From nursing diploma to PhD studentship: my student journey

Deborah McMillan

Category: Centre for Innovation in Higher Education

9 August 2018

In January 2018, I began my fourth course at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU). When I complete it, I’ll have attended ARU on and off for almost a decade. I may potentially be one of the University's longest attending students.

I began my journey at ARU at the tender age of 20. I’ve come a long way in both my personal and professional life since then, encountering a number of highs and lows throughout my time as a student. Ultimately, I wouldn’t change a minute of them as they have got me to this point in my life now.

Why have I stayed at ARU? Mainly because the support I’ve received from my tutors and other university services has been amazing. As an individual, confidence in my capabilities has always been an issue. I don’t think a lack of confidence is ever fully overcome but with the correct support and guidance, it doesn’t have to be a barrier to success. During my years at ARU, I’ve learnt that the lecturers really do want you to succeed. There’s a lot of help and support available if you wish to make use of it.

My ARU journey began in 2010. I completed a Dip HE in Mental Health Nursing in the Faculty of Health, Social Care & Education (FHSCE) between 2010 and 2013. At the start of the course I’d been out of education since leaving secondary school. The course was intense and consisted of placement weeks in various settings, blocks of lecture weeks and associated assignments. During the course, I failed several modules on my first attempt. After completing by the skin of my teeth, I was adamant that I wouldn’t return to education. However, less than a year after qualifying, I found that I wanted to expand my career prospects.

I returned to ARU in 2015 and began an undergraduate degree in Public Health in the Faculty of Medical Science (FMS). I had several concerns about returning to academia, given my struggles on my previous course. To my surprise, I passed the course without issues. With the encouragement of my tutor, I began my post graduate degree in Public Health in 2016. Now, eight years later, I have just commenced and am hoping to complete a PhD.  I never thought I would get this far with my education. My new course is based partially in FHSCE. I’m also part of the Centre for Innovation in Higher Education (CIHE) and will be exploring an area of learning gain. My project will be investigating if the utilisation of Team-Based Learning, an Active Learning approach to delivering course content in lectures, can be used to better prepare students for graduate job roles after their studies. Graduate employment is an area I’m very interested in and I know myself that securing graduate employment was very important for me after my studies.

My parting words to any students reading this blog are;

  • Study hard and keep focused about why you’re doing this because there are so many opportunities out there if you wish to chase them.
  • When it all feels like it’s getting too much, take a break, recharge your batteries and talk to your peers or the staff as you’re far from alone in feeling this way.
  • Get to know your peers. Some of the people I met on my first course are still close friends today.
  • Most importantly, enjoy your time at ARU and make the most of what’s offered to you.


The views expressed here are those of the individual and do not necessarily represent the views of Anglia Ruskin University. If you've got any concerns please contact us.