My Graduate Life: Chris Ralph

I began my further education as a mature student at the age of 26 after working in the Northern Ireland Cancer Centre. I worked in a role called Clinic Preparation, where I prepared charts for cancer patients to be transported to clinics throughout Northern Ireland. Due to the severity of illness, we sent our consultants to various hospitals throughout Northern Ireland rather than bringing vulnerable patients to Belfast on a regular basis.

It was here where I got my first idea of cross transferring my skills to a transport planning role. Although the link was vague enough, I gained an appreciation to the planning required to transport items from one place to another and the principles were similar no matter whether it was patient charts/bloods or freight containers.

I had attended careers advice in Belfast at the time and researched courses in the UK & Ireland. Most UK Universities were advising to join an access course to begin. My brother, Michael, was training as a nurse at UCD and he suggested looking at Technological University Dublin. In truth I hadn’t even heard of the college but after research on the course and a quick tour with my brother, I decided it was the best option for me. The course Transport Operations & Technology was very varied, and I felt this had better suitability because it would provide me with an opportunity to see what modules I enjoyed/was good at.

Chris at his graduation from TU Dublin in 2019.

I settled into college very quickly and enjoyed the personal touch at TU Dublin. To my surprise, a lot of the lectures were a classroom setting and lecturers would know you by name. As a mature student, I was conscious that I had left a solid job behind and felt I owed it to myself to attend as many classes as possible and use first year as a measuring tool to see how capable I was. To supplement this, I joined the TU Dublin Football team, where I was captain of the Freshers Team in Year 1. This allowed me to make friends within the course and outside the course. This helped me to settle in and led to me gaining a more rounded appreciation for the sheer size of TU Dublin.

To help this I secured a part-time job in the Beacon Hospital. My manager there was fantastic with me and they were so flexible around exam times at Christmas and Spring. I could not have asked for a better job during college and the regular face to face dealing with patients allowed me to improve on vital skills like prioritising and communication. I was one of the first batch of students to join and they hire a lot nowadays to help with staff leave and weekend cover. I would seriously recommend it for any student who is looking for a part-time wage in a professional environment with fantastic training and the highest level of customer service I have seen.

In college itself, I began well in most modules however I realised quickly that I was going to struggle with the Mathematics/Science element of the course. I took a decision very early to attend the Maths Learning Centre in TU Dublin. A fantastic facility where you get one to one tutoring on any maths or science-based problems. In school I would have shied away from this type of option, but I swallowed my pride and attended regularly throughout my 4 years in college.

Sometimes it takes a lecturer to point out the simplest of actions and it will open the door and make the whole question seem so much easier. I used it for modules relating to engineering principles, quantitative methods and even accountancy modules. It was invaluable and I would recommend it to anyone who is studying a degree with science/maths modules. Don’t sit and torture yourself when help is there!

It is cliché but the 4 years went quicker than you would ever imagine. I had decided I wanted to gain work experience in the railway industry and obtained a work placement in 3rd year within the Operations & Planning department in Irish Rail. The office I worked in was fantastic and every staff member was so helpful. I had a manager who had a vast level of experience and helped me with Dissertation topics. I had hoped to work in the Railway, but it can be difficult to secure full-time work here in Ireland.

The work placement element was a fantastic part of the course and it is invaluable that the course lecturers have very good industry links. It shaped my 4th year as I completed my dissertation on a Feasibility Study on the DART Expansion Programme. My dissertation supervisor John Higgins ensured I met regular deadlines and his level of feedback and advice was as detailed as anyone could ever ask for.

After attending college in first year, I thought to myself if I get a degree of any score, I will have done well. However, with a lot of hard work and sacrifice I was delighted to secure a first-class honours award in June 2019. As well as this, the college helped me take courses outside of the degree. I obtained a Certificate of Professional Competence in Transport Management (Road Haulage) through the CILT and this is something I hope to be able to use during my career.

As it stands, I have just recently begun a job in BOC UK & Ireland as a TMM Freight Planner. This was after almost a year as a Purchasing & Facilities Officer at Ryanair. Early signs are very good, despite training from home due to Covid-19.

I am 31 years old now and I have set myself a target to gain a lecturing post by the time I am 45 years old. I really enjoy the Transport Industry and want to gain much more exposure and experience as well as plans to obtain a Masters and a PHD throughout the next 14 years. However, I realised during college that I want to be involved in giving something back and lecturing the future of the Transport industry. Attending TU Dublin is the best decision I have ever made, and I want to be a part of that in the future.

To anyone thinking about going back as a mature student, my advice is do it. The financial implications are never as bad as you think, there are loans and grants available and with your experience you will be able to secure a part-time job which helps pay your rent. I look back regularly and thank myself for having the courage to do it. I hope anyone who is on the fence can read this and take confidence that further education as a mature student is more than doable.

Chris Ralph

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