of it might not be. Some employers have well-established relationships with university departments.  I note that Trinity College has a Centre for Bioengineering and a conversation with a suitable member of that department seems an obvious choice. Peter Bannister https://www.theiet.org/volunteers/get-involved/meet/pbannister.cfm  would be a good IET point of contact.

I like Andy’s optimistic frame of reference, I share with him the experience of a couple of mid-career degrees, but in my case both during my 30s. They were masters level, but I don’t have an undergraduate degree and left school at 16 to pursue an apprenticeship. I didn’t “shine” in either, relative to those who were better optimised by their early education. I can’t be sure of the benefits, although my first one might have contributed to me securing a role that proved very good for my career. I should also have mentioned, that I was for many years a Company Training Manager involved intimately with such issues, supporting both our employees and some universities.        

I don’t know about Ireland, but the Tuition fee hikes in the UK, have in my opinion shifted the balance too far and are in danger of killing-off mid-career degrees. For that reason I have to give the advice, caveat emptor! I would myself (either personally or as an employer) be a very cautious investor. The internet places a great deal of knowledge at your disposal. How much support you need, what additional knowledge you can access that isn’t commonly available and the ultimate value of the degree, are all factors to weigh.


 

Re: Calvin Asks: Any tips for a mature student?

Posted by Andy Millar on Nov 30, 2018 5:14 pm

Brilliant post Roy. I'd like to add one thing following that: my very strong opinion is that going for a degree at any age in the belief that it "will" or "should" get you a good job can - and often does - lead to disappointment. Whereas approaching a degree with the attitude that it'll be interesting and chance of a different experience of Life rarely disappoints. And what often, in fact very often, happens after that is not that the degree on your CV gets you a better job, but that the attitude you've shown plus the commitment you've shown in getting a degree gets you a better job.

The end of my story above is that six months after persuading the company to pay for my two year management qualification they promoted me (completely out of the blue, and without me applying for a position) to a management role. Not because I was qualified, I'd only just started the course, but because I'd shown determination to get qualified. 

I do of course agree that, due to the fact that so many people have degrees these days, having one does often become a necessity to get past the HR CV "checklist". But Roy's covered all sides of that very well already, including the fact that it definitely doesn't make having a degree a "magic bullet".

Cheers,

Andy
 
Andy Millar CEng CMgr IET Mentor / IET PRA uk.linkedin.com/in/millarandy

Re: Calvin Asks: Any tips for a mature student?

Posted by Alasdair Anderson on Dec 3, 2018 8:43 am

Andy Millar:
...what often, in fact very often, happens after that is not that the degree on your CV gets you a better job, but that the attitude you've shown plus the commitment you've shown in getting a degree gets you a better job.

...so many people have degrees these days, having one does often become a necessity to get past the HR CV "checklist". But Roy's covered all sides of that very well already, including the fact that it definitely doesn't make having a degree a "magic bullet".

I fully support Roy's and (both) Andy's posts. However to amplify on a couple of things that Andy said in his latest post, and to come back to the original post, if the lack of degree is what is preventing your CV being considered for any moves, then yes it will help, but you need to be certain that this is the reason. Most recruiters will be honest and let you know if there were other reasons (in addition to lack of degree) that would lead to rejection, so talk to them. It may even have the benefit that they will reconsider their decision, but I wouldn't bank on that.
Alasdair

Re: Calvin Asks: Any tips for a mature student?

Posted by Ir Jayaseelan Nadarajah on Dec 4, 2018 9:31 am

Dear Calvin
  • you need to have a very genuine interest in engineering;
  • you need to enjoy engineering mathematics;
  • you will encounter many hurdles along the way, but never give up ( maybe you can slow down a little.....but not much and not very often)
  • be consistent
  • read, read and...………………………………..read
All the best
Former mature student

Re: Calvin Asks: Any tips for a mature student?

Posted by Kathryn Bain on Dec 5, 2018 3:45 pm

A small but practical point that I'm sure is mentioned elsewhere on these forums is about maths content.  When I worked within the professional development team a lot of people recommended the Engineering Maths book by K.A Stroud - it's used in a lot of courses, so if people were thinking about studying then they would recommend this book as a starter for ten.  It'll give you an understanding of the sort of things that are required, and you'll probably also be able to tick off a few of the things from your existing experience that you may understand.

From a personal perspective, having studied degree level the traditional way (straight out of school) and also in work (part-time courses) I found that I could use a lot of transferable skills from the workplace to put into my studies, as Roy has already mentioned.

Good luck with it, and others have said, don't give up because you never stop learning smiley
Kathryn Bain, Registration & Standards Volunteer Learning & Development Manager, The Institution of Engineering & Technology, (IET Staff) Any views are my own views and do not necessarily represent those of the IET

Re: Calvin Asks: Any tips for a mature student?

Posted by Ir Jayaseelan Nadarajah on Dec 5, 2018 3:56 pm

Transferable skills (immediate transfer, yes I agree, if in right industry). Agree again on KA Stroud for starters. For further Maths it will be Glyn James.

All the best
Former Mature Student (without any regrets)

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