Lancaster University

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A Study Guide For The "Invisible" Student

11/07/2006 10:07:02

Dr Caroline Gatrell
Dr Caroline Gatrell

Help is at hand for the growing number of part-time students trying to juggle work and family commitments with their course.

Dr Caroline Gatrell of the Lancaster University Management School has written a study guide aimed at helping them keep up their morale and finish their studies successfully.

Part-timers make up more than 40 per cent of all students in higher education, almost all of them being aged over 21. The average part-time student is aged 37, female and in full-time paid employment.

Dr Gatrell’s book “Managing Part-Time Study: A Guide for Undergraduates and Postgraduates” (Open University Press) gives practical tips on everything from coping with exams to financing the course and negotiating time for study with family and employers.

She herself gained her MBA and PhD part-time and is well aware of the pressures involved. She decided to write the book after tutoring part-time postgraduates and finding that there were few study guides aimed at them.

“You may think of part-time study as easier because it’s not taking up the whole week but it’s much harder. This book gets behind the gloss and looks at the actual experiences of part-timers who I spoke to. Working on your own means you are more isolated and you don’t have the same support networks as full-time students. It’s as if you are invisible.

“Sometimes, where hobbies are concerned, the only option is to disappoint. For me – when doing my MBA – this meant giving up amateur dramatics. Disappointment on all sides at the outset seemed better than failing to do either job well – or worse still, having to give up half way through!”

Jack, one of the part-time postgraduate students interviewed for the book, said his three years of studying for his MBA had an effect on his family.

“The worse time: sunny Saturdays and Sundays. Having my two year old daughter ask me to come and play in the garden and have to say no is hard. Really hard. If you have a family, then the family bears the stress of your study more than you do.”

Dr Gatrell said: “This book acknowledges that there will be times when you get behind with your essays and you feel like giving up but there are ways of picking up where you left off and successfully finishing the course.
It’s a huge waste when part-timers drop out but with a little planning and practical help, it is possible to carry on.”

If part-time students can overcome the hurdles, some discover learning to be addictive. Jack, who did a part-time MBA, promised his wife he would not study for two years afterwards.

He said: “But that burning desire to learn more didn’t go away. Before I knew it, the two years was over, I was registered as a PhD student and we were back to lost weekends and family apologies for spending time with books and not children.Easy, no. Hard, absolutely. Worth it? Ask me in another three years.”