A tale of love and education

Graduate Cameron Paige tells Lisa Pierre how an everyday browse through the bookshelves of the British Council's Mozambique office changed her life
Cameron Paige
"I like being patted on the back": Cameron Paige
Course descriptions for the International Programmes had the focus, quality, and structure I was expecting from a university degree

Cameron Paige came to study with the University of London International Programmes in a roundabout way. While living in Mozambique, she spent her weekends passing her time at the British Council, making use of the books and other media available to her. One day she came across a shelf with books on studying in the UK. Sparing us the details of a long, complicated story, she tells us that love then led her to London. Following her heart, she was soon living in the capital after cancelling a trip to India. Still determined to complete her education and get a ‘decent degree’, the International Programmes was the only option prestigious enough and cost-effective enough to make that possible.

So did the International Programmes tick all the boxes of a decent degree while fulfilling her educational needs? “The best thing was the combination of its affordability, flexibility, and reputation. While I was searching for a way of completing a degree while staying in full-time employment, I came across a number of colleges offering distance courses at accessible prices, but none of them seemed to be of an acceptable standard. Course descriptions for the International Programmes, on the other hand, had the focus, quality, and structure I was expecting from a university degree. Add to this the freedom to study in one’s own time and a price tag that I could still afford on a minimum wage, and I had no doubt that the International Programmes was the best alternative.”

This best alternative played out for the first year in Cambridge. ‘The Loveable Englishman’ (as she refers to him) had changed her plans for he was studying there. When he got a job, London beckoned and Cameron finished her University of London degree in London.

One of the many challenges she faced in London was not just the nights out or the shopping, but jokes that ‘The Loveable Englishman’ was very time consuming. Cameron’s heart was causing her a little distraction, and she talks of the lack of real spare time in London. The long hours commuting to and from work soon offered her a chance to catch up on her studies, taking her notes with her everywhere she went. Working close to the British Library offered another opportunity to study and gain access to every book she could lay her hands on. So what else did London have to offer apart from love and education?

“I’ve been a city girl all my life, so moving here didn’t come as a serious shock to the system. There are things I’ve come to expect from my environment since I was a child, and London is one of the best places for living my idea of an easy life. There’s always food and entertainment available nearby, and one can get hold of absolutely anything under the sun anytime, day or night. Yup, I’m spoilt rotten. This city does that to a person.”

In 2008, all the trips to the British Library paid off when Cameron graduated with a First Class Honours BSc in Sociology. So what was next? Well, a Masters at LSE followed. She recalls the moment she got accepted onto the MSc Sociology (Research) as “one of most exciting moments of my academic life". Like many before her, making the crossover from being an International Programmes student to an internal student would prove exciting and interesting. How did she adapt to this change?

“It was a mixed bag. The teaching was excellent, but that only meant I craved more of it, and suddenly a couple of hours a week seemed scarce. The campus felt cramped, and, used to the ease of access at the British Library, I found it difficult to adjust to the idiosyncrasies of the LSE system. Finally, student life, especially at graduate level, was mostly non-existent. I was the only person in my year involved in societies, but perhaps that could be chalked up to the fact that everybody else had done their undergraduate degrees internally, so already got over the need to be wildly sociable. Having spent years with the International Programmes, all I knew was work and study, so when I came to LSE I decided to make sure I also had fun.” And did you? “I did. Oodles of it.”

Apart from the new activities that the LSE bought, what were the main differences between the International Programmes and internal students world? “Customarily, International Programmes students berate the lack of guidance and time to study. The biggest surprise when I started studying full time was that internal students voiced exactly the same complaints. What did change was my attitude towards learning. While I was an International Programmes student, reading was an escape. Once I found myself on the ‘inside’, studying inadvertently became a chore. It didn’t help that most of my classmates shared this sentiment, and that suddenly there were easy distractions available, from society events to West End shows.”

"I could not consider myself a finished person until I held in my hand a piece of paper bearing the University crest"

So, study done with, Cameron set about finding a job. Luckily, she got a great research post straight out of University, something she says she couldn’t have done without her qualifications. Was a good job the ultimate goal behind her quest for education or was there more to attaining her degrees? “Intellectually, I understand that there are a lot of wonderful, accomplished people out there who have never bothered with higher education. That evidence aside, I could not consider myself a finished person until I held in my hand a piece of paper bearing the University crest. I like being patted on the back, and this was probably the most difficult to accomplish and therefore the most rewarding of pats. It contributed to my sense of personal fulfilment immensely and, given half a chance, I’d do it again.”

Having left academia behind, Cameron now puts her skills to everyday use in her job as a Clinical Research Associate for the NHS Blood and Transplant service, where she is conducting a year-long research project. She stresses that the job title has little to do with her ‘actual’ job. “Clinical merely stands for the department I work in. I do not run clinical trials, I do not perform surgeries. I do do research.” So what will this year-long project entail? “I’m making somebody else’s brainchild happen. From actually clarifying the research question and designing the study, through securing ethical clearance, organising the design and printing of questionnaires, running the pilot and the actual study, data entering and analysis, to the eventual writing of reports and journal articles. And, if I’m lucky enough and good enough, presenting at conferences. And all this within a single year.” Something tells me she will be good enough.

"More than anything, I like being my own boss. If, however, I feel like running away screaming when this year is over, I would really like to do a PhD"

Once she’s seen this project through, Cameron’s career plans are – she admits - a bit vague. “I do love research, but so far the experience of red tape, scarce funding and inappropriately assembled review boards makes me wish I’d never left the comforting bubble of academia, or that I’d chosen market research instead. If I choose to stick it out, I think I might enjoy doing freelance project work. I like the clarity and finality of deadlines, and working under pressure. More than anything, I like being my own boss. If, however, I feel like running away screaming when this year is over, I would really like to do a PhD, and maybe one day become a lecturer.” So, if everything goes to plan, in five years Cameron hopes to have established a strong research reputation for herself. “I’m determined to keep burning the candle at both ends, and to enjoy every moment of it”, she adds.

She confesses that she finds it hard to relax, but when she does, she likes to hike or sail and finds great pleasure cycling to and from work. And what else does she do in those rare moments of relaxation?” I’m terribly opinionated, so running a number of blogs has proven a great outlet, though occasionally I find myself engrossed in writing something at two in the morning on a school night, and require an extra cup of coffee to get going the next day. I also enjoy simply working with my hands, making things, be it painting, crocheting, cooking elaborate dinners or fine-tuning my bike. For some inexplicable reason, things like the smell of chilli con carne cooked to perfection or the sound of gears shifting smoothly make me feel profoundly content. I’d also like to finish writing the novel I’ve been ineffectually working on for the last seven years.”