I recently celebrated a significant milestone: my graduation in a Master of Business Administration, specialisation in Strategic Human Resource Management. To say it was a proud moment is an understatement, as I certainly never considered myself to be the 'ideal' student. Starting uni again some 23 years after I first graduated from UQ Gatton, I was absolutely sceptical of success.
The funny thing is that although this was my fourth stint at uni, I had never before felt like an experienced student – or a competent one. I have now studied for 10 out of 28 years. The first two years full-time, the others part-time, to achieve three qualifications. I can honestly say I only felt comfortable as a student in the last two years. I realised that, like all other things, you have to learn to be a uni student. It takes an unwavering commitment and sacrifice because, as a mature age student, many other obligations get in the way. I actually did give up one of my degrees and exited with a Graduate Certificate as I had commenced a business that I ran for 11 years. Upon selling the business, which was quite successful, I still felt a strong draw to return to university. I have wondered why and have settled on two self-discoveries.
The other discovery was my independence and need for security. I felt that the MBA qualification would set me up well for a long career, so I only ever had to rely on myself for income.
There is no doubt an MBA is a well-respected qualification and USQ's program has been ranked consistently among the best (top 5) in Australia ... not too shabby for a regional university! Now, when you work in a university, like I do, a qualification is important for many reasons, least of all the esteem that goes along with it; but also, if you work at a university, studying opens many doors, promotes networking, and helps you understand the product of the university (why it is in business). I mean, what better way to learn the business than to fully immerse yourself in the student experience, to better understand why we go to work every day as a professional that supports academics and students? Universities invest heavily in study assistance for employees and I believe they get great return on this investment by virtue of the increased understanding of 'the student experience'.
For me the increase in knowledge and wisdom is fundamental, but the soft skill development is probably the biggest benefit. My top five benefits are:
Critical thinking is an essential life skill today and university develops this to full maturity.
So, I absolutely know, after all these years of study that I have a sincere passion for human resources and behavioural management and I look forward to a long career in this area.
There have been times where, because of wisdom gained through working in the job, I’ve questioned human resources theory; but there is no question that learning that theory means it is always there to rationalise and back up your decisions. And you don't realise that you are developing all those soft skills along the way. There were many occasions that I reached out to academics to increase understanding, and I am certain that getting to know those academics provided a human connection and built my confidence when studying online. My academics were always approachable, friendly and understanding. I also got involved in a number of study groups in my local area. We would meet up to share experiences over coffee, and these sessions were essential in those subjects. Working in the University meant I have a connection now with those staff that I might not have had otherwise. I think students should look upon academics as colleagues for life, not just during study.
Thank you to all my supporters, family, partner Gary, and especially work colleagues, Jane Farmer – Executive Director – HR – USQ (pictured right), Seprina Budden – Director – HR (my boss), and my mentee, Ivy Chung (pictured left), who helped me to stay resolute, strong and confident through the experience. The Vice Chancellor – Professor Geraldine MacKenzie (also pictured). All these amazing ladies serve as an inspiration to women to be confident and to go after those dreams.
So, if you are thinking of a postgraduate qualification, yes, there is a cost, but the lifetime benefits and rewards of the accomplishment far outweigh the investment. Ultimately, it’s experience that can't be gained in the workplace even if you have an amazingly supportive team and bosses, and a strong professional development program. I recommend it heartily!
If you are thinking about starting a postgraduate course, make sure you check out Social Hub’s postgraduate page to read more student tips and advice! If you are worried about how you will cope with the extra workload, take a look at Andrea’s guide to the uni student juggling act!