The couple that studies together – stays together.
Nicole and Brent have been married since 2013 and live in Newcastle, NSW. They both work in different retail stores and Brent especially has had an impressively varied employment background.
Four years ago they each decided to enrol in a psychology degree and haven’t looked back since. We spoke to these recent graduates about their story.
How did you end up studying together?
Nicole: What I was doing in life was going nowhere and I wanted to do something that actually meant something. Since my early twenties I wanted to know what made serial killers tick – why do they do the things they do? So studying that was a natural progression for me. I still don’t know the answer but I totally enjoyed the study!
Brent: We got married in 2013 – both second marriages – and as such, we were both going through a period of restarting life. So when Nicole said she wanted to do something different, I thought – why not? I’ve run my own business, driven trucks, the list goes on and on. At the time I was 40 – still with 35 years left of working in me and I didn’t want to keep doing the same thing. I wasn’t enjoying work. It was a period of self-reflection.
Whose idea was it initially? Did one of you influence the other?
Brent: When Nicole started researching Psychology it piqued my interest - I started to realise what I could do with it. One day I just said to Nic that I wanted to study psych as well.
Then Nicole started to research the crap out of it – as she does with everything - and the more and more she learnt and shared with me, the more it made sense. I wanted a change but I knew I needed to be the change. I feel like a lot of people bounce on the cusp of knowing they want to change something in their lives and always regret not doing anything.
We both realised we had got to a point where we were both not happy with our careers and the only way forward is education.
Nicole: Psychology meant a huge amount of career options for us. It is so broad and leads to a range of different jobs. If we wanted to we could go into a field where we were physically helping people, the department of corrections, or corporate HR… there are so many different pathways. There are a lot of careers that value a degree in psychology.
What were the benefits of studying together?
Nicole: There were definitely more pros! Having an in-built collaborate buddy was really cool. We naturally found ourselves taking the psychological principals we were learning and using them in our every-day conversations.
One of the jokes we had with each other was in reference to our statistics unit. When we had a disagreement we would say “that hypothesis is not supported”! We ended up having a whole dialogue of statistical jargon.
Brent: Yes, definitely you have that social aspect. University is difficult it’s not something you just float through. So it was great to have that extra support at home. When one of us had a slack day we said – no you’re not doing that! Time to get stuck in!
What’s the difference between your study styles?
Nicole: I’m a faster reader and Brent’s a faster writer. I enjoyed learning through Swinburne Online a lot. It was much easier than I thought it was going to be. The way it’s laid out is very good. I felt like there was actually a better hands-on experience than you get on campus.
Plus you are more supported online. It just feels more interactive – the videos and extra tutorials are fantastic. It was much easier to find a pathways that you could do it. I can read it and then read it again. I recommend it to everybody.
What were the challenges?
Nicole: A bit of a competition at times in the race to finish an essay. We had different styles of working and approaching the assignment. We were really conscious about not doing the same assignment in each unit.
Brent: We were very conscious about not doing the same thing but because you are both learning the same mistakes, sometimes it became a joint mistake.
We have five children so working full time and then studying full time with five kids is quite challenging. But we set ourselves a goal to finish. And we encouraged each other. We both definitely had break downs at some point so one of the biggest things is having that support throughout the journey.
How did your kids cope with having two parents who work and study?
Brent: The youngest is 14 so the fact they are all a bit older helps. They understood that we had to be able to do something for ourselves. We hope that we set an example to our kids so they would go through to university.
Nicole: Yes, hopefully they take something from it so it inspires them to do the same.
How did people react when they found out you were completing a degree together?
Brent: We both deal with the public so we spoke a lot about completing the degree and we get such a positive response from people in our community. I often say to people: “can’t” is not a word. Don’t prescribe to that mindset. Mind you, trying to undertake full time study we were very conscious of time management so we haven’t been able to watch any TV for about three years!
Nicole: Whenever we talk to people they say - what are you studying, hold on are you husband and wife!? People are blown away! The eLA’s say “I saw there are two Walshes and I didn’t actually realise you are related!”
Nicole: I’m actually thinking about doing another degree again. I have always had a healthy interest in law so maybe that’s the next journey! I want to know that I have job satisfaction that can be derived from helping others, and knowing I made some sort of difference to them.
Shortly before I graduated I met a lady through work who had two children studying similar courses to mine. I told her my plans to complete a Juris Doctor. To cut a long story short she put me in touch with her children and I gave them some tips to help them along in their studies. The eldest has now enrolled with a local university to study their Juris Doctor!
The mum has since thanked me for the inspiration and just for being who I am. She said that they were all so happy to have met me and to hear my story and to give them a little help too. - Big smiles from me! I mattered to somebody, and I helped alter their life journey just a little... and that is what’s important to me and why I am pursuing further study!
Brent: I think I have set my eye on becoming a Community Corrections officer. I use the knowledge I have obtained through my psychology degree in every day interactions and at my current job. I think the Community Corrections role would be something I would be good at. I believe I have the mind set and the aptitude for it so I’m not looking to further my studies at this stage but I never say No!