Allen Iruoesiri
Access to Life Sciences - Glasgow Clyde College at Langside (2014-15)
University of Stirling - BSc Aquaculture (2015-Present) 

I was always interested in the sciences. I am originally from Nigeria in West Africa, and I had initially planned to do a degree in Civil Engineering. However, I had an accident that made it impossible for me to complete the degree, and I wound up working for my parents instead. My stepfather had gotten into running a catfish farm as a hobby as he neared retirement age, but then the government sponsored a conference about aquaculture and my parents became more interested in building it up as a business, rather than just a hobby. Because I was back at home after my accident and no longer studying, I became interested in it and eventually took it over from them. I became fascinated with the venture; everything about it was interesting. I really enjoyed the management side and dealing with things like disease management, feed production and the general husbandry of the farm.  

 <allen_iruoesiri_03b.jpg> I came over to Scotland in 2009 and actually enrolled in college at first to get an HND in Travel and Tourism Management. However, I had a chance encounter with someone who happened to know about my family background in aquaculture and he also knew about the BSc Aquaculture available at the University of Stirling. He knew that I had managed my family's catfish farm back home, and suggested that the degree was something I might be interested in. And he was right! I did some investigating and then started to plan my way to get back into education and onto the career that I wanted.   

As it happened, my partner had already done a SWAP programme before she gave birth to our daughter. She did the Access to Humanities and, after a maternity break returned to study Social and Public Policy at the University of Glasgow. So when I was thinking about getting into Stirling University to do the aquaculture degree, I thought of SWAP and realised that the Access to Life Sciences programme would be best.   My year at Glasgow Clyde College (Langside) was great. I am really glad I went there. There were around ten of us in the class who really stuck together until the end, and we've become lifelong friends. The lecturers were amazing. The SWAP programme gave us a good build-up to university-level study and it prepared us well. Our guidance tutor was great, too. She gave us many useful tips about getting support whilst at university, which has really helped me a lot.  

As soon as I got to university, I started applying for all of the support that I was eligible to receive, and it has made a big difference. For example, I get help with my daughter's nursery fee, so she can attend full-time, which frees me and my partner up to study and work without too much stress. I've also had help from discretionary funds to cover the costs of travel, as I'm still living in Glasgow and commuting to Stirling.  

The transition from college to university was interesting. The SWAP year is so intense; there's a lot of stuff crammed into a short space of time. At university, the timetable is freer. However, time management becomes really important. You have more "free" time but it's up to you to do something useful with it, and it's easy for deadlines to sneak up on you if you're not careful.   There's also a difference between college and university in terms of the "personal touch". At university, the classes can be really big and it's easy to get lost in the crowd and not make those personal connections with lecturers. You have to put yourself forward and make yourself known to them, but then you can build it up from there. There are lots of opportunities if you reach out and take them.  

To my surprise, I have recently discovered that I have a learning disability. I was always an average student; not terrible but wasn't an all 'A' student either. When it comes to communication, I can easily speak and have no problems talking in front of people. However, when it comes to reading and writing, I have always had a little bit of difficulty. During my second year at university, I began to feel like I was getting a lot slower at reading and understanding the material. I went to learner support to get some help in developing my study skills. They did a few assessments on me and then referred me to an educational psychologist who finally diagnosed me as dyslexic. I never knew! But now it makes sense.

And with support from the University, my work has greatly improved. I have been able to use my DSA to see a private tutor once a week to help me plan my studies and check my work, and I have the use of reading and writing software, too. Since taking these new support measures, my grades have shot up, so I'm very happy with that outcome. Funnily enough, when I was talking to my mum and telling her about it, she revealed to me that she was dyslexic, too. I never knew that either!

 <allen_iruoesiri_02b.png> Being at university has been amazing. Stirling University has a big community of adult students. There's no organised 'club' or 'union' for mature students, but there are a lot of us here. I think it has to do with the environment and the amount of support that the university gives. We join together because we all have similar issues: juggling family and work and studying. We have fun, too. Being here has opened the gate to other areas of life that I had never experienced before, like going camping and learning to dive. I am a qualified diver now – thanks to the university Sub-Aqua club – and I get to go hiking and stuff with friends. It's been great, all of the opportunities that have come as a result of studying here.  

I'm currently in my third year of the aquaculture degree and I intend to go on and do a master's degree, but when I do it will depend on my circumstances when I graduate. If I do very well, I may get a place on a post-graduate course straightaway, but I could also find work with an employer that would let me study for the master’s while working. In any case, I am trying to get as much practical experience as I can, so as to attain a good qualification and a fulfilling career at the end of it all.


Ultimately, I'm interested in working on the business side of the industry, dealing with things like food security and management and the policies that go with all of that. There’s huge potential and lots of good prospects in Scotland for someone with a degree in aquaculture. The Scottish salmon export industry alone generates something like £600 million annually, and the government intends to expand on that. There's a lot of technology involved in aquaculture, and vast opportunities for research on the general sustainability of the industry i.e. the ecological impact of farming, the reduction of chemicals and antibiotics use for disease control, quality control and food safety, production of health products for pharmaceuticals like Omega-3 and fatty acids and cod liver oils, as well as the recycled waste from fish and shellfish products in generating feed for livestock. It's a huge business and a relatively young industry in Scotland, so lots of prospects and room for growth; I'm excited to be getting into it at this stage.

If you're thinking about going back into education, my best advice is to pick something that you love that really interests you. As an adult student, you will have lots of distractions — from family and work and life itself. There will be lots of challenges while you're studying, and if you're not studying something you find genuinely interesting, you might not see the point of putting in the work. So you need to pick something you thoroughly enjoy, that will give you good employment prospects at the end of it because that will spur you on whenever things get hard. It will be the driving force behind your success.
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