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!