My journey so far as a postgraduate student at the University of Surrey

My name is Lydia Mogano and I’m studying the Msc Environmental Psychology course with the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences (FHMS) at the University of Surrey. I am learning about evidence-based, thought-provoking and problem-solving approaches to understanding the interrelationship between human behaviour and the natural and/or built environment. This course requires a lot of critical thinking about the empirical evidence that exists between these components as we try to understand, generate new knowledge and solutions that are relevant to research, design projects and policy.

I am from South Africa (in Pretoria to be specific) and I am proudly a part of the Chevening 2018/9 cohort. My current employer, the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI) has kindly granted me a study leave and I feel so blessed to be here. I am almost 9 months into a 12-month study period and the course is almost coming to a close. I’ve finished writing my final exam last week and what is left is for me to complete my dissertation.

I know, time flies, right? I remember very vividly, getting a confirmation email from the university and my scholarship, just after I had gotten married last year. In fact, I got the news a day after successfully completing the 2018 Comrades Ultra Marathon down-run with my husband in Durban, South Africa.

My family has always been extremely supportive, especially my wonderful husband, Mr. Pheeha Machaka. It was a day of great celebration but at the same time it was daunting because there comes a new adventure ahead us. I mean, I was confident that I really wanted to pursue my studies further through the Environmental Psychology course, while at the same time, I was wondering how I would manage on my own far away from home. But, I’ve realised that in order to grow and to be successful in life, I was excited to take chances, and challenge myself so that I can make a different in my community.

I would like to be able to make both research and policy contributions around the energy and environmental challenges in South Africa. I would also like to engage ordinary citizens on this topic, especially young people since we are the inheritors of the wise and unwise decisions that our leaders have and are taking. Well now that you know how important this course is to me, here’s a few things that helps me stay focused and successful at the university:

  1. Believe in yourself and stay true to yourself. I strongly believe that it is through God’s grace that I am provided with this opportunity to advance my studies. It is faith (whichever yours is) that anchors and sustains me throughout. Of course, success also demands that you have clear goals and that you execute them smartly. But also believe that you can make it and stick to this pillar every day.
  2. I run almost 3-4 times a week ranging from 5km to 20km a week (or maybe 20km one weekend). I really love running because it provides me with a revitalizing effect after a very long day or week. It is simply part of my lifestyle. Of course there are other social events that I attend, but running specifically helps me to stay healthy, physically, mentally and spiritually. It provides a good space to meditate. Like any race, there were moments where I would question my abilities to succeed. Through running, I am reminded of my purpose, and the reasons to stay committed to the course. I also stay connected to my family and friends. Yes, challenges do come on the way but there are many ways to overcome them. The university also provides support services throughout the year, especially during the exam period.
  3. I have fantastic lectures and class mates. When you have class of team players who support each other, then you know that are in the right place. As an inquisitive person, I enjoy learning and being in a space that is open, thought provoking, and collaborative although we cannot overlook competitive part that is demanded by our potential employers.
  4. Find the right study environment that suits your needs and preferences. I live right on campus and it takes me less than 5 minutes to walk to the library or lecture rooms. I prefer studying in my room because it is silent, I can concentrate better and there is internet service 24/7 hours. The library is equally resourced but I go there when I wish have a different environment and further inspiration for new ideas. Oh, the university library is the best! I always find all the literature I need and if it is not accessible from the library, I am able to access it via the interlibrary service. The staff members are incredibly friendly and efficient.
  5. The university has the Academic Support Academic Skills and Development (SPLASH) and the English Language Support Programme (ELSP) which are part of the Library support programmes that is available for everyone to use. There are walk in services, workshops and one-on-one sessions on any academic topics including how to write a dissertation (from research proposal to results write up), critical reading and writing including support with SPSS questions (for quantitative research).

This is by far, the most rewarding experience of my life and I hope could help you make it throughout your study year here at Surrey.

Best wishes!