‘Embrace it all’: Photography student Bronwyn shares her insights on succeeding at uni during challenging times
Studying at uni is very much a balancing act between our other commitments, as Photography student Bronwyn Hutton knows all too well. Currently completing a Bachelor of Creative Arts at the Waterfront Campus, Bronwyn has managed to consistently achieve top marks throughout her degree while juggling a long commute to uni, the transition to online learning during COVID and working in a professional role, all in addition to caring for her daughter.
We asked Bronwyn to tell us a little about herself and how she has managed to fit these elements together to make reaching her study goals possible.
What do you love about your course?
The variety of units within the course. While I have majored in Photography, and this is my preferred medium, the course has allowed me to expand my practice to visual arts, contemporary and experimental, and delve into my favourite area, early analogue technologies.
I love the fellow students I have met, most of which I will keep in touch with after my degree. I also love the amount of support shown by the lecturers, the practical learning and the engagement of the classes. Ask as many questions as you can and really engage in discussions. Embrace it all.
What have been your biggest challenges while studying?
There have been several big challenges. Firstly, as a mature-aged student, working and being a full-time single parent. I have had to navigate taking time off work to attend classes, managing time with my daughter and living more than an hour away from campus.
COVID held its own challenges while I was remotely teaching my daughter, working from home and studying. It felt like there was no distinction between doing all three. I battled illness at the start of COVID, and my daughter being in hospital with an illness recently.
I do enjoy a challenge generally, but this tested me physically and emotionally. Working around these challenges, I ended up receiving some amazing marks and great feedback, resulting in a sense of great reward. These experiences have built resilience and strength, and my results to achieve membership with the Golden Key Honour Society was my biggest reward.
Study and work on assessments a little each day, even if it’s just half an hour’s worth … the amount of small study sessions each day add up at the end of the week.
How have you managed your course requirements as someone who lives far away from campus?
I have travelled from Ballarat to both Geelong and Burwood to attend classes. Sometimes, three times a week. Saying this, I’ve managed my course requirements by using online resources such as the library services for reference materials.
Being able to adapt is a key element. I have had access to the studio at Waterfront, but I have managed by using items from home or items I can buy to produce artwork locally. For example, some of my lighting is sourced from around the house, from friends or by using cheap lights from Bunnings. I’ve sourced materials both locally or online (eBay is great) by planning with a budget.
This has enabled me to create some amazing works, one of which ended up in the Monash Gallery of Art in Melbourne.
What are your top tips for work/life/study balance? Do you have any specific advice for anyone who is trying to juggle their studies with caregiving responsibilities?
- Prioritise and create a plan for each week ahead on a whiteboard. I designed a to-do list and crossed off what I had achieved for the week.
- Study and work on assessments a little each day, even if it’s just half an hour’s worth. I find getting up early in the morning, while I feel fresh, and sitting up at night when my daughter is in bed, is when I work best and can realistically allocate an hour each day. This means I spend time on the weekends with my daughter and still occasionally catch up with friends, but the amount of small study sessions each day add up at the end of the week.
- Talk to your employer. Mine was supportive and I was able to arrange time off for my classes.
- Another tip if you’re a caregiver: seek support from a family member or friend to help you occasionally with your child(ren) towards the end of the semester; doing this allowed me extra time.
What do you wish you knew when you first began your studies? Do you have any advice for students who are new to Deakin in 2022?
- Keep an open mind. Being mature-aged and with prior involvement in the photography industry, I thought I already knew a fair bit but there is so much more to learn.
- When you have writer’s block or you’re stuck for ideas, take a break. Go outside for a walk. Sometimes ideas come to you at unexpected times, so keep a notepad and pens around the house, in the car, and in your bag to write down ideas.
- Be proactive and create a study group with newly made friends, so that you can ring them if you’re studying at home.
- Print out the reference guides provided by Deakin. They have been my best friend regarding how to reference when stuck. Engage the library staff for assistance on finding great references and access resources such as DUSA to connect with others, or peer mentoring and/or the counselling service for assistance and guidance.
- When I first started, I was successful in applying for a scholarship. There are many scholarships available and I encourage others to at least submit an application, as this has helped me immensely.
- Engage and ask as many questions as you can. Talk to your lecturer if you are struggling and check your emails regularly.
- If things becoming overwhelming, talk to someone you trust. Reduce your study load if you need to, like I did. It might take a little longer to finish your degree, but I was also able to put more into my units by reducing my load.
What are you hoping to do professionally after you finish your degree?
After I finish my undergraduate degree, I plan to continue postgraduate studies with a Master of Teaching (Secondary). I would like to pass on my knowledge to up-and-coming students in secondary schools and advocate for arts to continue in schools. I would also like to involve myself in some community arts programs.