Studying journalism the mature way

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Liam Deveney

I had known all along it wouldn’t be easy as a mature student.

I had a full-time job, two children and a kids’ football team to run. So where would a degree slot in?

The first day was spent making flags on my hands and knees with a bunch of strangers less than half my age; at that point, I knew I would have to draw on every ounce of my resilience to get through the next three years.

I set myself two targets before I started: to do the same degree as everybody else, and not to ask for any coursework extensions. I didn’t want preferential treatment just because I was the ‘old fella with a job and kids’, and I knew it was essential to stay on top of the workload. If I fell behind, it would end in tears.

In all honesty, I never really felt part of the university experience until I was asked to organise the JMU Journalism World Cup. Suddenly, I knew another 50 people and I felt part of university life at last.

At the end of the second year, I was advised by more than one person to consider going part-time, as they felt the demands of the final year would be too much to cope with.

The dreaded dissertation was looming, I’d have to produce stories on a weekly basis and my shifts even changed in work which meant longer hours.

Thankfully, I chose to ignore the doubters and trusted my gut feeling instead. I always felt it was just about doable, and I was convinced I could finish.

My time-management skills were pushed to their limit but the workload actually helped me make the maximum use of every hour, every day.

I would often only find a couple of hours in which to get a piece of work done but it helped to concentrate my mind. Each deadline met was a pat on the back.

There were many times when I felt I would buckle under the pressure but I kept reminding myself the clock always ticks. It would soon be over and I just had to keep going.

I learnt from my fellow students too: Erin’s work ethic and application, Havard’s courage and Vegard’s preparation all impressed me greatly, and helped get me through the very difficult period from January to March.

But the biggest lesson of all came in the final couple of weeks when I was putting together my website homepage for assessment. I then realised just what it means to be professional, and to be considered a professional. It was the most important realisation I would have, and the one with the greatest implications.

The final hand-in date eventually arrived and I fired off an email to John Mathews with a link to my Final Project two hours ahead of the 5pm deadline. It was all over. I’d survived.

I had looked forward to this moment for so long and I had been told I would feel like a “massive weight had been lifted off my shoulders”.

Sadly, I felt no different. I had to be in work by 5pm for a nightshift!

Highlights? Breaking stories from inside the walls of Walton Jail, lifting the JMU Journalism World Cup three times… and eventually passing the course.

The hardest part? Dissertation? Self-generated stories? Interviewing the TUC leader or the former Chief Executive of the FA? Nah. It was definitely making those flags.