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Diary of a new student – aged 62. By Nicola Foote

Blog | By Nicola Foote | Oct 14, 2020

Picture credit: Pearson Scott Foresman

40 years after she first graduated, Nicola Foote has gone back to university for another degree

21 September 2020

It’s official, I am now a student.

It says so, in huge letters, on my York University card – so no need for reading glasses even if I could find them.

I took my dog, Jumble, with me to collect it, for moral support. The lady in charge of handing out university cards didn’t seem overjoyed to see us. Perhaps she’d spotted Jumble cocking his leg on the bicycle rack outside as I tied him up. Or perhaps it was because I hadn’t changed out of my gardening/walking clothes and was quite muddy, which possibly wasn’t great for their Covid secure floor. Or perhaps it was because Jumble had rapidly worked out where to stand to trigger the automatic doors and was having a game of chicken whilst we were waiting.

“You’d better stop your dog doing that before the doors take his head off,” she said, somewhat hopefully I thought.

I set off to find where my seminars were to be held. Jumble was no more popular with the university geese, much to the amusement of the Proper Students, laughing guiltily whilst sipping their coffee in the late September Yorkshire sun. I’ll have no problem with this social distancing, I thought. No-one’s likely to come near me at this rate.

I couldn’t find where my seminar was to be held and after about an hour, and a near miss with a cat, I realised I’d left my phone in the front of my car. (It didn’t actually matter as the seminar subsequently moved buildings twice). Feeling somewhat of an imposter, I headed for home, vowing not to bring the dog next time, and to wear some proper clothes. These old rags just don’t cut the mustard.

Marks and Spencer don’t offer a student discount, it transpires. Neither do Boden or John Lewis. Hollister, Top Shop and boohoo do, but I fear that none of their clothes would keep me suitably warm, and warmth is far more important to me than it was 40 years ago. I settle upon a nice new bodywarmer from an outdoors shop and the student discount does at least cover the postage.

Now I am a Proper Student, I decide to make a start on some of the modules I have to complete online. The first one is about Consent, which basically says that if you’re going to have university sex , you’ve got to be absolutely sure that the other person is up for it, so to speak. The module is completely correct and admirable but perhaps rather optimistic in my case. Chance would be a fine thing. With most of my fellow students and no doubt my lecturers too, I’d feel like a paedophile.

“Can’t you just say it’s Not Applicable?” says my (younger) friend. I think she’s trying to make me feel better, but I’m not sure it’s working.

29 September 2020

It’s time for my first seminar on campus. I’ve visited the campus a couple of times now and visited a nearby pub for a hot beef sandwich with chips and salad; I’ve never had gravy on a salad before, but it was better than it sounds.

Parking my diesel guzzling four by four is easy as many postgrads are studying remotely. The campus is however full of undergraduates moving on site, and I feel a pang of jealousy and nostalgia for my first time around. I also feel sorry for them and the situation they are in; hopefully it will be better by the end of the academic year.

I’m not overly worried about catching the virus, especially as this week I have had the pleasure of a photo of my feet appearing in a website dedicated to sharing images of COVID-19 related skin rashes.

So perhaps I’ve already had it. I’ve certainly had some of the symptoms. I just wish I’d painted my toenails and applied a bit of moisturiser before photographing my blistered scabby feet. Thankfully the website doesn’t say whose feet they are, but they are definitely mine, I’d recognise the hard skin and two-tone suntan from my sandals anywhere. I share the photos with my three adult kids.

“Your feet always look pretty disgusting” says my middle one, helpfully.

I grab a coffee outside the Library. I remember the library at Warwick, where I did my first degree, with fondness; the ice cream van used to park outside it. Maybe I even ventured inside a few times.

It’s time for my seminar and I find the meeting room. It’s being held in a lecture theatre and so there’s plenty of scope for social distancing. I chat to my two fellow students, one of whom is also mature, but not as mature as me; I am the Gorgonzola of mature students. Just slightly after time the seminar leader and head of module arrive, and they aren’t spring chickens either. It transpires that there should have been nine attendees but only three of us have turned up. Some things don’t change. It feels like I’m back at university again, and I’m happy to be here.

2 October 2020

Today is the forty third anniversary of my first day at my first university. The day I left home and started my passage to adulthood. Every year the 2 October comes around there’s a yearning for the old sense of freedom and fun. I’m not on campus today so I’ll have to do a bit of virtual studying. There’s not as much freedom and fun on campus as I remember anyway, courtesy of Covid-19.

A couple of secondhand books from the reading list turn up in the post. The first one is gleaming, without a single pencil mark. Proper students today are very tidy, I suggest to a lecturer friend. He replies that it’s more likely that the owner just never bothered reading it. The second book, from a different source, is similar; in fact the pages are still slightly stuck together. It’s clearly never been opened. There’s hope for me yet, it seems.

There is a practice essay to complete, on Globalization. I know a bit about Globalization. One of the plus points about being a very mature students is that I’ve lived through quite a bit of the time under consideration. Perhaps I should have studied very modern history. Perhaps the previous owners of the books I’ve bought were older students too. I decide to crack on and write it.

Those close to me are more cautious.

“Shouldn’t you watch some actual lectures first?” says one.

“It’s a research degree – the clue’s in the name,” scolds another.

“You’re going to have to do a lot more work than that,” lectures my twenty two year old daughter.

I feel like a Proper Student.

There is in any case a problem with cracking on and writing it. It transpires that I have to cite every source I refer to and there is something called Harvard Referencing of which I know nothing. Of course if I just write my own thoughts and don’t refer to anyone else’s, that would avoid the wretched referencing but apparently that’s not the point of a research degree. I don’t have a secretary these days but I do have a basic grasp of Word. I gird my loins, visit YouTube, and ten minutes later have enough of a grasp to start writing. If only there had been five minute Youtube videos on marriage.

5 October 2020

Today is the day undergraduate teaching starts, largely online. Not entirely unpredictably, the two main university systems promptly crash. To the university’s credit, they’re both back up and running by the afternoon. There are York University students sitting in front of screens all over the world. Timing system updates without upsetting someone is not going to be easy.

I decide to catch up on a few jobs, including paying my Institute and Faculty of Actuaries subscription. Juggling discounts is becoming a speciality; which gives the best discount, being retired or being a student (I can’t opt for both, unfortunately). In this instance the retired subscription is cheaper than the student subscription, so I’ll go with that.

Research beckons. I have books to read and new stuff to learn. To my amazement I find that despite my expectations I don’t actually already know everything. If that’s all I learn from my postgrad, it’s money well spent, is the general opinion of those around me.

8 October 2020

I am much busier than I expected to be. There are many Ologys to decipher which are completely new to me. I keep on forgetting to feed the dog, and the house is a tip. The Covid lockdown jigsaw has been untouched for weeks and when I do attempt it some of the pieces appear to have gone missing, presumably eaten by the dog when ravenous.

13 October 2020

There are 244 confirmed cases related to the university now and volunteers to deliver food parcels are being sought. It sounds like at some universities the contents of the parcels aren’t that great. However as one student cheerily put it, half of her block has Covid so they can’t taste anything anyway. Every cloud has a silver lining.