Student Stories

Querns, family life and achievement – mature student life at the UHI Archaeology Institute

We were joined a few weeks ago by University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute student Mandy Dailly, who started working in the lab with Martin Carruthers on a research project involving quernstones found at The Cairns. This is her story in her own words...
Mandy examining The Cairns querns in the lab

We were joined a few weeks ago by University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute student Mandy Dailly, who started working in the lab with Martin Carruthers on a research project involving quernstones found at The Cairns.

This is her story in her own words…

My name is Mandy and I am a 37-year-old “mature” student in my fourth year of a distance-learning BA (hons) in archaeology with UHI.

When I started the degree, I was a single parent of three, ranging in age from four to fifteen, and had spent my working career in the care sector. I had been desperate for a change of direction for a long time, for a chance to “make something of myself”, but with a family to support it always seemed like too much of a risk to leave the security of a steady job.

Having left school at sixteen with no higher qualifications, I didn’t even really believe that I was capable of studying at degree level.

In 2015, changes to my job were just the push that I needed, and I applied to UHI, initially to study for a joint honours in Scottish History and Archaeology. I was terrified and overwhelmed to begin with. I had so little confidence and felt like such a fraud that I very nearly left after about a month.

Thankfully one of the history tutors phoned and talked me down off the proverbial ledge. She told me that it was a common issue with mature students that they often try and do everything perfectly, working too hard and putting themselves under too much pressure because they’ve often made considerable sacrifices to be there. She assured me I was doing fine and told me to relax and enjoy it.

Returning to study was a big adjustment at first, but I am so grateful to Dr Ritchie for that pep talk because without it I may well have given up.

Lunchtime at the Ness of Brodgar

After second year I attended the practical archaeology field school at the Ness of Brodgar in Orkney.

It was such an incredible experience on so many levels. Firstly, I was able to see in practice, the things I had been learning about in theory for two years, which was mind-blowing. I learned so much. The Ness is a really special site and is so well set-up for teaching as well as research. Your socks can’t help but be knocked clean off by just being there, let alone actually being allowed to get in amongst it! Also, for the first time in a long time, I was away from home on my own.

It was a logistical juggling act, but my kids were well looked after and while I missed them, for two weeks I was an individual person, doing something I loved in a special place with a great bunch of people. It was so liberating! One of the best things about taking part in these digs is getting to make new like-minded friends and finally meeting people I recognise from the online video conferences and tutors in the flesh. Everyone is so friendly and welcoming.

That experience changed everything. I realised that while I enjoyed history, a career in archaeology was what I really wanted. When I returned home, I switched to a single honours in archaeology and am in no doubt that it was the right decision for me.

Cristina with Anna and Mandy at Ness of Brodgar

Fast forward to 2019 and despite stressing about doing as well as possible in my final term, I couldn’t be happier.

I have exceeded my wildest expectations in terms of my grades (so far!), and although I still suffer the nagging voice of self-doubt I have way more confidence in my abilities than I did in 2015. This is in no small part due to the incredible teaching staff who are truly inspiring individuals with a real passion for what they do, which really brings out the best in their students. Knowing they believe in you seriously helps you to believe in yourself.

4th year undergraduate student Amanda Dailly (Mandy), Ness of Brodgar, Jul 2018

UHI’s childcare fund gives me extra time to study every week and the Student Development Fund has enabled me to take part in the incredible summer digs. I am truly grateful for every bit of assistance I’ve had over the last three and a half years. I have now applied to study the taught masters in archaeological practice next year, something I could never have imagined myself doing when I started, and so will be moving to Orkney with my family in the summer. I can’t wait!

Obviously, aside from my children, studying with UHI is without a doubt the best thing I have ever done. It has given me an entirely different outlook on life and myself, not to mention some very exciting possibilities for the future for the whole family. I would wholeheartedly encourage anyone thinking of undertaking a degree to go for it, no matter what age you are or how long it has been since you studied. You never know where it could take you. “


  1. Inspiring! I studied photography as a mature student, having studied English as a young student. I’d always felt that I hadn’t found quite the right path and I’m now doing the things I want to. So I’d say, to anyone thinking about becoming a mature student, just go for it!

  2. Mandy’s story is such an inspiration! And UHI such a wonderful institution for fostering such dreams and helping them to come true. I still hope to visit you someday!
    Peace from Vermont

    1. Hi Patricia, thank you for your message and when you do decide to visit the UHI Archaeology Institute in Orkney then drop me a line and I can show you round the institute. I think you would find it interesting. Regards Sean

  3. Mandy, I too was a mature student way back in 1982 when I jacked in my job and decided that it’s never too late to go to uni. It was the best thing I’ve ever done and I got a First, in Classics and Spanish. Listen, if you want to work hard, do it, enjoy it, be proud of it. Since then I got a BA in Social Anthropology, then a PhD in Classics, without corrections. I congratulate you, not only on getting your degree, but sticking with it and wanting to do more. Hope your kids realise what a special mum they have. If you ever need reminding of how special you are, email me at Meantime, good luck and all the best, drbabs

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