Mature student Jay Wardale says having years of professional experience under her belt has given her the confidence to really shine at university.
And if you’re considering a return to lectures later in life, 40-year-old Jay has a message for you.
The second year Human Biology and Health & Wellbeing student at Liverpool Hope University urges: “It’s never too late and you haven’t missed your chance - just go for it, because what have you got to lose?
“I’m a firm believer that time isn’t against you - you are up against time.
“I also believe that life is a journey and not a destination, often difficult and sometimes incredibly cruel, but we are well equipped for it if only we tap into our talents and gifts and allow them to blossom!
“I’d urge people to redefine themselves on their own terms and to forge their own paths.”
After first leaving college in her hometown Birmingham, Jay opted not to get a degree, but to instead start work straight away and to also purchase a property as she settled down into adult life.
She worked, among other things, as a dental nurse before relocating to Liverpool around 15 years ago.
And, over the years Jay has racked-up years of experience in a whole host of settings, from youth work, where she was focused on mental health, to public health intervention projects with the visually impaired.
Never one to stop working, Jay completed various diplomas and qualifications - including a degree in maths from the Open University - and went on to work for the NHS as a scientific assistant in an IVF clinic, as well as setting up instruments for gynaecological procedures - ranging from cancer cases to colposcopy, including caesarean section procedures - at Liverpool Women’s Hospital.
But then, around two years ago, Jay came to realise her career had hit something of a brick wall. Without a specialist degree, and despite the considerable skills she’d gained on the job, she found herself unable to progress.
And so Jay says she was in the fortunate position to be able to leave her role entirely in order to study at Hope full time instead.
Jay, who lives in the leafy Aigburth suburb of Liverpool, explains: “Working with the NHS, I knew I’d developed lots of different skills, but I felt that I just couldn’t progress any further because I didn’t have the right qualification.
“And, so, I made the big decision to leave my job and go to university.”
While studying for her degree in Human Biology and Health & Wellbeing at Hope, Jay is also working part time as a research assistant for the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.
She’s part of a team working to put the brakes on epidemics - such as HIV passing from mothers to babies as well as fighting Malaria and Covid-19 - and it’s a place she’s desperate to work full-time when she’s completed her studies.
For Jay, all of that wealth of experience working in clinical practice has made being in a classroom feel completely comfortable, and well within her abilities.
She says: “Working at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine really complements my studies at Hope, and I’m definitely in the right place to ask questions if I need any help with my assignments.
“When I first came to Hope, I was pretty nervous and didn’t know what to expect.
“Doing a degree wasn’t completely new to me, having previously completed a Maths programme with the Open University. But there’s a big difference between distance learning and actually being in a classroom, in person.
“Thankfully the people around me helped me to settle-in really quickly.
“And because I’ve got a range of skills behind me, when we talk about certain topic in class, I can really relate to them, because in many cases I’ve already been there, done it and got the T-shirt.
“That’s so beneficial. As an example, at the moment we’re looking at public health interventions.
“And I’m able to look back at the things I did to support people with blindness - providing support with daily living arrangements and equipment, putting on cookery classes and taking them on days out - and understand how I really rely on those experiences to support my learning.”
And what would Jay say to other people who might be weighing-up a return to Higher Education?
She reveals: “Being a parent, I always felt there was a barrier. I felt guilty, thinking, ‘When am I really going to have time to study for a degree when my child still only nine years old?’
“But it just takes good time management, dedication and commitment. I plan my days. I think about what I need to do and my social life now revolves around the times when I know I haven’t got exams or assessments.
“And I think you just need to look beyond all of that and think about the bigger picture.
“Time goes so fast. You might look at a degree and think, ‘I can’t spare three years of my life’. But whether you like it or not, that time is going to go by rapidly anyway so you might as well make the most of it.”
Jay is also a fashion model, something she says has helped to protect her emotional wellbeing.
She adds: “I believe mental health really does have an impact on physical health, and being in the right headspace can contribute to a better quality of life.
“I have a passion for caring, and that is where I believe my strengths lie. I recently qualified as a Covid-19 vaccinator at St Helens Hospital, and I currently vaccinate adults and children.
“And, for me, I felt like there was a huge gap in my life - and that was education. I wanted to fill it, and I’m doing that at Hope.”