I completed my Chemistry degree at Manchester Metropolitan University in 2012. My final year represented a number of achievements in my life and an incredibly hectic year. My degree reaching it’s climax was merely one event in amongst many that year. I was also to be married, complete an Ironman, play cricket as a professional in my local cricket league, move to France, become a “chemo partner” for my sister in law, and continue to be a father to my beautiful (then) 2 year old daughter.
The year was a roller coaster ride full of successes and failures. Looking back, it seems almost crazy that I took on so much responsibility, but life hasn’t slowed any and there is but one attributing factor as to why I felt able enough to take on such endeavours: my degree.
Back in 2009, when I commenced my degree, I had just finished my second stint in Australia. This undertaking was one of the finest implementations of a delay tactic possible. I had been working in insurance for 18 months, with apathy well entrenched and a feeling of meaninglessness in my life, I decided to pack my bags for Australia. However, evading the main issue of a future career like some sort of Jason Bourne character was merely compounding the issue – I needed to do something to try to build a career.
During high school, I had a penchant for Chemistry and classed myself as good at it, in spite of GCSE grades to indicate otherwise. I had the pervading thought that if I put my mind to something, I would succeed. I wanted to demonstrate that my academic grades to date were merely down to lack of motivation as opposed to intelligence, so I decided to enrol on a Chemistry degree at Manchester Metropolitan University. My goals list read “Get a First Class degree and finish top of the year”.
September 2009 rolled around, and I commenced my degree with the bit between my teeth and a work ethic of Roy Keane in central midfield. The first validation of my new found effort came in the form of our first test results – a 99% assault on atomic structure. Have that.
I pretty much kept on in the same vain for the rest of my degree, with each test result affirming I was indeed able to achieve as much as my work ethic allowed. The skills required to achieve a degree are numerous, and with each success I grew in confidence in areas such as time management, organisation, setting big goals and achieving them, self-motivation and creativity. Each success spurred me on more, and I felt like I could stretch myself further and further. This culminated in my crazy 2012.
Achieving a good grade in a degree is a feat of connectivity. Once you reach a certain academic level, the ability to from connections across an entire subject becomes king. How can your learning in one area of the subject be seen to impact the other area? How can learning about thermodynamics affect the rate of adsorption onto a surface? Or how does it affect the conditions required for an organic synthesis reaction? How does orbital theory relate to organic reaction mechanisms? How does the activation energy of a reaction relate to launching a website?
Connected thinking allows a person to relate one thing to another, to create analogies and to bridge gaps in your thought processes. How does one idea relate to and affect another idea? Can you connect knowledge in one area to a requirement in another area? Trying to make connections spurs on creative thinking and create new angles to problems you face.
How do you get as many people to know about a new product? In order for a chemical reaction to occur, species have to collide, have the correct energy and be in the correct orientation. In order to activate users of a new product, they have to come into contact with your product (collide), have the problem you are talking about (correct orientation), and have enough pain caused by the problem to want to solve their particular problem (correct energy).
Colliding customers with your product is is essentially what most people class as marketing. Exposing your product to as many people as possible should increase the rate of purchases, engagements etc. Not necessarily. As with a chemical reaction, the other factors need to be in place. Your target needs to have the correct orientation. They have a particular problem and your product solves it. Your product will instantly resonate with a need your client has, and they are oriented already towards wanting to buy from you.
However, a lot of problems can just be ignored. Is the problem painful enough to stimulate action? If not, the customer will not have enough energy to stimulate action (i.e. purchase). Does your product solve a particularly painful problem?
So the successful ingredients of a marketing campaign isn’t just exposure, exposure, exposure. You have to ensure the other two facets are in place for your product to resonate with your customers.
My degree encouraged my to think in a connected and joined up manner, looking at unlikely bits of knowledge to try and solve problems. Identifying patterns, bridging knowledge gaps, exploring ideas, thinking creatively, analytically and objectively are all skills that you equip yourself with when you embark upon a degree.
Entrepreneurship is all about recognising problems and providing solutions. Problems people face are what makes a business successful – if you can provide a successful solution to people’s problems, you are half way to having a good business idea. Thinking connectedly and creatively allows you to become a much more effective problem solver. This is the very skill that allows you to be successful in a degree.
A degree teaches you to become an autonomous learner – you have to take the course by the scruff of the neck and learn how to learn. Entrepreneurship is a seat-of-the-pants experience where you are constantly having to learn. A degree equips you with the skills necessary to do this quickly and effectively. An appetite for continual learning and skill development is a necessity for any entrepreneur.
Completing a degree at MMU was an unbelievable confidence boost. It gave me trust in my own ability to solve problems, the ability to seek out challenges and raise my game to complete them, and an attitude to embrace failure and learn from it. The lecturers I encountered there were first class and ALL had my interests at heart. Once they could see a willingness to learn and work hard, they could not do enough for me. The support I received was unparalleled. My time at MMU was incredible, and I am grateful for the opportunity it has given me.
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