It was a bright, mild day in early spring. A gentle breeze flowed into the room through windows overlooking a quadrangle, bringing with it a freshness and sense of calm.
The class was for an introductory networking module in my first semester as a computing undergraduate. I stopped working on the practical task and scanned the room. My classmates were focussed on their work and the lecturer, Martin Stanhope, was helping a student. I looked out of the window, took a deep breath and, as my eyes returned to the classroom, exhaled. I smiled to myself and thought “I can do this”.
I can do this. Four simple words in a brief yet pivotal moment of complete serenity. As a first-generation university student, in my early 20’s and carrying the baggage of previous unsuccessful undergraduate study, I was full of doubt and anxiety. Was I up to the challenge? Should I have left full-time employment to make a career change? Could I repay the faith and support of my parents?
Fast forward to the other day. 20 years since the networking class, give or take a few weeks. Not quite spring, but another mild and bright day. A different view from the window, but the same building. Another undergraduate class, but this time I am the lecturer. My students are busy with their final year projects. I return to my desk after helping a student and, noticing the breeze, look out at the blue sky. Taking a deep breath, I feel the same sense of tranquillity in the room. I close my eyes and, smiling to myself again, am transported back in time.
The symmetry of the situation is not lost on me. This time I am nearing the end of my time at the university. Leaving academia for a new challenge. Of course the approaching change brings uncertainty. How could it not after 11 years at the same institution? But this time I am filled with excitement and anticipation rather than doubt and anxiety.
Reflecting on my time at the university, I find myself thinking about those (including Martin) who helped to shape me as a student and to equip me with the confidence that I take into my new role. If, during my stint as a lecturer, I have enabled one student to have an “I can do this” moment, my time has been well spent.