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Double degree celebrations for University dream team

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Several hundred students today receive their degrees, at the University of Stirling’s Graduation Ceremonies. Every one of them can personally testify to how much hard work and effort goes into achieving a degree and the demands that study can make on a student’s personal life.

So it’s good to know that it is possible to work hard, play hard, meet your life partner, fall in love, get engaged, plan your future together and collect two degrees each along the way.

When student Grant Walker collects his Master’s Degree in Psychology Research Methods, his fiancee Helen Batchelor will be in the audience, cheering him on. And when, a couple of hours later, Helen steps up to receive her Master’s Degree in International Conflict and Co-operation, Grant will be applauding her success, along with the many other well-wishers present.

Originally from St Boswell’s a village on the Scottish Borders, Helen arrived on Stirling’s campus five years ago. A determined 17-year-old, she quickly settled down in one of the campus Halls of Residence, made friends and began working for her degree in International Politics. A few doors along from her in the same residential block, 19-year-old Grant arrived from Balloch near Loch Lomond – and soon got into the swing of Undergraduate life and working towards his Psychology degree.

In fact, although they were practically living next door to one another, it was several months before the two finally met through mutual friends and discovered that they were about to take the same learning modules in Business Law and Sociology.

“To begin with, we would meet up to go to the same lectures together. Then from time to time, we’d meet up and skip them together!” Grant remembers. “The relationship worked right from the start, as we bounced ideas off one another, discussed our work and challenged each other’s thinking at times.” 

Helen agrees that they just seemed ‘right’ together. “I can see why some people might think that working, living and studying alongside my boyfriend might have felt a bit intense,” she agrees.  “But the situation really worked out well for us. We never seemed to have project deadlines at the same time. So when one was up against a deadline and felt the pressure, the other was able to be encouraging and supportive.”

Their approach to their relationship reflects the same awareness and maturity which is apparent in their academic lives. Working as a volunteer with the British Red Cross throughout the four years of her study, Helen earned a BA (Hons) in International Politics in 2009, having submitted a dissertation on the desperate plight of child soldiers – a tragic situation she had learned about in the course of her voluntary work.

Meanwhile Grant’s attention was focused on another real world situation which affects many people’s lives: the way in which juries reached their decisions during criminal court cases. His work resulted in him graduating alongside Helen in 2009, with a BSc (Hons) in Psychology.

Since their first shared experience of academic study had left both of them hungry to learn more, they immediately went on to study for their Master’s Degrees. Helen chose to do her MSc dissertation on yet another aspect of the issue of child soldiers. Alongside her, Grant was equally focused on exploring another aspect of jury work. For his MSc, he looked at the jury composition and deliberation process, and how these influenced the final jury verdict.

”That particular issue has slipped underneath the radar, because so many previous studies have concentrated on the giving of evidence, while very few have focused on how that evidence, once given, is reviewed,” he explains.

The result is that, one year on, Helen and Grant are both poised to add a Master’s Degree to the First Degrees they already have. Not only are they looking forward to yet another double celebration next Friday, amazingly they are already talking about their next round of study.

Grant would like to undertake another MSc, this time in Educational Psychology. “I have done some work with a local out-of-school care organisation which works with disadvantaged youngsters and children with additional needs,” he explains. “I’ve found that work really interesting and satisfying and I would like to take it further.”

Helen meanwhile, is toying with the idea of doing a Doctorate. As she explains:”I remember how shocked I was when I first learned about child soldiers. Not because they existed – although that was bad enough. But the real shock was in realising that, I was nearly twenty and still completely ignorant of that fact.

“It’s estimated that there are around 300,000 child soldiers being forced to fight today and I really want to make as many people as possible aware of this, as well as the dreadful things that happen to women and children. They are the real victims of warfare and it’s only if more people know this that we can bring pressure on governments to change the situation.”

You might think that, with all this effort and concentration on world issues and their efforts to help change things for the better, that romance might have been firmly put on the back burner for Helen and Grant. Not a bit of it! Grant ‘popped the question’ as the two of them were enjoying the Hogmanay celebrations last year. And of course, Helen said ‘Yes’.

“Now that this latest bout of study is behind us, we are getting around to talking about getting married,” she laughs. “But a wedding is at least a couple of years down the road – we’ve both got too many other things to do!”

“I asked Helen to get engaged when the bells were ringing in the New Year,” Grant remembers. “I’d intended to do it for a while, but that particular moment just seemed absolutely right. Ever since we’ve been together, I’ve been aware that all around us, other couples had – and many still have – turbulent relationships. Ours is nothing like that and I feel incredibly lucky to have found Helen.”

So it seems that, in addition to its many other successes, the University of Stirling can pat itself on the back for bringing together a dream team, who seem set to make a positive difference to the world beyond the campus.

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