Sophie: mature Criminology student on her time in the Foundation Centre

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Sophie. I am from Sacriston, Durham. I’ve just turned 31 in January and I enjoy films and binge watching boxsets. I’m currently catching up with Breaking Bad. I also love food! At the moment I am a first year Criminology student having completed the foundation year in 2016.

Why have you decided to come to Durham?

After redundancy 5 years ago I struggled to find a job or career I felt I could progress in or something I felt was suitable for my skill set. Without a degree, I felt my CV was lacking something a lot of younger people now routinely have. I was getting left behind at the age of 29! If I felt out of the running now it was only going to get increasingly harder as the years went by. For me living so close to Durham Uni, I knew of its prestige and the appeal the name has on prospective employers so hopefully by gaining a degree from Durham, not only am I fulfilling my ambition of obtaining a degree but doing so with the Durham name as a sign of quality.

How did your Foundation year go?

My foundation year was a year I will never forget. I made some good friends and by going through it all together we have a special kind of bond you only get by doing the foundation year. My friends from this year are the people I turn to for support or a bit of a chin wag about how different this year is. I was extremely anxious about attending all my lectures as I knew if I didn’t my stress levels would be through the roof! I’d be thinking what have I missed? Will that sole lecture be the foundation of the exam? Will other people do better than me in their essays because I didn’t grasp what was being communicated on the slides? I won’t lie, the year for me was both brilliant and stressful. However, on reflection the stress levels were completely my own doing! The deadlines were all spread out and all of the support you could need was available I just let the “Durham” name stress me, thinking even if I get through this year next year is going to be full of A* pupils who I can’t compete with. FIRST mistake! I’m not competing with them I’m here to get my own degree.16244129_10212046834268547_1748148133_n

How does it feel being a mature student?

For me I do feel like a mature student and I am acutely aware of the differences in attitudes but then I remind myself that I’m not 18, I don’t actually want that part of the student lifestyle but a degree. By going through the Foundation Centre I have made enough friends who can help and support me during my course.

As the only Criminology student from Foundation, I felt worried that I would be sat on my own this year cramping the style of the cool kids. However, that is not the case, you can be as chatty or as reserved as you want to be and there are other mature students who have completed an access course elsewhere. A vibrant mix of people who will mostly welcome you into their fold, though I am not one for mixing socially with them at Lloyds or the Loveshack as I can’t hold my drink as well as them!

What college are you in? Are you involved in college life? How do you like collegiate system?

Although I’m part of St Cuthbert’s College I very rarely have any dealings with them. As a liver-out I never had any need to contact the college and although I did attend some dinners I felt this was more suited for those who lived in.16343603_10212046822868262_1879329117_n

Are you a member of any societies or sports?

I did join DUSS (Swing Society) but as deadlines have mounted my attendance has declined! Naughty! I did think it was a good way to meet others and this society in particular did seem very welcoming of mature students. I do wish I had taken the time to go to more societies in the beginning – but there is always the freshers fair next year!!

What can you advise to other people coming to Durham and taking Foundation year.

The one piece of advice I can offer to future Foundation students is to get involved during class. The confidence I gained last year is actually quite staggering and I can’t imagine what I would be doing if I hadn’t taken that initial leap of faith! The one piece of advice I can offer is to get involved during class. The foundation year allows you to discuss things with each other and the Lecturers in a class room style, this will not be the case in your first year so take the opportunity now! Also, do the readings but don’t get stressed by it! Just make sure you timetable what you need to do and stick to it. The very best of luck!



Meet the Staff – We introduce to you Susan Scrafton


Those of you who are doing Applied Psychology already fell in love with Susan for her devotion to the subject and incredible skills as a teacher. She also teaches introductory psychology modules for Anthropology and Primary Education students.


How long have you been a part of Foundation Centre and what do you do here?

I joined the Foundation Centre in December 2008 with the remit of developing a widening access route into medicine. Gateway to Medicine was my ‘baby’ until last year. I was also the admissions tutor for a number of other routes but now I solely deal with applications to study Psychology. I have also been teaching Psychology modules since 2010 and developed the Psychology of Thinking and Learning module.

What are your areas of interest in your subject?

In Psychology my interests lie within cognitive development. I am interested in pragmatics (the use of everyday language) and the interface between this and reasoning. The errors people make when reasoning gets me very excited and I spent 4 years studying how people interpret the quantifier some for my PhD. You will have to take my word that it was a fascinating subject. Now, I am interested in assessment and feedback and have been looking into student’s experiences of this for the past few years.

What are you scared of?

Daddy longlegs. Horrible things – what is the point of them!!!

What are your guilty pleasures?

I have two: World Strongest Man; Jon Pall Sigmarrson was The Man.  Crazy Golf; we once drove for two hours across Holland to play our favourite course.

What is your favorite place on campus?

The Foundation Centre hot office; great views of the river and you can see Roseberry Topping in the distance

What kind of student were you?

Curious, passionate, hardworking, and full of questions.

What would you advise to your new students coming this year?

Be  passionate about your subject, hard working and don’t be afraid to ask question and you will succeed.


Foundation Centre going on a Learning Roadshow

Our Durham Foundation Centre is unique as it welcomes students from different backgrounds. A lot of our students are mature students who are coming back to education. If you are coming back to academia to learn more about the subject or to gain new qualifications, the Foundation centre is there to help and provide all necessary support along the way. In order to publicise the opportunities available through the Foundation Centre, we have organised a series of Family Learning Roadshows, a programme of free, interactive and inter-generational learning activities, showcasing a range of academic disciplines on offer at Durham University. Run by Durham University Foundation Centre students and staff, the events are hosted in local primary schools, museums, libraries, and other cultural spaces across Durham.

The aim of the programme is to raise aspirations for primary school children and their families. Parents of primary school age children are among those mature learners who are most likely to consider re-entering education; therefore, this is an excellent opportunity for the Foundation Centre to identify and support people from the local area who might like to consider studying for a degree. Evidence also suggests that in order to raise educational aspirations of children, secondary school is probably too late: the seeds of Higher Education need to be planted in primary school in order to cement behaviours likely to allow successful progression. Family Learning activities like the Roadshow have already demonstrated an impact in changing perceptions about HE, both for parents as well as children.


We have recruited more than 20 current/ former Foundation Centre students, many of whom are student parents themselves and also represent the diverse nature of our student group. The Roadies have all been trained to deliver the stalls in an afternoon session (usually in a school hall or similar), with parents invited to attend as they collect their children. Foundation Centre staff will be available to support the activities and answer questions, and anyone interested can speak to admission tutors or sign up for one of our monthly Taster Sessions if they want to find out more about what is on offer.

Already twelve local primary schools have signed up for events in 2017. This year’s theme is ‘The Moonstone’, with an emphasis on linking sciences with other academic disciplines. Parents will work with their children to solve a the mystery of a well-known Victorian jewellery heist by looking at clues, for example eliminating a suspect by identifying powders or smells. A variety of exciting activities are on offer to engage a wide range of ages, and might include dressing up in Victorian costumes, role play, decorating a Victorian mansion, or making moonstones.

We will get back with an update and photographs from the events. Follow this journey with us.



Meet the staff : Julie Wilson

It’s this exciting time of the year again, when the Foundation team is getting ready to meet new students and guide them through the first year of their academic journey.

For the student this time can also be a bit stressful and confusing. To ease your way into the Foundation family we present a ‘Meet the staff’ blog series that allows you to get to know our staff before you even get here. This week we introduce to you Julie Wilson , who will be helping some of you develop your Academic Skills.


How long have you been a part of Foundation Centre and what do you do here?

I’ve been part of the team for six years now.  I currently teach Academic Practice, and I work closely with our Business students on their Research Project.  I also run some drop-in writing development sessions to support our Queen’s Campus students.  In previous years I have also taught English Literature.

What are your areas of interest in your subject?

Having studied linguistics, I have a real love of language and how we use it.  I am particularly interested in the general development of EAP (English for Academic Purposes); I can get quite excited about new trends and research within this field, as this can really help to support our students in their academic careers.

What are you scared of?

Students finding my module dull and boring… and I work hard to push the positive aspects of developing their academic skills so that they can see the light!

What are your guilty pleasures?

Overusing Sky+ – I just love the way I can manage my viewing and not be limited by TV schedules – but I always seem to have less than 10% availability left, so I’m clearly not very good at the actual watching of programmes!

What is your favorite place on campus?

Outside the café at Queen’s Campus, sitting on the terrace in the sunshine with a coffee and watching the world go by…

What kind of student were you?

Extremely conscientious.  I used to revise my essays again and again until the very last moment in my desire to do my absolute best and not submit until it was ‘perfect’… until my lecturer asked me if the few marks I might gain were worth all the extra hours of redrafting.  A memorable lesson in prioritizing and managing my word load.

What advice would you give to your new students coming this year?

Embrace this whole new experience with enthusiasm and an open mind.  You do need to work hard, but be aware of all the support and advice and help that is available – and make sure you allow time for fun too!


If there are any other questions you want to ask our staff members, let us know in the comments.

Kelly Holness – Applied Psychology student and a Mum

Tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Kelly, I’m 37 years old and I have a 15 year old son called Matthew. I have just finished the second year of a psychology degree after starting in the Foundation Centre in 2013.

Why have you decided to come to Durham?

I decided to go back to uni in 2013, prior to that I was managing a nightclub. I’ve always worked in the bar industry and thoroughly enjoyed it. However working til 3/4am was starting to take its toll, so decided it was time to retrain. Psychology is something that I’ve always had an interest in so was the obvious choice for me.  Durham University was really the only option for me as traveling further afield was not suitable due to family commitments.


Friends from the Biology of the Environment class

How difficult is it to combine work, family and uni? How does it feel to be a mature student?

I found it quite difficult to combine uni with family life, but making friends with people in the same situation was a great source of support. I found it quite easy to make friends and  found most people to be friendly and helpful. I have not found being a mature student to be a barrier to communicating with others. I am quite pleased to be a mature student and I think if I had done it when I was younger I would not have been so focused and probably spent too much time in the pub!

What can you tell us about socialising as a mature student?

I did do a little socializing with the mature student society on their regular Friday night get together in the student union in Durham. It was a good opportunity to get to know other mature students in similar circumstances to myself.

I did not really have the time to get involved with college life, however during some difficult personal circumstances in the first year of my degree I received a great deal of help and support from my college.



Ebsworth Building at Queens campus. Home for Foundation and Applied Psychology Department

How did Foundation Centre help you to prepare for your degree?

The Foundation Centre was incredibly helpful to me. Prior to returning to uni I had been out of education for 16 years and it was a huge learning curve. The support and guidance from the Foundation Centre really helped to relieve some of the stress of returning to education after all of that time. They taught skills such as essay writing, time management and critical thinking. Without the foundation year I feel I would really have struggled in the first year of my degree. Instead I had made friends and established a support network which helped me feel more confident.

What would you advise to people who are thinking to apply for Durham University Foundation?

I would recommend the Foundation Centre to anyone. My advice would be to make the most of it, don’t be afraid to ask questions, all of the staff are more than happy to answer any questions no matter how stupid you may think they are. It is a fantastic place to learn new skills and meet new people before embarking on the first year of your degree.

Veronika Tomilina: Finance foundation student and cheerleader

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Veronika Tomilina and I am 19 years old.  I am from Riga, Latvia.  I like studying, dancing, photography, reading and trying different crafts. Literally everything  🙂

Why did you choose to come to the UK to study?

I did not want to study in Latvia, because I think that education in the UK grants a chance for a better career opportunities. I was considering different universities from different countries such as Russia or Norway, but my final decision was UK because of Durham University.

Why did you choose Durham University?

Durham has a really good reputation and it is the only top university that accepts applicant from Latvia straight after school. Foundation year is the only gateway into getting onto a Durham University degree, so I didn’t mind doing an extra year.


Veronika (right) with a friend at one of the John Snow formal dinners

How did your Foundation year go?

My Foundation year was good. I just got my results so I can honestly say it went well and I got a first (1st). I learned a lot and I think all the skills and knowledge that I have gained here will help me in years to come.

What college are you in? Are you involved in college life?

I am in John Snow college.  I feel like I was involved but could have done more. I really like the collegiate system, but I think that all colleges in Durham vary in activities.


Veronika at a freshers week event


Are you a member of any societies or sports?

I am member of finance society, Women in Business, and  Durham University’s cheerleading team, called Durham Divas. I would like to be more involved with the Finance society, but because I go to cheerleading practice 3 times in a week I simply do not have the time.

Why did you choose cheerleading?

I wanted to do dancing, because it is one of my  favorite hobbies, and before Durham I had been dancing for 13 years. There wasn’t a dancing club that would suit my level and also I wanted to try something new, so I decided to choose cheerleading.

What is the most memorable thing about your first year in Durham?

I think the most memorable was freshers week, especially matriculation day. It was a first step towards something new in my life, new people, new prospects, new friends. Another thing which I really enjoyed was being in Durham cheerleading team. It was a completely  new sport for me and I really like it now! I met many new friends and had a very good time participating in competitions. Moreover, during the Easter holiday we went to Disneyland and took part in competition there, were we took the 1st place!! These two things made my 1st year amazing!


Divas in Disney

What can you advise to other people coming to Durham and taking Foundation year.

Just enjoy your first year, but do not forget to get all the knowledge out of your teachers because it will be very useful in the future.  Students come to university to get knowledge and the skills so that they can get a really good job after, but if students are drinking and partying every day and doing nothing there is a really small probability that they will get 1st or 2.1 in the end.  It is very important to understand what you are doing and why!


Veronika and her flatmates on Matriculation day

Revision tips from the Foundation Centre staff and students

Revision, revision, revision….

So many things to do to get ready for exams. But what is the best way to revise? Where to start?Here are helpful tips that we collected from staff and student to help you do the your best in your exams.

First of all, eat right!

Revision period for many equals junk food season as you have no time to spend preparing your meals. It should not be that way. There are a number of foods that will keep your body and mind healthy and also help you to remember better. Bananas, apples, blackberries, sweet potatoes all those things you loved since you were a kid actually have super powers to energize your brain. So instead of ordering Dominoes, go pick up some fruit and veg.


Rachel Dunn thinks that revision mode starts with your plate. Researchers discovered that student who have proper breakfast on the day of their exams perform better. What is a proper breakfast you ask? Well you can’t go wrong with a bit of porridge oats for your carbohydrates, and egg, milk or yogurt for protein. Also no breakfast can be complete without coffee or juice; that is just something we know you want so enjoy.

Some of you might have already read the stress avoidance advice by the Durham Marketing student , but we will repeat few of her tips here just in case you missed it. Make schedule of your own revision. It always helps to write down what you have to learn. When you do write it all down, do not panic! It might seem like a lot but if you just take it step by step, taking breaks in between (very important to do that!) you will see that it is all doable.

Now we told you where to start, here is how you revise.

Once you have made a list of what you have to do you, take a look at the past exam papers. That is what a lot of our former students, including Jess Roche, Alex Harrison-Wood and Lee Simpson, advise to do. You can find them on duo, on library tab.


Ok, so now you know what you need to learn, and how you will be asked to display your knowledge. That is what these people who were talking at you all year want, they want you to remember what they said, understand it and be able to explain it all yourself. Usually your lecturer will tell you if they want you to use their examples or come up with your own.If they haven’t done yet, don’t hesitate to ask.

Now when you have opened the books, notes and power point presentations you need to know good ways of learning.Here is what our staff and student have come up with.

Steve Leech says that it is important to taking breaks from your revision. You can go for a walk or a run between your study sessions. That will help your brain to work better.

It’s also helps to speak out loud. You are more likely to remember things if you have talked it over out loud. Former student Lee Simpson suggests that getting a study group together and teach each other if good way to revise. You can also try to teach your pet, toy or a poster, if you don’t want to look weird talking to yourself. Talking during a walk is a good idea, just don’t be too loud when you are walking through crowded areas. People might be interested in finding out what happened to Hamlet or Pavlov’s dog and they may start following you.

Reward yourself for a job well done. If you have completed your task, have a snack, treat yourself to chocolate.

If your exams are essay based you can write down your plans or draw them in diagrams before you write them. If you have the plan you already know what you going to do.

If you are typing your notes, research suggests that times new roman is easier to read and remember. Foundation former student Jess Roche says that colour coding your notes also makes it easier to learn the material. She also mentioned that putting up dates and facts on posters helps memorising them.

Watch educational youtube videos to help understand tricky concepts.

Flashcards can be useful when you are studying, especially because you can turn to them on the go.

Check out more advice here

Alison McManus advice is to remember not to stress and take deep breaths. So sleep well, breathe and keep calm otherwise you will forget what you need to write and even if you actually know it.

So here it all is. Remember your teachers, friends and colleges are there to support you.

Good luck! Though you don’t need it, you will be great.