I truly had no idea what to expect

This year’s new Student Experience Prize was jointly awarded to Tai (Theo) Chan and Thiruvenika Thirumalai. Following on from receiving their award from Dr Sharmar, Theo addressed the Class of 2022 with a speech summarising their rollercoaster journey to graduation. Here she looks back at her three years, reflecting on the skills she’s learnt and the friendships she’s made.

In 2018, I became a Psychology student at the University of Kent. Freshly out of sixth form, I was excited about what I would be learning, especially when it came to advancing my knowledge about clinical psychology; but after four years of university, I have come to realise that the knowledge and skills gained are so much more than expected.

My academic life has been amazing. When I stepped into my first lecture, it was exhilarating to see 300 like-minded students who were as passionate about psychology as I was. Sitting in Keynes College, I marvelled as lecturers and researchers continually shared their own research with us, even studies that were yet to be published. As students, we were even lucky enough to be research assistants to our lecturers. I remember learning about how to use virtual reality in an experimental setting and seeing its effects in real-time. It is something that I will never forget. From these lecturers, I learned to become a better researcher. I understood the processes and dedication required to conducting research, and how to apply the knowledge learnt to real-life settings.

In addition to learning in an academic setting, I was able to complete a placement year with the NHS. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I worked closely with older adults with dementia. Prior to this placement, I had little to no knowledge of how to work with older adults or people with dementia, thus I was quite nervous. However, this placement really changed my life. Despite working during the pandemic, I was able to shadow and support psychologists in their clinical work, such as in assessments or therapy. I also worked closely with service users and created long-lasting friendships with them. Even after completing the placement, I continue to volunteer with them and have since supported them in various research projects and national presentations.

Whilst I am grateful all my professional growth, studying here has also helped me grow as an individual. I became more confident in myself, both professionally and personally, which has led me to become a more successful individual. I formed close relationships with lecturers and other members of staff, which has made me even more thankful of everything they have taught me. Most importantly, I have also made long-lasting friendships with people all across the world, all of which I will cherish.

In her speech at the graduation reception, Theo addressed the biggest challenge her cohort faced, Covid.

“I actually remember being in a quarantine centre watching Andy Russ talking about his cats to us, and how weird it was that despite the time differences of being in Hong Kong, I could still attend student rep meetings with university staff and students.

But despite all of this, despite all the changes, trials, and difficulties that we’ve experienced, we’re still here. In fact, I would say we’re here stronger than ever. Because of these changes, we have become one of the most adaptable and resilient cohorts to have ever come out of university.

Class of 2022, I commend you for all the courage and resilience that you have demonstrated throughout your course. We have come out better than ever, and as cliched as this may sound, as we move into the next stage of our lives the world will never be the same. Congratulations everyone, you have done amazing so far, and you will continue to reach far and wide. Thank you.”

When I first entered the University of Kent, I truly had no idea what to expect. But after four years of studying here, I almost wish it never had to end. I have developed so many skills and knowledge, but most importantly because of Kent I have developed myself. I am forever grateful for what Kent has done for me, and I can’t wait to see what I will do in the future.’

Tai Nga Chan (Theo) just graduated with First Class in the Psychology BSc.