Psychology major, Heather Guerette, is a 41-year-old wife and mother of three teenagers living in Sarnia, Ontario. She is currently in her final semester of the Bachelor of Arts in Psychology 3-year program at AU and has given us her feedback on the program and on her experience studying at Athabasca University.
Can you provide us a bit of background information about yourself?
I am a forty-one-year-old wife and mother of three teenagers. I have been married for nearly 22 years. I am from Sarnia, Ontario and have lived here all of my life except for the 4 years my husband was in school near Chicago, Illinois.
What program are you in? Are you enjoying it?
I am in the 3-year Bachelor of Arts program with a psychology concentration. I am hoping to convert to the 4-year option of the degree when I am finished. The program is very interesting with a lot of choice available.
Can you describe the path that led you to AU? What made you realize you wanted to go back to school, and what pushed you into the Bachelor of Arts in Psychology program?
I started studying at AU in 2013 when my kids were young. At first, I wasn’t in a program and I only took one course at a time. As my kids got older, I took on more courses. Originally, I started studying because raising three small children was making me feel a bit stupid. There is only so much Dora a person can take! I was uncertain about whether I wanted to finish my previous studies and apply for the Bachelor of Commerce program or take psychology, which is a topic that always interested me. I registered in a general psychology course without applying to a program while I was deciding what to do. I really enjoyed the material and so I decided to apply to the psychology program.
How far along are you in your degree?
There have been a few setbacks, but I’m happy to say that my last semester began on October 1st and I plan to be at graduation in June!
What caused you to stop studying before applying to AU?
My first attempt at college was an accounting diploma, but the school cancelled my program while I was on medical leave in my second year. I decided to stay home and raise my babies instead of starting a new program.
Do you have any advice for people who are on the fence about going back to school?
My advice to those on the fence about going back to school would be to just start with one course. Even if you decide it’s not for you, learning is never a waste.
What do you do like to do when you’re not studying? Any hobbies?
When I’m not studying, I am a taxi driver for my kids and do billing and accounting for my husband’s business. I also sit on the board of directors for our local pregnancy centre as their treasurer. I enjoy swimming and reading in my spare time – not that I have much of that. I also really enjoy travel which is made much easier by studying online.
What are your plans for this education once you finish? What would be your dream job?
I am not sure what I plan to do yet. There are a few masters programs that I have been looking at, but honestly, I’m mostly just in this for the learning experience. I’m not really sure what my dream job would be; however, anything that involves helping people live their best lives would make me very happy.
Who in your life had the greatest influence on your desire to learn?
I have always enjoyed learning. I don’t think there is any one person that is responsible for that. My choice to study psychology was prompted by a desire to understand why people do what they do.
Describe your experience with online learning so far. What do you like?
Online learning is very challenging, as sometimes self-motivation is hard to find. One of the things I like best about online learning is the ability to learn at my own pace. If I need to take a break because of vacations or health issues or anything else, I have that flexibility available to me. I would not be just a few months away from graduating if I did not have this flexibility.
Is there anything that you dislike about online learning?
I dislike e-textbooks. Not everyone learns the same way, and I think it would be more beneficial to allow students to choose the format of their textbooks. As it is, every time I take a course that has an e-textbook I am forced to purchase a hard copy myself because I just cannot manage without it.
Is there anything specific that you miss from studying at a “normal” university?
I do miss the community of a classroom setting and having a professor interacting with you on a daily basis and offering assignment advice and exam tips. Though, thankfully there are Facebook groups and other forums to discuss things with other students, which really helps.
At what point did you waver the most about continuing your schooling? What caused it and what got you through it?
There have been several times when I thought it would be easier to just give it up. I could get by in life without a degree, and we really don’t have a lot of extra money. I got through it by reminding myself that my kids are watching. I did not want to let them see me give up on myself.
What’s your favorite AU course that you have taken so far, and why? Would you recommend the course to others?
My favourite course is PSYC 402 (Biological Psychology). It is an absolutely fascinating course and well laid out. There is a lot of information to cover, but it is so interesting I found it easy to remember most of it. I would definitely recommend this course to anyone that is interested by how the human brain works as long as they have taken at least some biology previously. It would be difficult to get through otherwise, I think.
What’s your overall feedback of the Bachelor of Arts in Psychology program at AU?
I really like the structure of most of the courses, and the content is very interesting for the most part. I do not like some of the required courses. PSYC 375 (History of Psychology) is probably the driest course I have ever endured, and Research Methods seemed pretty redundant after taking several senior level psychology classes and the assignments should be more aligned with tutor expectations to prevent frustration and confusion. I’m also not really a fan of required humanities courses either.
What have you given up to go to AU that you regret the most? Was it worth it?
I have given up a lot of time to pursue this degree. Time with family and friends that I just can’t get back. I can’t do everything – something must give. I do think it’s been worth it for the most part.
How do you find communications with your course tutors?
Most of the time communication with tutors is great. Many of my tutors have been very helpful. As with anything, there are some not so great tutors. I have found a few that are very condescending in their feedback, which is really not helpful to anyone.
What’s your pet peeve if you have one?
That’s a difficult question to answer as there are so many. Probably the biggest pet peeve I have is when a group of people are trying to accomplish something (fundraising, school projects, kids’ activities, etc.) and most of the group sits back and watches while a couple people do all the work. Unfortunately, I have run into this on many occasions. It makes it difficult to want to help out with anything.
What famous person, past or present, would you like to have lunch with, and why?
Queen Elizabeth. I just find her story so fascinating and I would love to hear it from her perspective.
Could you describe the proudest moment in your life?
There are three of them; when each of my children were born. I did that. I know it’s been done before but look at that. I made a human, which is definitely a great feeling of accomplishment.
Describe one thing that distinguishes you from most other people.
I really and truly like my teenagers. Most people complain about the teen years and how difficult teenagers are, but I really enjoy watching my kids gain their independence and I love being able to guide them into whatever their adult life holds for them.
What is the most valuable lesson you have learned in life?
Just because a person is family, that does not give them the right to treat you with disrespect. If a person is toxic, it is ok to walk away from that relationship no matter who it is.
Have you traveled? Where has life taken you so far?
I absolutely love to travel! I have been to several European countries and have travelled through most of the United States. Unfortunately, I have not seen much of Canada because the cost of traveling in Canada makes it difficult.
Out of the places you have been to, which was your favorite and why?
My very favourite place is Barcelona. This city combines all of my favourite things – mountains, the sea, old buildings, great food. I would love there if I could.