Laura Gee

Psychology PhD

Laura thought that the rest of her life was set out in front of her; with a wife, a child and her own hairdressing business. However, a health scare made her reassess what she wanted in life, and decided to take a leap of faith and go to university. Now studying for her PhD, she has already started teaching other students at BCU alongside her research.

"Before becoming a student, I thought I was set up for the rest of my life; I had a wife and a child and owned my own hairdressing business.

Out of nowhere, I had a health scare, being diagnosed with a condition called Chiari Malformation. This made me reassess everything and realise that, actually, there is more to me than just being a hairdresser.

I thought about the prospect of going to university, and so my wife and I sat down to see if this was something we could afford. It would mean having to give up full-time work, not being able to take my daughter to and from school, and taking on what could be a load of unnecessary stress. The other option was to not go to university at all, but I knew I would regret it if I didn’t. We made the decision as a family that this was the best thing for me to do – if my daughter had told me she didn’t want me to do it, I wouldn’t have.

I started an Access to HE course, during which I had an interview to become a Mental Health Nurse. I thought this was my dream career, but realised that actually I was more interested in Psychology as a subject and wanted to continue my progress onto university.

I looked at the two closest universities to me. As soon as I walked in to the Open Day at Birmingham City University, one of the first things I saw was a huge banner promoting the LGBT society and their events. It was surprising and amazing to see something I could connect with being promoted so openly. My wife turned to me after the Open Day and said, “Laura, you’re going here” and I don’t regret that decision for a second. I’ve excelled ever since.

When I first started at BCU, I really thought I was going to struggle. I hadn’t been in education for a long time, and hadn’t come straight out A Levels like everyone else. I was worried I would be too old and nobody would want to hang out with ‘the mum’, so one of the first things I did was become a Student Academic Leader which helped me get to know people. It turns out that I fitted in perfectly and blended in with everyone else. I get on with everyone including my lecturers (even though I’m older than most of them).

Everyone – academics, professional service staff, and students – is beyond supportive at BCU. There are no limits or restrictions to the support you can access, as student needs aren’t limited to nine to five office hours. During my undergrad, I set up the Mental Health First Aider initiative with my friend, to try and stamp out the stigma associated with mental health issues, especially in universities. Our work led us to win a Mental Health Thrive Award, and I won Inspirational Student of the Year at the University’s Extra Mile Awards. Last year, I also won PhD student of the year, which I am really proud of.

I know it’s a cliché but I have changed massively since joining BCU. My wife would say I’ve grown up more since becoming a student; before I was wild and very easily-led, always acting like a fool. Now, I’m still that same fun-loving person, but I’ve become the real me, having found a way out of that cycle of madness I’d always end up falling back into. I’ve realised I’m much more intelligent than I give myself credit for, and winning awards for the work I’ve done has solidified that for me.

Since studying my PhD in Psychology, I have begun work as a lecturer alongside my research. I didn't expect to have this opportunity so soon - my goal was to do my PhD and then I could become a lecturer. I was approached by the head of department three months into my course and asked if I'd like to do some teaching. I did a contract for about three to six months and then they offered me a full-time position on a two-year contract. This work will take me up to the end of my PhD and then hopefully I'll be able to fall into a full-time teaching position.

‘I AM BCU’ means everything to me. I’m so proud of where I study and teach. It's such a diverse and open university, I couldn't imagine being anywhere else.”