Jenny Terry is a 35-year-old single mum from Brighton who left her job in IT recruitment behind to study Psychology and Sociology BA(Hons) at the University of Brighton.
Jenny, said: ‘I’m so proud to be showing my daughter that her future can be as bright as she wants it to be. I hated school and left with just four GCSEs, I did go on to get my A Levels but it was a long time before I decided to give University a proper shot – and that hard work has paid off. I graduated with a first-class honours degree at Brighton last summer (July 2017) and was accepted to study a Master’s degree in research psychology at the University of Oxford but due to family commitments I was unable to accept my place. My ultimate goal is to lecture and work in research. Now I am working as a Research Officer at the University of Brighton on the Changing Mindsets project (www.mindsets.port.ac.uk) and studying Psychological Methods MRes at neighbouring Sussex University. I am also writing a paper for the research I undertook for my BPS scholarship, and am hoping I can publish my dissertation too.
‘Going back to university is the best thing I’ve ever done. My late dad told me he’d be proud of me whatever I did as long as I was happy – and I’m happier than I’ve ever been.’
We asked Jenny to tell us more about her experience at Brighton…
What were your reasons for studying the qualification?
I’d spent 10 years in IT recruitment, a job that I fell into and never really felt any passion for. I was beginning to realise that life was too short to do something you don’t enjoy. At the same time, I was developing the belief that maybe I could have the career I’d always dreamed of… if only I could get over my fear of failure and give it a go.
Why did you choose the University of Brighton?
I applied to both Sussex and Brighton – my local universities. Brighton was the only one that accepted me. I was disappointed at first as Sussex does traditionally have a better reputation for Psychology but only a short way into the course, I realised that Brighton was the best place for me to do my degree. I felt like I belonged and that security gave me the courage to really push myself, to put myself out there and seek additional opportunities – to really get stuck into University life. I also appreciated the critical focus at the University of Brighton and feel very strongly that the skills and knowledge associated with this will have set me in good standing for my future career.
Why did you choose this course / subject?
I’ve always been interested in psychology. People are fascinating! It began with an interest in mental health, particularly around the everyday things that can impact it – positively or negatively. I suffered from depression when I was a teenager, quite severely. That is the main reason I’d left school with so few qualifications. I recovered well after a year or so but it was a dark time. I saw multiple psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors etc. and tried lots of different medication. Nothing seemed to work. Then, when my personal circumstances changed, I seemed to spontaneously get better. Ever since I have wondered whether it would be possible to try and unravel what it was about my situation that had made a difference, and whether I could use that knowledge to help others having similar difficulties.
What has been the best aspect of the course?
That’s a really hard question to answer as I truly value so much of my degree course but the one thing that stands out above all were the people – the lecturers and the students on my course. They were all so down-to-earth, encouraging, and supportive. Again, the critical elements of the degree were really beneficial and enjoyable as well – it meant comparing traditional psychological approaches with other perspectives, giving a great all-round appreciation of the subject. I learned so much, not just about psychology, but about myself, and about the world. I doubt a less eclectic psychology course would have been able to deliver that.
What was your experience of our support and teaching staff?
I was overwhelmed by the support I received by both the support and academic staff. They were never too busy to give me extra help and advice, would sit and go through assessments with me in detail, or explain their feedback. They were all very approachable and welcoming, making me feel comfortable instantly. This meant that I knew I could go to them when I needed to and, as a result, I was able to push my grades higher and higher based on their advice.
I must also give a shout-out to Joe, the Psychology Lab Technician. His support to students is unparalleled – particularly around the things that they struggle with most (statistics!). This kind of assistance is something that seems fairly rare on psychology courses. Everyone speaks so highly of him and say how without him, their research reports and dissertations would have been far more stressful, and less well graded.
What role will/has the course played in your future career?
I decided early on that I wanted to be an academic psychologist so the course has obviously played a huge part in that. Perhaps most beneficial was the willingness of the staff to give up their time to help me get extra experience – supervising a research scholarship, giving me research assistant duties, inviting me to join research groups, allowing me to contribute to research papers, working with me to learn new analysis techniques. It not only gave me some noteworthy things to add on my CV but also helped me to build my confidence and go for opportunities that I’d have otherwise shied away from. I should add that similar support is there for other career paths as well – there is now a scheme whereby psychology students can volunteer to run peer support sessions for other students that are experiencing mild mental health difficulties, for example.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of applying for this course, and to Brighton?
I would say that Brighton is a truly wonderful place to be, both in terms of the City and the University. The course will give you more than most other psychology degrees as well. Not only will you learn about traditional psychology and research methods, but also you’ll learn more critical, bleeding edge approaches that other universities are yet to embrace. You’ll also have the benefit of studying within the School of Applied Social Science alongside sociology, politics, and criminology, for example, so you’ll also have the opportunity to learn about other disciplines. I found this deeply enriched my learning, and will make me a more rounded psychologist – and individual.
Did you receive any grants and scholarships to help with your studies at Brighton?
Yes, I secured grants available for single parents and a bursary from the University for first-generation students. I was also awarded the BPS Undergraduate Research Assistantship (the School of Applied Social Sciences now run their own internal scheme as well) and I received the University’s merit scholarship in both my first and second year.
How did you find being a mature student?
I was nervous and worried about coping with being an older student with other responsibilities but I felt immediately at home and soon settled into a routine with my daughter. Most of my work was done during the day and I was able to pick my daughter up from school and spend time with her. It was challenging, but we made it work. There were lots of other mature students and student parents in the school as well so we were able to relate and support one another, which really helped.
I was awarded the BPS Undergraduate Prize, the Hamilton Cramp Award, and a Governor’s Prize at graduation – that has to be the highlight – being recognised for all my hard work with my daughter sat in the audience watching.
The BPS Undergraduate Research Assistantship was also a fantastic opportunity and I was able to present a poster of my research at the BPS Annual Conference in my hometown of Brighton!
I was also a PASS Leader and Ambassador which meant I helped to mentor 1st year students, and I also set up the Mood Boost scheme which is a peer-support scheme for students experiencing mild mental health difficulties.
I also ran the Psychology Society which was a lot of fun – we had a few brilliant guest speakers (including the Chair of the Clinical Psychology Division of the British Psychological Society), ran field trips, had plenty of good nights out, and lost a pub quiz pretty abysmally to the lecturing staff!
Actually, as corny as it may sound, looking back now my biggest achievement was probably just having the courage to go for it in the first place – and to keep going through the challenging times. On day one, I had no idea whether I’d make it through the first week. I’d never have dreamed that I’d be sat here today with all this under my belt and I honestly doubt I would have made it without the fantastic support of everyone at the University of Brighton.