Working part-time at an accounting firm, 4 years in to completing an Open University degree in Mathematics whilst also raising a beautiful 5 year old girl – Charlotte has proved to women everywhere that you certainly can have it all.
Time-management, organisation and confidence are key to keeping all of her various plates spinning. But what is really special about Charlotte is her determination to make her daughter proud and teach her the power of education and hard work – something every little girl should be taught.
This 25 years old millennial is one to watch as she grows her gorgeous family and successful career hand in hand.
We catch up with her to discuss her experience as a student at the Open University, working and studying side by side and how she stays motivated and on track.
Studying at the Open University
Why did you decide to complete a degree in Mathematics?
I’ve always been lucky in that I’ve found maths relatively easy and and I think that’s a huge factor in what makes me enjoy it. I am a perfectionist and would never enjoy a degree in which I couldn’t excel in.
I have always had a love for maths and problem solving. Even as a little girl, when going out to restaurants for family meals, I used to take along my fluffy scooby-doo notepad and pen so that my Dad could write sums for me to work out. Needless to say, this it quite unusual for a little girl to do and my family and I still laugh about it today!
I chose to study a degree in mathematics, not for the career prospects, but simply because I enjoy it. I had my daughter at a young age and decided to stay at home to look after her for the first couple of years. As precious as that time was, and as much as I would never change it, I felt I needed something to stimulate me in an intellectual way. By having a child at such a young age, I hadn’t taken my education as far as I knew I was capable and I wanted to gain a degree for my own satisfaction.
“By having a child at such a young age, I hadn’t taken my education as far as I knew I was capable and I wanted to gain a degree for my own satisfaction.”
The Open University is a very unique and often challenging way to study – why did you decide to take this path?
I decided to study with the Open University (OU) as I knew I could study from home and it was flexible enough to fit around my childcare and working commitments. I also did not have any A levels, having gone to college to study towards an AAT qualification instead of staying for sixth form, and so finding an institution which would accept me on to a degree path without having to complete A levels first, left me with few options.
After much research, it appeared that the OU could provide the most direct path to me gaining a degree. There were lots of online courses I could have done without any A-levels, however none of these were actual degrees and tended to be short courses which I could not see had a lot of recognition. As I knew my end goal was to gain a degree, I decided the OU was the best option.
There was no open evening as such, with the main campus being in Milton Keynes and it being an online based course, it was quite difficult to find somewhere to meet with someone face to face. I contacted the OU and explained what I wanted to do but that I would like some advice before signing up as I had been out of education for a while and was a bit apprehensive. They pointed me in the direction of a local library where someone from the OU was all day to talk to prospective students. I went and spoke to him for a good 45 minutes. He answered all my questions and was extremely informative. I left feeling excited and signed up that evening!
How was your experience starting your course compared to now?
I was extremely apprehensive to begin with as I hadn’t been in education for a while, had been a stay at home mum and thought I would struggle with degree level mathematics. The OU provided me with material to work through before I started the course, in order to help me prepare. This gave me a great boost in confidence and I was feeling positive by the time I started the course.
“The OU provided me with material to work through before I started the course, in order to help me prepare. This gave me a great boost in confidence and I was feeling positive by the time I started the course.”
What would you tell someone who was looking to completing a course with the Open University themselves?
I’ve definitely learnt that nothing worthwhile doing is easy. I have experienced every emotion going so far on this course. I have days where I feel like a maths genius and days where I feel like quitting. The main thing is, I’ve learnt that it is normal to have these extreme feelings and doesn’t mean I am failing.
I would tell someone who was looking into this course to be prepared for hard work and that you need a good support network around you. When studying from home it is so vital that those around you understand the importance of this. When I very first started, I think it was a difficult transition for everybody, especially as I was not actually leaving the house to go to a physical building and have a traditional tutorial. I would often have online tutorials and these would be interrupted by my daughter or partner talking to me and not appreciating that I wasn’t available as I was busy studying. Luckily, the OU actually have a section on their website aimed at family and friends of those studying, to try and help them understand what is expected of students.
I’d also advise getting organised. Organisation is not one of my strong points and I have struggled massively because of this. When I have taken the time to plan when I will study and what I will do, I have been a lot more productive.
How did you balance time between studying and looking after your Daughter?
When I first started studying, I wasn’t working and so she would go to nursery or to my parents house twice a week and this would be the time in which I could study. Once I began working however, this became a lot more difficult. The days I didn’t have my daughter were taken up with work and I had to fit my studying in when she was sleeping or at weekends when her Dad home from work to help.
Now she is at school I feel it should be easier as she is out of the house more. However, I find I work more now and also help out at her school and so I still have to struggle to fit my studying around everything else. For a long time I didn’t want to study when it was just me and her, as I felt it wasn’t fair on her. However I have come to realise that it is important for her to see me working hard towards a goal. She now often sits next to me with her notepad and pen and does ‘important maths’ like mummy.
“For a long time I didn’t want to study when it was just me and her, as I felt it wasn’t fair on her. However I have come to realise that it is important for her to see me working hard towards a goal.”
How do you think your studying and work has influenced your daughter?
She knows that I am more than just a mum. I am a worker, a student and a mum all at the same time and I believe this message that you can do whatever you want is so important.
I believe that working and studying while having a young child has really taught us all a lot about the value of family. She has such a close bond with her grandparents and I think this is in part due to the fact that they play such a big role in her life and help with the school run and childcare. She knows that you can rely on your family to help you and this is so important.
She is too young to comprehend how hard it can be to juggle many things at once. However, I am hoping that she will grow up seeing myself and her Dad working hard and will have a good work ethic. I am completely honest with her and explain that some days I don’t really want to go to work or study, but let her know that it is important to go anyway as people are relying on you. I can already see that she has taken this on board and she is always keen to go to school in the mornings.
What does she think about your work and studying?
For a long time I didn’t study whilst she was with me as I found it too distracting and thought it was unfair to expect her to be quiet and sit still. However, now she is at school and has homework to do, I often study in the afternoons and let her sit next to me and do her homework. She has surprised me in that she is so understanding that I need to concentrate sometimes and cannot play with her, I feel truly blessed to have such a caring and loving daughter. Even on days she does not have homework to do, she likes to sit with me and do her ‘important maths’ like mummy.
It’s important to me that she grows up knowing that some things in life are difficult, but attainable. I want her to have the confidence and drive to do whatever it is she wants, no matter how tricky it may seem. She will definitely grow up with a strong work ethic, which I feel is very important. As a parent you want the best for your child and you want them to be happy and successful. A key part of this is to not be afraid of hard work.
“As a parent you want the best for your child and you want them to be happy and successful. A key part of this is to not be afraid of hard work.”
How have you stayed motivated and on track with so many different elements to stay on top of?
At year three of my six year programme, I felt worn out and overwhelmed as I still felt so far away from my end goal. I found support from friends and family, as well contacting those who had been in my position before. Had I not had such encouragement, I may not still be studying today.
The main piece of advice I took was from a friend telling me to include my daughter in my studies. I now make space for her to do “her studies” and she knows this is quiet time for us to concentrate and learn. Not only does this mean I have more time to study, but I actually enjoy seeing her join in and am starting good habits ready for when she has more homework.
Launching a career in Accounting
What are the key features of your job?
My role at work mainly involves processing weekly and monthly payrolls for different companies across the county. I find it very interesting as I’m always learning new things and deal with a huge variety of people in my day to day role.
My job works on extremely tight deadlines and there is a constant need for monitoring the workload to ensure everything is done on time. As I am part time, I have to ensure that on the days I am not in, other people in my office know what needs to be done and by when.
I am the only dedicated payroll clerk in my office, however I work closely with two bookkeepers who help out with the payroll when things get busy.
How can you develop your career from this position?
From my current position I am able to train as a bookkeeper or accountant if I so wished. My company are extremely supportive of trainees and would assist me through further training if this is what I decided to do. However, at the moment I am concentrating on my degree and could not consider taking on more studying.
Once I have gained a degree in mathematics, this could lead to a separate qualification in accountancy, however I would have to do quite a bit of further training.
What advice would you give to someone looking into getting into Accounting?
Go to a firm that specialises in this area and learn about the industry before starting any training. It is completely different to what I had envisaged. There is a lot more client interaction and it is very deadline driven. It takes a long time and a lot of hard work to become a qualified accountant, and so it is important to understand what it entails before beginning.
Is there anything “you wish you had known” about the Accounting industry?
I wish I had known how deadline driven it was. When starting my role, I had no idea that I would be working to such tight deadlines and at first found this quite stressful. Now I am used to this way of working and enjoy the fast paced environment.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
I have no clear career path in mind, however I am enjoying my current work and am leaning towards a career in finance. A maths degree can take you in so many directions, I know that I have a variety of options ahead of me.
I love learning new things and think I will definitely continue to study once I’ve finished my degree. However, I will not take on such a long qualification straight away (if at all) and may do shorter courses in my chosen career instead.
I’m most excited about being able to graduate with my daughter and partner there to see. I also feel excited looking to the future and having a variety of career paths to choose from.
I’m most worried about wasting my degree and not making use of it after all this hard work. However, even if I do not gain a job which is directly related to my degree, I will always be proud that I have it. Regardless of the job I may apply for, gaining a degree in mathematics through the Open University will only help me as it demonstrates intelligence, commitment and motivation, among other things.
“Regardless of the job i may apply for, gaining a degree in mathematics through the Open University will only help me as it demonstrates intelligence, commitment and motivation, among other things.”
What advice would you give your 18 year old self?
Don’t quit if things seem too hard. They will always be worth it in the end and you will never regret completing something. Also, to be less hard on myself and accept that I won’t find everything easy, but that does not make me a failure.