Shirley Wilson is a recent graduate from the MRes Health and Social Care programme at The University of Manchester. Enrolling on the course on the back of a 35 year career in social work, Shirley is proof that it’s never too late to learn new skills and develop existing ones. As a Deaf person, Shirley faced educational obstacles when she was younger but had a lifelong goal of obtaining a degree. Find out how she got on below…
I have always wanted to obtain a degree of some sorts due to the limited educational opportunities I had as a Deaf child and Manchester seemed like the perfect place for me to do just that. I’m a Lancastrian born and bred, and my Mother still lives up here despite moving away myself many years ago. However, I do still have an affinity to this part of the world and being able to study at Manchester, albeit at a distance, was fantastic.
I guess you could say that I’m not your typical student, though, as I’d already had a long 35 year career in social work from basic grade to senior management level and already had a Diploma is Social Work as well as other management and technical qualifications. I was working as a Senior Consultant within a Children’s Charity and am still in that position today.
The ideal course for me
Due to this relevant work experience, I saw the opportunity to do a master’s in Health and Social Care as an opportunity to develop my skills in an area that I have worked in for many years. The research aspects of the course presented a different dimension which I was also interested in.
Before starting the course I also had contacts within the Social Research with Deaf People (SORD) team at The University of Manchester, which really prompted my initial interest in applying for the course. Knowing that the University had this dedicated research team for the Deaf community reassured me that I would receive great support as a Deaf person as a University of Manchester student.
Highlights and challenges
I thoroughly enjoyed the course with it throwing up many highlights and challenges along the way. My favourite parts of the course were qualitative design and analysis, and I also enjoyed research design. The field work for the dissertation was very interesting too.
The most challenging part was statistics, I must admit that I shed a lot of tears over that particular subject. I was never that good at maths at school and I found it very hard 35 years later too at university! The research jargon was also a challenge with English being my second language as I am Deaf. Transcription of the interviews for my dissertation took much longer than anticipated, so it was a juggling act with working full time.
Distance learning was the only way I could do this course, since I was and still am working full time, so there was no other way that I could do it. I did enjoy the residential weeks that we had together with other students, as I found being able to bounce off other students very satisfying.
My career since graduating
As mentioned before, I am still in the same job as I was before starting the course, but I was able to secure the opportunity of a short term secondment of eight months as a Research Associate and was able to spend one month in South Africa as part of the work. This was an absolutely amazing experience which took place a year after completing my master’s.
As I’m sure many people can relate, my future plans are rather unknown at present due to the COVID-19 pandemic but I am hopeful that everything will return to normal as soon as possible.
Words of advice
In terms of advice to prospective students on this course, I’d like to focus on other mature students who are considering this or any other MRes. Being a mature student sets you apart from the majority of other students who have just finished their undergraduate degrees. You have a lot to offer with job experience so don’t be afraid to utilise this!
I would also say that you need to be prepared to commit to this as it does require dedication and is very time consuming. I was very pleased to have obtained my master’s, it was a lifelong goal achieved!