Tag Archives: masters

Going to College as a Mature Student

Going to College as a Mature Student

This week, the team at Selfpublishbooks.ie caught up with Denis Staunton. I asked Denis about himself and what may have prompted him to write Going to College as a Mature Student.

“I am originally from Limerick, now living in Cork, married with four grown-up up children,” said Denis, “I have been involved in education at many different levels and in several different contexts for the past thirty-five years. I have worked in the non-formal education sector as a community youth worker, in the in-formal sector as an adult education co-ordinator and in the third-level sector as a lecturer, researcher and policy formation. I know the Irish education system from both the outside and the inside.

“When I left secondary school I knew what I did not want to do but not what I wanted to do. I did not want to work in an ok kind of job, with ok kind of money, in an ok type of office. I felt there was something better out there waiting for me through education. I discovered a ‘thing’ called Sociology and went to UCD as a mature student to study for a degree in Social Science. I loved the challenge of learning and became a lifelong learner.

“Professionally I have worked as a youth work in the inner city of Dublin; Community worker in Donegal with the Combat Poverty Programme; Training Officer with a Community Development Organisation in Cork and for the past twenty five years in University College Cork (UCC) teaching in the Department of Applied Social Studies, Assistant Director (Academic) in the Centre for Adult Continuing Education and Director of Access.

“I have always studied topics related to my work. For example, I completed my Masters in the area of Burnout and Stress among Youth and Community Workers and my PhD was entitled ‘Was it worth it?: The occupational benefits of getting a degree qualification as a Mature Student.’ ”

Where did he get the idea for this book?

“It arose out of the many interviews I carried out with mature students for my PhD Thesis. Reflecting back on their educational journey through college many mentioned the fact that so
much time and stress could have been avoided  (especially in the first year) if they had known more about the academic cultural expectations and the skills and strategies required to become a competent student.
It took me three years to complete. It was hard work but I adopted a simple strategy: no matter what, do an hour every day and write 200
words. It’s amazing how quickly the words add up and after a year a
‘shape’ begins to appear. Year one was given to reading, researching
and drafting (enjoyable part), Year two focused on structure, clarity
and purpose (the self-doubting part), Year three (the really hard
part) was entirely given to rewriting, rewriting and more rewriting.
Receiving written feedback from ‘critical colleagues and friends’ is
essential during the rewriting phase.”

I was curious to know if Denis always enjoyed education. “Yes, love libraries and books. Always reading – even if pottering
around the house or garden I listen to audio CD’s. This allows me
experiment with all sorts of reading material. If I really like one I
can always get copy of book to read at my leisure or study in detail.”

What books or authors inspired him?

“I am more inspired by ideas and certain organisations. However, since
education is my primary interest I have been influenced by
educationalist such as John Dewey, Paulo Freire, Pierre Boudieu,
Malcolm Knowles and Jack Mezirow to mention but a few. I admire the
work of organisation like UNESCO, Amnesty and One in Four.”

Surely there must have been something in particular about this project that attracted him.

“I most enjoyed researching and writing about working with your brain
(chapter 6). Learning how the adult brain works put me in touch with
new research from a number of scientific fields, such as neuroscience,
cognitive science and developmental psychology. Up to a few years ago,
the prevailing notion was that we were born with all of the brain
cells we were ever going to get, and they steadily eroded in a
depressing journey through adulthood and old age. It is now thought
that throughout life, the adult brain is losing connections at the
same time it is creating new connections in the region of the brain
involved in learning. This notion of creating new connections is
called ‘brain plasticity’, namely, the adult brain has the ability to
change its structure and function in response to experience. This is
really good news for adults who return to study as it shows that
intelligence is not fixed but changes as we learn. The popular phrase
‘use it or lose it’ certainly applies to the adult brain.”

What was it about self-publishing that caught his attention?

“The book I wanted to publish was in the middle between purely academic
focused work, on the one hand, and a non-fiction or fiction book for
the general reader on the other. My book was aimed at a particular
audience and even within the field of education mature students
represent a small percentage. Self-publishing, therefore, was an
obvious option, apart altogether from the financial costs involved in
producing a book as well as any financial rewards.

“I certainly did on-line research but in the end opted for a company
near where I live. From my previous experience of working with
publishers and printers being able to visit the site and get to know
the staff personally helps considerably. Lettertec in Cork ticked all
the boxes for me. I got very helpful advice, practical support and a
professional published finished product.

“It worked for me. I was able to get assistance in editing, graphic
design and production quality. This meant that I could bring a
finished product to the university and to work in partnership with
them in bring it to the target audience.”

What’s next for Dr Staunton?

“Right now I am taking time out to reflect and relax before I
decide my next project.”

And we can’t wait!

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Abandoned Darlings

AbandonedDarlingsCover
Ruth Quinlan, one of the members of NUIG’s Masters in Writing group which produced the collection Abandoned Darlings, caught up with Selfpublishbooks.ie this week and discussed how the book came about, starting with how her interest in writing first began.

“When I was younger,” said Ruth, “I was a real bookworm, staying up all night devouring books until the grey hours of morning. I had always been interested in writing as well, dabbling with a few evening courses but never really making much headway because I was too focused on work. When I moved back from Malaysia in 2009, I really wanted to rediscover that part of myself so I started looking at MA courses and saving every spare cent I could lay my hands on. I didn’t want to do it part-time like I know other people do; I wanted it to be a full year of immersing myself back into the world of books and writing. So, I chucked in the job and became a full-time student again. Yes, several people thought I had lost my senses walking away from a good job in the middle of a recession but I knew that I needed to do it for myself.”

Why NUIG? “The NUIG course really appealed to me because it is such a wide-ranging course – people don’t have to choose a particular area of specialization until the final MA portfolio is being handed in. Instead, they can do anything from poetry to oral history, screenwriting to travel literature.”

Ruth felt this particularly contributed to her enjoyment of the program: “I discovered areas like theater reviewing that I absolutely loved – and would never have considered if they hadn’t been on the available module list. Those free theater tickets for the semester came in very handy – I was there every week for about three months! I adored being a student again and still get a little pang of envy whenever I pass by the college here in Galway.”

So how did Abandoned Darlings come about? “It has become a kind of informal tradition now for each of the MA in Writing courses to release a collection of their writing after the course has finished,” Ruth told me, “We looked at previous year’s examples and we wanted to do the same – especially since this was the tenth anniversary of the MA in Writing course. Professor Adrian Frazier has done an incredible job of gathering together gifted teachers and enthusiastic students and the MA has really blossomed under his skillful stewardship. He had suggested the idea of an anthology to us towards the beginning of our course (back in September 2011) and we ran with it from there. However, the process really started in May 2012 when we started having meetings about it and trying to figure out who was going to be guest editor, how many submissions to have etc. December 2012 when we launched Abandoned Darlings was the culmination of a lot of work by a lot of people who had never done anything like this before.”

What books/which authors particularly inspired you and your MA group? “I remember when I read The Shipping News by Annie Proulx, my fingers literally burned to write like she did,” Ruth said, “I could see what she saw, feel what her characters felt; taste, touch, smell the entire world she created. Since then, I have read everything she wrote but also had the privilege of reading many other wonderful authors. An Irish author that I really admire is Nuala Ni Chonchuir. I find the sensuality and earthy wisdom of her prose and poetry inspiring. Whenever the muse has decided that she’d much rather hang out with a more deserving writer, I pick up one of Nuala’s books – the muse eventually stops sulking after that and deigns to come back  – for a little while at least.”

What did Ruth contribute to the anthology? “I wrote a short story called ‘Moon-kite’ which is my attempt to explore the breakdown of a middle-aged woman’s marriage. It is about her realization that she has lost pieces of herself in the struggle to hold a dying marriage together – and the solace she seeks during her rediscovery of her self. I also wrote a short piece called ‘Crossing the Dunes’, which is about the loss of a loved one. It was heavily influenced by the loss of my own father but is not completely autobiographical.”

Ruth was happy to talk about her publishing history: “I have had my writing published in journals and forums like ThresholdsSINScissors & SpackleEmerge Literary Journal and I’m included in this year’s Irish Independent Hennessy New Irish Writing series. My poetry was published as part of Wayword Tuesdays, which was a poetry collection printed by Selfpublishbooks.ie a little earlier this year. I was just a contributor on that project though as opposed to this one for Abandoned Darlings where I took responsibility for driving it to conclusion.”

What caught their interest in self-publishing? “Self-publishing really opens your eyes to the hard grind that goes into creating, marketing, and selling a book. I will never pick up another book without a heartfelt appreciation of how many decisions were required to bring it into existence. It’s funny actually because when you self-publish, you become completely obsessed with strange things like cover finishes, and paper color and weight. I found myself on several occasions standing in the middle of a bookshop running my hand over a page of particularly smooth, heavyweight paper – or lusting over a nice cover graphic. I definitely got a few odd looks!”

I asked Ruth how she and the group found the self-publishing process – efficient or daunting? Ruth was optimistic about the whole process. “However, once we got int the nitty-gritty like finding a guest editor, assigning an ISBN number, writing bios, fundraising to cover the printing process & advertising costs, etc. we became a little more daunted. However, we were fortunate in the fact that we could turn to some of the people from previous MA years who had gone through the process already. Their advice was invaluable. While this was a steep learning curve for me personally, I am very glad I did it because now, if I ever get to the stage where I want to publish a book of my own, I would have a pretty good idea of how to go about it. The old adage is true – you really do only learn by doing, getting your hands dirty and by making your own mistakes. Then, at the end of the day, when you see your book for the first time in print, the hard work is truly worth it and there is a great feeling of satisfaction in being able to say, ‘I did this, I created this.’ ”

Will the group be writing together in the future or going their separate ways? “Now that the MA year has finished, many of the class have moved back home to the States or Canada so I am not sure if we can all continue to work together as closely as we have until now. However, I think we will all keep in contact and continue to workshop each others writing and I am very sure that some of the group will continue to work together as a writing collective.”

Now the collection is done, I asked Ruth if she’s finished with writing: “Never! I will never have enough of writing. However, now that I am back in full-time employment, the challenge will be to make sure that I retain a balance between work and the writing. I cannot let my writing slip away like I did before so I am determined to keep at it. It would be such a loss otherwise. Competition deadlines are a great way of forcing yourself to write so I’ll be keeping an eye out for those. Even if I don’t get anywhere with them, they are a great incentive to keep producing. Practice makes perfect as they say.”

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