Department of Cultural, Media and Visual Studies

Fiona, Art History BA

Fiona talks to us about her experience of coming to study as a mature student, what kept her motivated and the importance of attending every lecture.

Fiona on graduation day, wearing a black motarboard hat and gown, holding her degree certificate

Why did you choose to do a degree after retiring?

"I've always been interested in art history, even as a child. I remember seeing a Renoir painting on a catalogue and being absolutely fascinated by it, it's been a lifelong interest. So when I returned to England after retiring from my job teaching business communication in France, I decided it was my time. I didn't want to waste my retirement and it just felt like the right time.

Many people choose to study online as a mature student, and I did try doing that but it just didn't work for me. I missed the personal interaction and wanted to have the experience of working with fellow students.

I wanted to see the passion for the subject in the eyes of my lecturers, so I decided a bricks and mortar university was the right place for me.

Sitting in that first lecture, I did feel different to the other students - I have a granddaughter who is 17 - but I went in with an open mind. I didn't know what to expect at first and everything was totally new. But the first time I walked into the Trent Building as a student, I felt a wonderful sense of achievement and awe at finally being at university."

What was studying art history like?

"The choice of modules was instrumental in me doing the course. But the modules offered can change and on occasion, I found myself in the position where I was studying modules I didn't think I'd enjoy. One of those was Science in Art: 1900 to the present, I saw the word science and presumed it wouldn't interest me. But I took it, and it turned out to be wonderful! 

I loved the 'History of Art: Renaissance to Revolution' module with Gaby Neher. That was partly due to the subject, but it was also largely due to Gaby. She is so passionate, so knowledgeable. I also loved being taught by Isobel Elstob, one of her modules in particular, 'Black Art in a White Context', was fantastic.

Working with such dedicated and enthusiastic lecturers made the experience very special. When I wrote my essays, I felt like I was writing for them, as if they were sitting on my shoulder as I worked. 

One thing that Gaby always said to us was 'attainment is directly related to attendance'. And I definitely found that to be true, I made sure I attended every single lecture and seminar. Sadly, some of my course was affected by the strikes and  pandemic, which I found disappointing, but I was always able to find that motivation to keep going.

As a mature student, I have so many life lessons to draw on. This has given me a resilience to be able to pick myself up and carry on.

I never had any academic encouragement when I was young, nobody ever told me they were proud of me and I got to the age of 67 thinking I had no academic or intellectual competence. So when I started my degree, I came from a place of very low confidence. When I received my degree classification, I cried... it was a first! In fact, I cried all day. I'm so proud, and my family are so proud of me too. I feel like a great role model for my granddaughters. So many people have said they're pleased for me, which is lovely. Those people had more faith in me than myself.

How do I feel now? I feel changed, but I'm still me. I'm 71 and this is what what I've achieved. I feel calm and my head is settled."

What's next for you?

"I don't think I'm going to do a masters. There are a couple of areas I covered in my studies that have really interested me which I will probably pursue further for my own pleasure. I'd also like to do some volunteering, it's time I started giving something back, and now is the time to do it whilst I have the time and the energy. But first, I'm going to catch up with all those friends who stood back to allow me the space to do the work when I needed it."

There are times in your life which are what I call golden times. And this has been another, this has been four years of golden time.

Fiona's advice for other mature students

"I would say go to everything, every lecture and every seminar. Work hard. Embrace it. All of it. And keep going, keep the big picture and the end goal in sight. And of course, enjoy it!"



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Study History of Art

Department of Cultural, Media and Visual Studies

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Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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