Doing a distance-learning Masters degree was truly transformative, and while I was confident that I would find the course fascinating, I hadn’t anticipated quite how enriching the experience would be.

Kay Taylor, who completed our MA in Career Development and Coaching Studies in 2019, shares her reasons for returning to study and how she embraced online learning.

Deciding to return to study
My decision in 2015 to embark on a part-time MA in Career Development and Coaching Studies at the University of Warwick carried some daunting financial and career risks. At the age of 45, following a successful 15-year career in language training within the Airbus group in Toulouse, I and my colleagues in South-West France had been made redundant.
Having worked closely with HR to manage and deliver services to develop effective transnational communication across the group, I had witnessed with great interest how this could indirectly influence employees’ career development. With international mobility increasingly encouraged, I had also begun to specialise in written and oral presentation skills for assistance with job applications, promotions and leadership assessment centres. I loved this aspect of my work, and saw a move into a career development role as a logical progression.
However, despite what I viewed as relevant experience, and not really considering myself as an EFL teacher (English as a Foreign Language), it became clear I could be stuck with such a label and limit my career options in the French job market, unless I obtained a formal qualification. Being taken seriously implied studying for a Masters degree, or the essential ‘Bac + 5’: five years in higher education following the high school Baccalaureat, now a minimum requirement even at entry level for many occupations in France. At the same time I was excited by the opportunity to learn something new and intellectually rewarding, and realising it was now or never, decided this would be my way forward.

Choosing a Masters Degree
Finding a course which was specialised enough to be of interest to myself and potential employers whilst being eligible proved to be a new hurdle (I had a BA in French literature and Theatre Studies, and a degree in psychology or social sciences was often a pre-requisite). Indeed it ruled out my options in Toulouse, and the only Masters degree I could find which seemed possible was a weekly classroom-based course at the Sorbonne in Paris – a five-hour car drive from Toulouse. At this point I followed up a suggestion to look further afield.
The Career Development Institute (CDI) not only helped to identify suitable accredited UKbased courses, but provided an extra stamp of credibility which could be useful for working in an international context. The MA in Career Development and Coaching Studies (CDCS) at Warwick’s Centre for Lifelong Learning seemed perfect. The course’s transdisciplinary and holistic approach to career development, spanning a wide range of sociological and psychological theories immediately appealed to me, while the practical and flexible structure (start times twice a year, six trips to the UK for the start of each new module over four years if needed) made it just about feasible. The warm and helpful reception from staff at all levels when enquiring about the course added to an overall impression of professionalism. I began in April 2016 and graduated in January 2020.

Learning on many levels
Doing a distance-learning Masters degree was truly transformative, and while I was confident that I would find the course fascinating, I hadn’t anticipated quite how enriching the experience would be. I think I can best summarise this personally as three significant areas of learning.
First, the extensive course material provided in-depth insight into the rich, complex history of career development and coaching theory and practice worldwide. While each module introduced a new and challenging topic, connections and overlaps helped to reinforce my understanding, develop a critical mindset and reflect on my context. Indeed, one of the most fascinating aspects of the CDCS is that in parallel to learning how to help others develop their careers, I was constantly learning about myself, developing my understanding of my own career decisions, and how I might shape my future.
Secondly, the academic rigour required to complete this Master’s degree helped me to ’raise my game’ after so many years of more non-formal learning. The introduction to social science research skills, methods and ethics was wide-ranging and thorough: as well as acquiring a whole new glossary of research terminology, I learned how (and why) to apply precise referencing rules and how to review and undertake research. With hindsight I realise this knowledge would have been invaluable within the Airbus group, but it has certainly helped me to feel credible and confident in introducing or reinforcing best academic practices in my current context working with Masters students.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly in the immediate circumstances, I learned about the extraordinary effectiveness of distance learning, when the best possible resources, technology, expertise and innovative pedagogical approaches are made accessible and creatively blended. While the teaching of course design and learning theories in the CareerRelated Learning module has proved incredibly useful for me professionally, my direct experience as a student and insight into the possibilties that teaching in and beyond a 21st century classroom can offer was eye opening and inspiring. When the closure of my engineering school was announced amidst the coronovirus crisis in March this year, I felt grateful for this experience and better able to assist with the sudden challenge of moving weekly class-based teaching online, while striving to maintain quality, interaction and motivation.

Read Kay’s second blog on how she is using her MA to navigate the French Higher Education system.

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