Student Blog | Rona Campbell - a return to study

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Rona Campbell and her dog Angus.

Is January 2022 the time to make a change? Lews Castle College UHI student Rona Campbell discusses how returning to studying has made a difference to her life.

Read Rona's story below and search our courses starting this month - Courses starting January 2022 (uhi.ac.uk) 

"The short walk up the path from my house to my garden office is significant.  It is the critical separation between the rest of life and my work/study environment. But it was not always like that and therein partly lies the challenge of combining the day job with studying. My aim was always to merge the knowledge I have gained to use in my daily working life, exactly what has been made possibly by returning to academia after decades, firstly to do an MSc and now for a PhD at Lews Castle College UHI.

It has felt like a slightly weird series of hill walking expeditions, with some great views, chance encounters and times where I felt I was stuck in the mud! I have been able to continue with my PhD research project from home. On balance, this has been brilliant because so many researchers have had incredible challenges to overcome during the Covid-19 pandemic. I have just lost out on the wonderful experience of being in the Outer Hebrides where my research has been based but I have been able to continue and that was all that really counted.

I was always told I needed to have a reason to study. I think mostly that was good advice. But the response of anyone to that kind of question may only be the need to have a significant fresh challenge.  And that’s what has it has been about for me, at least partly. But it has been much more than that, too.

I had a previous life before working in community and economic development! I was a broadcaster, working in radio and television for the BBC, STV and ITN’s Channel 4 News. I was (and remain) inherently curious and someone who wanted to give a voice to folk who might either struggle to be heard or could do with being heard a bit more. I grew up in a very stable, secure family.  A priority growing up was always education and what that could offer me. I was not encouraged to do any one thing but to follow my interests, ensuring I gave myself enough space to widen my horizons and perhaps change direction too.

A return to studying after so long was daunting but it was a return to widening my horizons once more.  I took the circular walk in Lews Castle grounds not once, but twice before arriving at the office door of Professor Frank Rennie to discuss the possibility of studying again. This was in September 2013. I started the MSc in January 2014. Frank has had to put up with me since then!

Anyone who has studied later in life has to balance work, life and studying. To be honest, sometimes it has been a real struggle. The way through has always been to accept you need to make time to study and when you need to step back to deal with the rest of life, do that but do it in a planned way.  Home working has become a permanent change for me, and I now have a garden office. This has completely transformed my level of concentration to study beyond my working life and this has become crucial as I enter the final push towards submitting my PhD thesis.

I have not lost of sight of the end goals. I wanted to learn. I wanted to contribute to the study of my chosen area of interest, community land ownership. I wanted the research, in turn, to be something which would be useful to the communities who have welcomed me and spent so much time discussing the issues with me.  But and it was a huge but(!), the focus has been on doing as worthwhile a bit of research as possible. The rest will follow.

I have had people tell me they were amazed I was able to study and work.  They say why have I bothered later in life. It has also been suggested that I must fill my life somehow. (I have no kids!). I have followed an interest, a desire to learn and contribute. Not everyone will understand that so do not be influenced by them.

Make a return to study your time. Your time to learn, to contribute, to be part of a wider community of researchers and academics. It can be life changing. It can be a confidence boost. It will be your achievement.   This has been possible by studying at the University of the Highlands and Islands."

Rona is based in the Black Isle but spends a lot of time in Lewis where her late father was brought up. She is a senior development manager at HIE, now focusing on a new role in population and talent attraction. She spent many years as a reporter/producer for the BBC, STV and ITN before moving into economic and community development. Rona also studies part-time at Lews Castle UHI, firstly with an MSc and now for a PhD. Her interest is in community land trusts and land reform.