Marilena Gill, 34, is studying part-time for an MSc in environmental health at the University of the West of England (UWE) in Bristol.
How did you come to do this course?
I graduated in 1999 with a food science degree from Plymouth University, worked for two years for a food research organisation, and then had six years off bringing up two children. After that, I got a job in the environmental health department at Teignmouth district council in Devon, which involved accompanying environmental health officers when they did food inspections at cafés, restaurants and old people's homes. Through working there, I realised that I wanted to be an environmental health officer myself, but I knew that I had to get a Masters first.
How do you organise your week?
The university's about 100 miles from where I live; but, being a part-time student, I only have to go there once a week. I leave home at 6.30am, and get back at 7.30pm. On the other four days of the week, I work part-time, so the day at university is a bit like my life before children: a sort of "being-me" day.
What's the course content?
It covers all elements of environmental health – food safety, some health and safety, pollution control, including noise pollution, and some health aspects of local authority and private landlord housing. It's a combination of responding to complaints from the public, and doing what organisations, such as the Food Standards Agency, say needs to be done.
How's the Masters structured?
Because I'm doing it part-time, it's two years of lectures, essay writing, exams and vivas, and I have the third year to write my dissertation. But there are practical elements as well – for example, we recently had to inspect a fish to say whether it was fit for human consumption.
What's your dissertation going to be on?
It'll probably be something to do with food, and I'm hoping to work with former colleagues at Teignmouth district council. I'd like to research something that will help them as well as me.
How are you funding the course?
By myself. It's a hefty fee: about £6,000 over three years. And I've not been able to find any support. So I'm working part-time in an admin job to pay for it, but I'm allowed to spread the payment over three years. I'm hoping this will show how determined I am to be an environmental health officer.
After the Masters, I'll have to try to find a placement to accumulate and record practical experience in the different areas of environmental health. This has to be approved by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health. By 2013, I hope that I might be an environmental health officer.