Discipline the key to reinvention

Ann-Maree Greene, who current studies teaching at UTS, Kuring-gai campus, once worked for Macquarie Bank.
Ann-Maree Greene, who current studies teaching at UTS, Kuring-gai campus, once worked for Macquarie Bank.

Going back to university to clinch her second degree has been a wildly different ride for Ann-Maree Greene.

''It was sort of like having a midlife crisis,'' the 44-year-old says. ''I was being made redundant from my role as business manager on the Macquarie Bank agricultural commodities trading desk.

''Having been in corporate banking nearly my whole working life, it was time to have a complete lifestyle change.''

Greene already had a bachelor of commerce, which she completed via distance education in 1999, but she had always dreamt of being a teacher.

''The timing was perfect: the universities were accepting enrolments when I was being made redundant and I wanted to have the full-time uni experience this time around. So I did the sums, talked to my daughter about how we could do it, and enrolled to do a full-time bachelor of teaching in secondary education at the University of Technology. Then I bought a Vespa to get to uni!''

The experience has been everything Greene hoped it would be, she says, because she had her eyes wide open about her goals.

''I've been exceptionally privileged to have worked at the pointy end of town in finance,'' she says. ''Now I'll be going back to earning $60,000, but you do something like this because you realise there is more to life.''

Pro vice-chancellor (education) at the University of Western Sydney, Professor Kerri-Lee Krause, thinks mature-age students are driven to study by circumstance, such as a downturn in the economy and the implications for their careers.

''The trick to embracing a new stage of life that involves academic study is to reframe study goals in positive career terms,'' she says. ''Use the opportunity to review transferable skills, gain experience in the new field and approach potential employers to discuss experience and strengths. For some mature-age students, returning to university is about discovering their real passion in life after a career in another field. Follow your passion!''

But the chief executive officer of Open Universities Australia, Paul Wappett, says don't assume it will be easy.

''Studying at tertiary level, regardless of the course, requires commitment, motivation and discipline,'' he says. ''People need to consider the time needed to get the study done, and factor in how much time they still need to spend at work or on their young children or elderly parents.''

The policy and strategy adviser with Graduate Careers Australia, Bruce Guthrie, agrees, saying getting this in perspective is pivotal.

''If students go into it half-heartedly or don't have the support of their work, family and friends, they will have less chance of success,'' he says.

But Guthrie says the commitment can be worth it. ''People with postgraduate qualifications have an employment rate of about 86 per cent - 10 per cent higher than graduates of a bachelor degree, according to the 2011 Graduate Careers Australia Postgraduate Destinations survey.

''With the increasing number of bachelor degrees, postgraduate study can help people stand out from the crowd.''

While tertiary study is no guarantee, Wappett says anecdotal evidence from Open Universities Australia demonstrates it can boost chances of promotion and increased remuneration.

''A 46-year-old did one business subject and said it generated a pay rise of $12,000 because he was able to put what he had learnt into effect in his company,'' he says.

Krause cautions that the most common mistake for those returning to university is to assume a new qualification will be sufficient to gain meaningful employment.

''Gaining relevant experience while studying, and using this opportunity to network with potential employers, is critical to making a successful transition [to a new career],'' she says.

Greene knows there are no guarantees.

''In teaching, it's quite hard to get a full-time job, even with 25 years of corporate banking experience behind you,'' she says. ''But while it's not easy, I'd do it all again the same way: it's definitely what I want.''

This story Discipline the key to reinvention first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.