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Access to University course helps Patrick gain third-level education

Dr Patrick O'Connor - Access Certificate Social Science

1. Why did you decide to study the CERT HE at Belfast Met?

I never went to University after I left school so, after a few years of going between jobs, I decided that it would be a good time to get a third-level education. I studied Sociology at school and found it quite interesting, so I searched for courses in that area, and came across the Cert HE course on the Belfast Met website. It sounded interesting and I wanted to challenge myself by doing something new as well (since I had never studied Psychology before). I started the Cert HE course in September 2009 and graduated in 2011. It was one of the best things I ever decided to do in my life.

2. What developed your interest in the Social Sciences as a career path?

Phil, my tutor at Belfast Met, was really the first person who inspired me to go on to take up a career in the Social Sciences. I enjoyed how she could relate different aspects of research methods to real-life issues, so that it was easy to see how important research is and how it could be used to answer important questions and issues in contemporary society. If it wasn’t for her, I probably wouldn’t be where I am now.

3. Tell me about your journey on and after the CERT HE in SBSS, where did you progress to? How was the transition to University?

After I graduated from the course, I went on to study Psychology at Queen's University Belfast, where I achieved a first-class honor. I then subsequently went on to study for a PhD in Psychology at Queen's, where my research has focused on investigating which skills are important early predictors of mathematical success in young children here in Northern Ireland.

Thankfully, the transition was rather seamless, as I had entered the first year of my degree with a sound knowledge and understanding of some of the key Psychological theories. The best part about the transition was that I was already well-prepared for the statistics element of the Psychology degree, having studied and carried out statistics on the Cert HE course. This was especially important, as statistics is arguably the most difficult aspect of Psychology to grasp for undergraduates.

4. What led you to study at and conduct research for PHD level?

Having already gathered a keen interest in research through studying on the Access HE course, I also worked as a Research Assistant during the summer in 2013. Furthermore, I also worked as a placement student for Grant Thornton that same year, in which I assisted with creating questionnaires aimed at measuring staff well-being and customer satisfaction. These roles inspired me into a career in research, as I really enjoyed my time in both and could easily imagine myself enjoying a career as a researcher.

5. What are the advantages of teaching on the Cert HE now when you have once been a student on it?

As much as I enjoy research, I always had the dream of coming back to the college to teach. Having been a student on the course, I believe that I have a good understanding of how to make learning about statistics much more accessible to people who have never studied statistics before, or who may be quite anxious about statistics because of their experience of learning maths. I am also sensitive to the issues which students may have, in terms of problems which may affect their ability to complete work efficiently. I also hope that the fact that students can see the progress that I have made, since I started the course, will show them that they can achieve exactly what they want in their future careers.

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