Am I really made for academic life?

At this point I am starting to think that maybe I am not right for university life or a higher education. This decision is something that I am having to consider seriously as my exam results tell me and the university which I am studying. I am most probably likely to go the same way as my entrepeuneurial heroes are going: dropping out and going in pursuit of my dream job. To design and run my own company and advance archery.

Let me start with why I went to university in the first place. My first university was a distance learning university where I had no classroom and studied at home taking my textbooks with me to study elsewhere. At that time in 2007 I was a failed businessman and writer with no hope of a career or any jobs that I wanted to go into. A man with high functioning autism who couldn’t even sell himself to a job that he even had to take to earn some money and afford his own place. How do I sell myself to those kinds of jobs? It was like living in a nightmare of catch-22 situation. My autism had pretty much defined who I was and what my politically correct upbringing and schooling had made me. They worked under this belief that all disabled people are helpless and defeated and need to accept the limitations of their impairments and consider themselves economically incapable of working.

I had also been told to forget about my ambitions as well. They wanted to me to think about what I could do that my impairment would allow me to do and so I ended up being forced to look for jobs in low skilled menial jobs in public sector workplaces where I wouldn’t be likely to have any interaction with other people. But I wanted to make something of myself, so I parted way with these disability support groups and decided to try to trust myself that I could do something better than what they could provide for me. I ended up become a writer with a book that I had few connections to sell it to. It was such a disaster that I felt like I needed to get into another job. So I thought about my old ambitions as a science geek and decided to train to become a scientist. I didn’t have good schooling when I was young and so I wasn’t qualified for a university education. fortunately the Open University had no need for a good background so I could just walk into it without any prerequisites. All it was interested in was my passion to learn and develop myself.

My plan was to stay on there studying part-time for a degree that I planned to do in 3-5 years whilst looking for a part time job in a field of science. But it didn’t work out like that. I had to put up with interference from the jobcentre and my family who felt that my studies were optional recreational work and that I had to get a job. But because I couldn’t sell myself to an employer it was a waste of time for me. I also struggled to find a proper place to study because all I had was my bedroom for a classroom and the lounge for a desk. I spent the first 4 years studying maths and contemporary science and earned two certficates in higher education. I finally had a qualification higher than my GCSEs, or even A-levels for that matter. In the next 3 years I had to put up with problems at home with my family and my welfare officers being even more patronising. I took a year out after I was exhausted and decided to carry on with my degree. But I discovered that I didn’t have the right grounding to carry onto Level 2, which is the equivalent of the second year. The course content was a bit too complicated for me to get my head round and I was struggling to find the time and effort to do any reading. I failed the exam and the resit of my physics module. I then took another module and this one also resulted in failure because I had caught a cold at the time of the exam.

When a student fails three exams and two modules, there is something not quite right. Because if I had failed the other modules before these two which didn’t require much reading then I would have been deemed incapable of learning anything. My academic career would have finished early. This got me thinking about what I wanted to do with myself. So I came to conclude that I wasn’t able to continue with the Open University. If I can’t succeed as a part time student anymore then I don’t want this life anymore. To that end I decided to enrol into university full time.

I wasn’t really realistic in my choices of university and courses to begin with. One of my biggest weaknesses was planning and preparation. If I had known how to plan better then maybe I should have had a great first year. I wanted to go to study at a university with a good reputation in a field that I liked and would accept my Open University credentials. I was hoping to go onto study from Year 2 having attained a first year’s worth of credits. But those qualifications that I had earned were not enough for them. It seemed like I had to start a degree all over again from scratch either from year one or a foundation year.

Having been a volunteer at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow I decided to study at Strathclyde University in Glasgow. I got an offer to study physics there on the basis of attending their summer school. I went up there to stay with a friend but after a week there and almost staying in a accommodation with a dilapidated state I decided it wasn’t right for me to be doing a long distance university. I therefore decided to reapply to study through clearing at an English university with a very big natural sciences programme, sports facilities and a lovely rural landscape. I didn’t think a metropolitan university was right for me. The sight of a beautiful landscape amongst a university was the perfect place for me to wonder and look in awe as my creative study sanctuary. So I choose University of East Anglia in Norwich. I got through into clearing studying natural sciences and I managed to get onto it as a first year. But after three weeks I found the course’s mathematics studies were not like anything I’d learnt at the Open University. It was way outside my experience with maths and to make things worse I hadn’t spent the year that I took out before coming here reading any preliminary material. I made an arrangement to try and get myself on the foundation year but it was too late. I was offered a choice of intercalating on the foundation programme which would have meant me leaving campus for a year and reading the right stuff practicing independently.

At the same time I was also taking stock of what I was doing. I had been studying physics based natural sciences and maths for seven years then. What was I likely to get out of that when I wasn’t even having much fun with it. All I was studying was the laws of nature to go into a job that didn’t really have a practical application for work. Most scientific researchers go into work in office based jobs without using their hands for a skilled labour that their brains could be put to good use. I found that to be boring and hated the idea of being stuck there. I remembered a story about a researcher from America who graduated from Chicago with a Ph.D in political science who quickly gave up a job in a Washington think tank because he hated it. His name is Matt Crawford and he believes that office based knowledge workers are depriving the country of useful skills for development where working with your hands is more interesting than using your brain in an office job. This led me to consider a change of subject for my degree where I could use my old fashioned hobbyist skills building things to use in my higher education. Instead of natural sciences, switch to engineering with mechanics or electronics.

That’s exactly what I did, so I decided on my backup plan. Switch to electronic engineering and this time try a foundation year so that I can practice the way of learning and managing an academic career. But UEA was not the place to go, it was a life sciences university, not a technical university. So I dropped out and decided to reapply to a foundation degree at the University of Essex in Colchester. I settled in okay this time with a proper plan and I meant to study the only electronic engineering course they had on the programme which was available at the time. Learning about programming computers and using the language, designing circuits and building and testing them. I did quite well but the facilities were a bit limiting for me. I didn’t have much reading material and the content of the programming module wasn’t really interesting. I didn’t even have much to do with electronic engineering involving machines and hands on components. I was expecting Essex to be the place for me, a university where rebels build their future. I liked the university’s reputation for the liberal minded rebellious spirit and I even participated actively in the societies. I made plenty of friends in the extracurricular activities but not in my classes. I had even started to use my free time to develop myself there by investing in starting an archery equipment business and advancing archery by combining my political activities with my passion for enterprise. I got more from developing myself in my spare time than I did in schooling.

This led me to think about where do I really stand with my university life at all. I have now used it’s resources to make something of myself, a spark of imagination that came from the campus but not the classes. At the moment I am now in the process of building my company and it is going well. I have just secured an interview to obtain a loan and I now have the freedom to develop myself. What I haven’t acheived however is good grades. I have now got two resits of exams and a resubmission of coursework. At first I was going to make a transfer from my current course ‘computers with electronics’ to ‘electronic engineering’, but now I have decided that neither course is right for me because the course focuses on design of circuitry rather than components and assembly.

Now I am starting to think that not only is Essex the wrong place to study electronic engineering for what I need it for but if I really need an academic career. What would I do with a degree and do I still want to become a scientist of some kind? With the money I have spent from loans and grants at the Open University and at Essex is it really worth it? Well I have got debts to pay off in the future and I have my other ambitions in life to pursue. As always I keep myself busy with objectives that can bring merits to my talents. On my hard drive for example is another book that I am trying to create to celebrate the life and achievements of famous scientists that no one knows about in a way that I do. A university life will put me amongst them but I don’t need to be at Essex to prove that, what I need is the right learning environment and society to enable me to make something of myself.

I am starting to think of myself in the same way as those successful entrepeneurs who I have idolised like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerburg, Clive Sinclair, Alan Sugar. They didn’t have much formal schooling and didn’t really pay attention to their schooling because of their good work ethic and ability to make their ideas work to change the world for the better. Should I go the same way as they did and abandon my education? Am I even wanting to become an engineer working in a cool science job? Should I try again at another university to get job security and do my archery business on the side along with my campaigns?

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