This blog post was written by Mike Raby, a mature student based in Aberdeenshire and studying for a BSc in Wildlife and Conservation Management (WCM) at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) in Craibstone.

How I overcame self-doubt as a mature career changer

Prior experience

Prior to commencing the course I have had a variety of different careers. In a previous millenium I completed an MPhys in Physics and Mathematics at Warwick. Soon after this I joined Marconi Communications as a Quality Systems Engineer working on some cutting edge fibre optics products for data transmission. This was not long before the dot com bubble burst and share prices in tech firms cratered. The inevitable layoffs meant I took voluntary redundancy and I went off travelling.

Having learned to SCUBA dive whilst travelling I returned to the UK and took a job as a diving instructor in Aberdeen. The majority of this role was not the glamourous image of teaching people to dive in clear, warm, tropical seas, but involved providing safety cover for survival training for the Oil and Gas industry in a pool on an industrial estate or diving in a freezing cold quarry near Peterhead.

After a while I realised that I could spend less time in a pool, more time with my recently acquired family, and be more secure financially if I actually worked for a Survival Training company. So I took a position as a Survival Instructor. 12 years (one of which was spent in the far east of Russia), one promotion, two industry downturns, one round of redundancies (which I survived only barely), one cratered share price and one COVID epidemic later, the business I worked for was sold to a competitor. By this point I had already been considering my future for a while and, having seen how fulfilled my partner was following a career change, and began seeking out a new direction.  

My career change journey

I‘ve always spent a great deal of time outdoors, diving, kayaking, cycling and hill walking and wanted to make a positive contribution to the world. I eventually landed in a dilemma as to whether to apply for Environmental Management or Wildlife and Conservation Management at SRUC. I took the more familiar option and applied for Environmental Management and requested voluntary redundancy from my new employer.

Is there a pattern here?

Having been accepted for both the Environmental Management course and voluntary redundancy, the worry and doubt set in

Can we afford this? Will I be any good at it? Can I go back to study? Did I pick the right course? What if I am the only old bloke in the class?

Then, a call from the college to say that the Environmental Management course would not be running in Aberdeen. I could still do the course, but at a different campus or I could transfer to Wildlife and Conservation Management in Aberdeen. Studying at another campus was a non-starter and I had been torn between the two course options. I was terrible at species ID though – one seagull looked much the same as another, and I could just about tell a Scots Pine from a Rowan with a good look and a decent book to help! I was a bit too far down the road to stop now and I had been torn between the two courses. So I quickly accepted the place on the WCM course. A new doubteverything looks the same, a tree is a tree, a seagull is a seagull, how will I overcome this?

2 years, 4 volunteering roles, a lot of hard work from an amazing and inspirational team of lecturers, many fantastic field trips, countless species ID courses, one WCM second year Student of the Year award and some amazing new friendships later, I am now moving into my 3rd year. I have also begun working as the Sustainable Travel Officer for the college. It’s a big change in direction from teaching people how to travel in helicopters!

Looking towards the future

Where this journey goes after this I don’t know…possibly research or practical work on river restoration, maybe even into teaching. Perhaps the greatest impact I can have is to teach and inspire others the way the team at SRUC has inspired me. The things I am certain of though are:

  • The doubts are natural but you shouldn’t let them stop you
  • You are never too old to learn to tell one gull from another
  • You can change your path and you can make a positive difference.

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