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Su blowing out the candles on her birthday cake


Real Student Stories: Returning to University at 70

By LucyMcDonald 24 Oct 2023

If you’re a resident of Clarence Dock Village, you may have come across a student named Susan Thompson during your time there.

Susan, or Su as she prefers to be called, just celebrated her 70th birthday last week, and is living at the residence while she returns to the University of Leeds to study her master's in sustainable food systems after first attending the uni back in the 1970s.

We caught up with Su for a quick chat about what her experience has been like so far.

“I was here in the early 1970s and it's been quite entertaining at one level to know that I'm physically now not a million miles from where I started as a student. I was in Hunslet Grange, this huge concrete monstrosity they knocked down in the early 80s, so that's been making me smile. I think, well, I'm just round the corner from where I was.”

Su is settling into her residence and course well and says she is getting on well with her five new flatmates, and has even had the pleasure of having a birthday party thrown for her by the team and Warden at the site. 

“All the staff in reception here have been great. I mean they all sent me a card for my birthday and got me a cake, which was all absolutely lovely. Jan's (the Warden at Clarence Dock) been quite good at having a chat.”

Jan surprising Su

When asked why she chose to live in halls, Su said that “economy was the main reason” and was “horrified about how much (private accommodation) was going to cost,” but did admit that the price wasn’t the only reason for choosing to stay in student halls, as she also wanted to enjoy the classic university experience again. 

“I thought it would add to this barking idea of having a student experience in your 70’s, which if I'd gone out into the wilderness of Leeds, that might not have been the case. When it came up, I nearly bit their hand off.”

However, compared to her University experience 50 years ago, Su says a lot has changed. 

“Did we really write things by hand? I thought it's difficult to believe. We did have access to computers when I was doing my PhD, but my PhD thesis was typed, so it must have been in manuscript form. You kind of forget the preciseness of it all.”

To do your course reading when Su first came to University, you had to go to the library where there was a finite set of resources available. If your text wasn’t there, it had to be ordered in from other libraries. Although a lot of the differences seem to be surrounding new equipment and ways of working, Su observed that technological advances are not the only thing that’s very different. 

“I was thinking about it actually. I'm not sure anyone had any concern about whether we passed way back when. The staff, they are vested in making certain you succeed. I don't remember that being part of the deal before."

Su’s advice for students starting out their journeys in higher education is to recognise that even though hard work is needed to do well in your studies, there is plenty of support on hand to help you enjoy your time at University.  

“To get the most out of everything, (students) need to be as resilient as they can be. There's an awful lot of support now for people’s well-being, and clearly lots of people need that. 

Primarily, you're there to get on with doing your degree and enjoying your degree.”

Do you have an amazing student story of your own? We want to hear about it! Email to tell us more.

LucyMcDonald profile picture

LucyMcDonald Marketing Executive for Residence Life. Fun fact: I'm a Leeds native and I specialised in VFX and CGI before having a career change and getting into the wonderful world of Marketing!
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