Studying a Master's online with Queen Mary: student experience

Padraig Downey is a Queen Mary Online student and the owner of a theatre company in the United Arab Emirates. Originally from Ireland, Padraig has lived in the UAE for the past nine years, after spending time in New York, California, Paris and Rome over the last two decades. He’s now studying for his degree with us, while still producing and teaching theatre.

We sat down with Padraig over a call to discuss his time as an online student.

This is the first half of our two-part interview. In the second, Padraig discusses his experience earning an MA in International Relations, including what a typical study week looks likes:


What motivated you to study for a Master’s?

I have another Master’s degree, but it’s been about 18 years since I completed it in the United States. That was full-time and pretty intensive, so I wanted to find a course at a reputed institution that would listen to the needs I had.

Padraig Downey

Padraig Downey

And what made you chose Queen Mary Online?

I was looking for something that would accommodate me studying online, with extra support from professors. I spoke to a course adviser from Queen Mary. She was really proactive and took time to get to know me and my schedule. She didn't sugarcoat anything. She was honest and realistic.

I was very apprehensive and nervous after being out of formal education for 18 years, but I knew after the first week that I had chosen the correct university, because of the support and the fantastic teaching. There’s even Canvas [Queen Mary Online’s virtual learning platform], which allows you to follow the course modules and speak with the professors and other students. You can create something tailored to your own needs.

The other thing about Queen Mary is its reputation and ranking; I know people who have gone to Queen Mary and they speak very highly of it.

What has it been like learning online? How are your interactions with your fellow students?

It’s great to have feedback and a tutor there to take us through topics. We can also run anything by him, such as the structure of essays or any issues we’re having. I really feel supported and like there’s always somebody around to help.

That includes the other students as well – we have WhatsApp groups in case anyone wants to bounce ideas off each other. It’s incredible that we’ve been able to develop friendships with people who we’ve never met face to face. It’s calming to hear their voices and listen to their perspectives; everyone’s so respectful and kind. That’s something I really appreciate.

Your field is in theatre, and your work varies a lot due to rehearsals. How do you manage your time?

Yes, I have a very intensive schedule – and that’s something that maybe stopped me from doing a course [previously], because I felt that I wouldn’t be able to manage.

I teach drama during the day and have rehearsals in the evening, so my days can run from 5am to 10pm. When we’re in production, I might be working even longer. So you walk a fine line. I think the course has to slot into your life and it shouldn’t become a chore. For me, the content is very interesting and enjoyable.

The other thing I found is that when I come back from work and open my computer to do some studies online, it can actually be a blessing. It takes my mind off the heavy day at the theatre, or the pressures of teaching all my students. It’s something that’s just for me. So I really appreciate having that time to sit down and just do some reading and course work.

Every student has a tight schedule, and nobody has a free run of time. The professors and advisers are extremely understanding of this. It really helps just to know that you have that support.

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Topics: online programme

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