St Andrews learning, only away from St Andrews

Agata Piotrowska
Wednesday 12 October 2022

Today, our alumni, Clémence Aycard, is sharing her unforgettable experience of distance learning in St Andrews:

“My name is Clémence, I’m French, and I’ve been living in Glasgow for four years. I arrived in September 2018, but not to study – my goal was to live an extraordinary adventure as a ‘three-to-six months’ museum volunteer, then go home to pursue an exciting and (no doubt) successful career as a museum curator (or so I hoped).

I did not foresee that I would fall in love – with the country, its people, its incredible museums, and everything I had to learn and discover here. Fast forward a few months, and I have decided to stay, but despite two degrees in art history and heritage, I am really struggling to find a job. There, the classic ‘I met someone who knew someone who…’ happened, and I heard about the University of St Andrews and its part-time and distance Museums and Galleries Studies (MGS) MLitt. Before I know it, I’ve applied, obtained a scholarship, and I’m on a good way for a third degree in a foreign language, without having to move to St Andrews. It was both exciting and terrifying.

My course started in January 2020, with a blissful and exhausting week of intense classes in St Andrews. Further study-weeks were online due to the pandemic, and I’m glad I had this opportunity to meet my class in person. The part-time degree specifically targets people who already work and/or volunteer for museums and are looking to improve their skillset. My classmates came from all backgrounds, some freshly graduated, others in mid-career, others retired, all dedicated to museums. The breadth of experience, knowledge and shared skills was above and beyond what I had previously experienced in my university years – and the support circle that came with it has been a steady and comforting pillar throughout the whole of the course.

Having such a network of classmates proved essential. Distance can feel lonely at times. Alone in Glasgow, with neither campus nor local student friends, I longed for the buzz of the full university experience. I missed being in a student society, and never applied to be a member of any committee, not because I didn’t want to, but because I felt like I wouldn’t belong. Retrospectively, it wasn’t smart. Had I asked the right person, I would surely have been able to do some of these things. St Andrews has a lot going on, in terms of socializing, networking, developing new hobbies or activism. There is something for everyone, and it warmed my heart to witness it from afar.

The workload was another challenge. I was a part-time student, but I also had a part-time job, and remained a part-time volunteer. Juggling was hard at times – surviving deadlines along with exhausting workdays, navigating 90% self-guided learning, matching all schedules while still finding time to unwind, fighting the guilt of a day of rest. My classmates proved an invaluable support, as we met online regularly to discuss assignments, stress, life. My lecturers were amazingly understanding and supportive. So were my co-workers and volunteering supervisors.

I would lie if I said that I’ve had an easy two and a half years. It was a lot of late-night work, reading university books on my work breaks, while missing feeling like a ‘real’ (on-site) student. But if I could do it all over again, I would. I came out of my course strong of great theoretical and practical knowledge, lists of places to go, people to stay in touch with, and goals for the future. And by staying in Glasgow, I had a chance to love it more. I am grateful to the University of St Andrews for this chance to learn, meet, and experience differently.

If you’re a distance postgraduate student, or if you’re thinking of becoming one, here would be my top tips to make the most of your experience:

  • Have student friends. Meet your classmates, stay in touch, and network with students from your local area.
  • Go to St Andrews, at least once. Get a sense of the place. Feel that you belong, wherever you are based.
  • Use SCONUL. Having access to a university library is invaluable – think wealth of resources, but also the studious atmosphere.
  • Get in touch with St Andrews University. Whether it is for financial help for books postage, being part of the student life, or even meeting other students (foreign, like-minded, near you, etc.), somebody will have an answer. Don’t be like me, regretting not to have been more involved. It would be a shame to miss out.

Whatever you’re studying, and wherever you are, I have no doubt that you’ll have a valuable experience. It might not always be easy, but the knowledge, network and pride of your graduation gown will make it all worth it. Personally, I miss it already.”

Thank you, Clémence! 

If you have any questions to Clémence or to CEED, please never hesitate to get in touch. And if you would like to share your experience of St Andrews and/or GRADskills and CEED, or have any advice to fellow students related to academic skills, studying, wellbeing – please be sure to let us know. We would love to hear from you!

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