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Graduate masters art of taking risks

Risk to return to learning paid off: Darren Simpson

Risk to return to learning paid off: Darren Simpson

A man who was stung by the unexpected difficulty of A-levels at the age of 18 has now, 20 years later, fallen in love again with learning and is about to start studying for his PhD.

Darren Simpson, from Fareham, Hampshire, graduated from Portsmouth Business School this summer with an MSc in Risk Management. He achieved a distinction and won the departmental project and risk management prize for the best performing student.

But his break from education has been short-lived, and he will be back studying for his Doctorate in risk management in September.

Darren said: “While I found secondary school fun and was lucky enough to achieve exam results in the top five per cent, by the time I started A-levels things were somewhat different. Classmates appeared to achieve higher scores with little effort while I struggled to accomplish average grades. By the time I finished my A-levels, I was ready to quit education, earn money and make my own way in the world.”

Darren left sixth form and started work as a trainee engineer with an electricity board. He had to study for his Higher National Certificate (HNC) in electrical engineering but six years later, a qualified engineer, the company was privatised and he was made redundant.

He said: “I was forced to review my options and because IT was significantly gaining popularity, I decided to retrain. Further studying of various certifications over many years saw me rise from IT support administrator in a London law firm to technical director for a consultancy firm in Hampshire.”

During his rise through the ranks one of Darren’s jobs was as a technical security consultant responsible for disaster recovery and business continuity.

He said: “I had always tried to supplement work experience with some form of qualification, so I investigated the options. At the time, a work colleague had just completed a degree at the University of Portsmouth and suggested I take a look. I searched the website and found a risk management course which contained a unit covering business continuity – perfect, except it was an MSc and I was convinced I wouldn’t be able to pass this level of education.”

Darren attended the University’s open evening in 2010 and met the course leader, Dr Sara Thorne, who assured him that because of his work experience and many professional qualifications, he would be capable of studying at this level.

He said: “I was nervous at the start, but with the support of faculty staff by the end of the second unit I was enjoying every minute of it. Amazingly, three years later I passed the course with a distinction and am now about to start a PhD research degree.

“I look back now and wonder what I was worried about.”

One of the keys for Darren in finding education worthwhile and interesting again was being encouraged to question accepted wisdom and practices and to think for himself.

“Having spent many years being educated and told facts, it was refreshing to find people who encourage you to find alternative ways of undertaking risk management and to look for different solutions.

“I had many preconceived ideas before the course started about what risk management actually was, only to be proven wrong. The course encouraged me to research the subject further and has also given me the confidence to undertake challenges that I would have previously considered beyond my ability.

“At the start of the course I was questioning my ability to successfully complete a Master’s, but part-way through my first year I had already decided that I wanted to continue my studies and undertake a PhD.

“This desire to understand risk is clearly infectious as some of my class are also planning to continue studies at a higher level – be warned, once you start, you’ll never want to stop.”

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