"I didn't realise the potential I had" - A q&a with a first class student


As part of our ongoing look at how embracing Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion in higher education can create better environments for students and staff, we recently caught up with one of our inspirational students: Danyl. 

Like many students, Danyl became aware of challenges relating to his personal mental health during his time studying and was diagnosed as bipolar during his time at Arden. 

Despite these challenging circumstances, however, Danyl graduated in December with a first class-degree in Criminology and Psychology. He also received an Undergraduate Arden High Achiever Award at graduation from the School of Criminology, recognising his efforts and successes in his studies.

Read below to hear more about his time with Arden, his advice for those struggling with mental health challenges, and the incredible work he’s been doing post-graduating. 

Hi Danyl, how was your experience studying with Arden? 

Initially, I'd come to Arden doing an on-campus degree, but I realised my work life balance wasn't as great as I wanted, considering my other commitments. 

Arden was very flexible with me though and, when it came to go distance, they were very accommodating. I've had a lot of support from Arden, and also from Barry Bennett, who was the mentor given to help me.

I got diagnosed with bipolar when I was studying. The additional support and flexibility that Arden provided during that meant I was able to prioritise what I need to do and when I needed to do it by. So, it's been very pleasant, and a really supportive environment for me.

Other than the coach you've mentioned there, were there any resources that you made use of you feel are worth signposting?

When I was in my second year Arden introduced the Perlego library. That was a great addition to the learning materials, making them easily accessible and easy to digest. 

And your course itself then, how was that? What sort of stuff did you learn about and what did you enjoy most about it? 

For me, I thought I would do really well in psychology and really badly at criminology, but turns out it was the opposite way around. It opened up a dormant type of interest I didn't know I had, and it gave me that boost and the confidence to think: Once you get a topic that you really find yourself interested in you have that ability to explore more of it.

The tutors at Arden have been fantastic as well, to be fair, that made learning a lot more fun.

They were able to speak on a level that anybody could understand with very good interpersonal skills. That meant we're able to talk and adapt to people's independent needs. It meant you were able to digest their criticisms, and their guidance, to really reach your potential.

What led you to Arden in the first place? 

So I got a call from Arden saying “We’ve seen your CV online, how would you feel about getting your qualifications up to scratch and doing better with them.” 

I never thought I would have the opportunity to go to Arden, or any type of university, based on the fact that I was from a working class background which meant I started work when I was 15. I thought I would always have to be stuck in manual labour jobs, but I got a call from Arden offering me a position and I thought if I didn't take it, I probably would never have this opportunity again. I didn't realise the potential that I had. 

Were you still in employment while studying with us?

Yeah, I was in full time employment. I've been in the same job for 10 years and I wasn't moving anywhere. I went down to part time to accommodate Mondays on campus, but obviously with my own mental health, that got blown out of the water.

There was an easy transition when I went distance though, and they were very accommodating.

How did you find the balancing act that is work, life, and study?

I did find it a bit easier than what I thought it would be. There is that degree of self-discipline you have to throw in there as well. And I think that if I continue if I was younger, I probably wouldn't have had that drive that I think you only get as you get older. I think it's a very good opportunity for older people who have perhaps thought they might have missed their bus in that respect, because it does make it more accessible. 

I found myself a lot more grateful for the opportunity as well, so I threw myself 100% into it, but the work/ life balance was easy, but only because I have self-discipline. I wrote a schedule for myself on the calendar where I would dedicate certain set hours a day across the week to do my uni work. To turn my phone off, get myself in a quiet room away from all the noise, and once you get that ball rolling there’s no anxiety about starting an assignment. 

What are you most proud of from your time studying with us?

I think I'm proud of myself for being so self-motivated and proud of myself for not giving up. I was really, really proud of my dissertation, which was around ex-offender stigma and its impact on relationship formation. I'm really proud that I've highlighted an area which has kind of been a kind of taboo area when it comes to criminology and sociology and atmosphere, because people often think about the impact of crime on victims and not really think about what happens to the offender, post-rehabilitation and post-punishment.

Since you finished studying with Arden, what have you been up to?

So, I got myself a job in youth justice, which I did for eight months covering maternity, to get some experience under my belt. And because of the grades I was getting in my first and second year, I was able to get a position as a teacher at school based on my grades. So, I was actually hired as a psychology lecturer at teaching GCSE because of my high grades. And now I'm working as a school integration mentor, trying to help kids who display troubling behaviour, and trying to give them a bit more direction and to help them academia wise as well, and hopefully put them on a better path for the future.

And I’ve also just applied to do my free masters with Arden. 

What do you think doing the masters will give you?

I think that academia and Arden in particular, really gave me the opportunity to challenge myself, and really push for excellence, and it's the next step on a personal mission for me to try and see what I can do. What's my boundaries? What's next? And I think, if I can raise the bar and keep passing those, I get a really great feeling from that. 
I want to see what else I can do. I want to see what else I can create. What are the arguments I can create and what debates can I conjure up and throw into the mix? I want to try and create pieces of work that really change people's perceptions and change people's minds on certain ideas and ideologies.

On a personal level, you were saying that you had to go through some challenges during your time with us. What was that like, and do you have any advice for anyone going through similar mental health issues whilst going through their time studying and working at the same time?

It's best to remember to mention something and ask for help or support in the first instance. If you don't mention that you're struggling, or finding the work difficult, or that you might not be able to meet deadlines, you can find yourself caught off guard and find yourself getting stressed out. If you ask for support and talk to somebody, then that’s what Student Support is there for: to enable and accommodate, and they’ve been able to accommodate me very well. Even when I had struggles, and certain communication issues and stuff, they're always able to clear things up and make it easier to ask for help, especially when I needed it.

I owe a big shout to Shannon too, my dissertation supervisor, who was absolutely incredible. She even sent me an email the other day, just to check up on me and see how I was getting on. She was very supportive, and if I had a question, she was always easily easy to contact and she just gave me a lot of direction.

Away from Arden, studying, and work, what are you passionate about? Do you have any hobbies?

During the first lockdown, when I was still studying, I got rid of all social media because I found it was detrimental to my mental health. I ended up taking up painting though, as a way of relieving stress. I paint silhouetted landscapes, and abstract stuff. I like to experiment with textures and different types of paints like acrylics and oils. It’s a great way for me to de-stress. I also started doing walks in the countryside really help. I go out for walks, listening to podcasts, and I've been able to listen to some mindfulness stuff as well as academic stuff, just to get my mind ticking and moving. 

Do you think your time at university has changed you at all on a personal level? 

On a personal level, I think it's definitely changed my outlook and the way that I view the world. The way I can question things, and then create a balanced argument. I have my sister asking me for advice on how to prepare things, how to make balanced arguments for her in court, and I have a better view of how I treat people and how I expect to be treated as well. I think that we live in quite a social-media-driven environment which means we kind of lose our social graces, and coming, we have more ways to communicate. 

From criminology and sociology, I think like a scientist now, and that comes across in the way I present myself, and the way that I present my knowledge and the way that I talk to people and can show that I know what I’m talking about.