Postgrad diary: She's a mum with a full-time job. But Meena Chandler still fits in an MSc


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The Independent Online

If your image of a Masters student is one of someone in their early twenties, on a smooth, 10-year academic path from sparkling GCSE success to a doctor of philosophy writing learned papers, then Meena Chandler won't immediately provide a comfortable match. But, these days, this 38-year-old mother, on a six-year journey to acquire an MSc in events management by distance learning from Leeds Metropolitan University, is almost as common a postgraduate student as the stereotypical example in the previous paragraph.

Such is the extent to which postgraduate courses have now opened up to attract students from a wide range of backgrounds, that Chandler's presence on this course raises not a hint of an eyebrow, despite the fact that her previous, and highest, academic achievement before starting this course was the HND in travel and tourism she completed after A-levels in her late teens.

What she has in common with so many other Masters students in 21st-century Britain, is the professional ambition, as much as any thirst for knowledge, which propelled her on to this course three years ago.

"I wanted to progress," she recalls. "I thought I was coming to a standstill in my work, and I thought it would help my career. Plus it was also because I wanted some self-achievement."

Even though she uses the word "standstill," she'd arguably made impressive progress in the decade and a half after "falling into events management" after that HND.

From a first role, helping to organise small meetings and modest events for a small agency, she moved employers a few times, acquiring experience in pharmaceuticals, and more recently, in the car industry. For the past six years, she's worked for a Bedfordshire-based events management firm, currently in the role of senior event and account manager, with clients including Aston Martin and Mercedes Benz, and government departments.

The choice of Leeds Metropolitan University came about because she'd seen several students from there come to her company on placement, and through this learned about the university's reputation in her chosen field.

With a full-time job to hold down, a school-age daughter, and a husband whose work takes him away for extended periods, it's all Chandler can manage to complete one module of the Masters per year.

Those modules include: operations management, corporate strategy, integrated marketing and communications, international strategic HR, and one called impact and risk. There's at least one assignment per module, of up to 4,000 words in length.

"Ninety per cent of the time I study on my own at a computer, mainly in the evening and at weekends," she explains. "All the modules are accessed online, but there's still quite a lot of interaction with tutors, who you can communicate with via blogs, or arrange to have Skype-type chats or conventional phone and email communication."

And, since joining this course, she's never felt exposed by her lack of initial university degree.

"If I'd done it earlier in my life I don't think I would have progressed," she says. "Having had 15 years' experience in the business, and 15 years' experience of life it has helped me so much."

Equally, the exposure to higher level thinking about events management has helped her raise her game at work. "When I'm running my events, I'm looking more at developing new business," she explains.

The course fees at Leeds Met, totalling around £3,500, are being provided by her mother. However, if Chandler's ultimate aim is fulfilled, she intends to make the sum prove to be a loan and not a gift.

"I've always said that when I finally achieve my ambition of becoming an account director, I'll pay her back," she says.