Ian Anderson
Access to Arts & Humanities
In 2010, my life was turned upside down.  

I was working in hospitality in London, when my then 1-yr-old daughter lost her mum quite suddenly. As a shift worker, and now a single father, my career was effectively over. I quit my job, settled my affairs as best I could, and within a week found myself back home in Edinburgh, sharing my mum’s spare room with my baby daughter, unemployed, skint, and with little to no plausible prospects – unable to work shifts, my employability had in effect been “returned to factory settings”.  

The upside? The freedom – and indeed the necessity – to reimagine my future. After a brief wallow in self-pity, the words of Andy DuFrayne in The Shawshank Redemption occurred to me: “Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.” I’d been expelled from school after falling prey to the old cliché and “falling in with a bad crowd”, but I’d always been bright – I decided that this was as good a time as any to realize that potential.

University degrees are a long game, and in retrospect one of the best decisions I made was to follow my heart. For instance, many choose degrees like law on the basis of some anticipated financial return, but that (often false) promise alone won’t get you through five years of study – you have to believe in what you’re doing. Always, always, always, books had been my thing, so I approached Edinburgh University and basically demanded to know what I had to do to be accepted to study English Literature.  

From there, I found my way to the SWAP Access programme which enabled me to realize my ambitions. I began with a plan: do the degree, enrol for teacher training, become a high-school teacher – simples. But the beauty of finding it within yourself to open the first door, is that other doors begin to open beyond that. I discovered a long-dormant academic ability, indeed a passion, which led me to graduating with first-class honours in summer 2015, and winning a scholarship to pursue a postgraduate masters by research. In the end, I surprised myself – one of the most rewarding feelings there is!  

Right now, I cannot say what the future holds, and I couldn’t be more glad about that fact. I’d always thought folk like me were not the types who do PhDs – turns out I was wrong about that, too! I’m now an all-singing, all-dancing “PhD candidate”, fully-funded by the Wolfson Foundation. It’s like hanging onto a rising balloon…

To anyone considering any SWAP programme, for whatever reason, my advice is this: it’s so much more than an educational initiative, it’s nothing less than an all-singing, all-dancing, “I want to change my life!” experience. So if you’re feeling dissatisfied, or feel somehow that you could do more, be more – what have you got to lose other than “more of the same”? In the words of George Eliot: “it’s never too late to be what you might have been.”  

Good luck!
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