It was 1983. Like all year 11 students, Andrew Gibson sat the public service exam, which helped determine what kind of career you were most suited to in the public service.
In the first week of year 12, he got a call offering him a job as a cartographer, or spatial information officer, at what is now called TASMAPS. It was a great opportunity. On the job training, giving him a Diploma in Applied Science, and a guaranteed career. He took it.
At 16 he commenced his career producing maps for the public service. Thirty-three years later and Andrew is still enjoying his role. (The aptitude test obviously got it right.) But at 42 years of age, Andrew thought it was time to challenge himself.
“I felt like my brain was seizing up. I’d never been to Uni, but all my friends had degrees because they went on to do it after year 12. Despite spending a lot of time at the Uni bar, I hadn’t had the experience for myself.
I was scared sh**less but I decided to study a Bachelor of Science. I majored in Geography and minored in GIS, because they were relevant to my career. But I filled in all the gaps with subjects that just really interested me.
Andrew started out by doing an introduction to university course and then studied part time, doing two subjects at a time.
I was lucky enough to have a really supportive workplace that let me have time off to go to lectures and tutorials. I was worried at first that I’d have forgotten too much since school and I’d be the oldest in the class. But because a lot of the first year geography subjects involved map reading, I found I was teaching others and got on really well with my class mates.
“I actually found there was a really diverse range of people at Uni. Some had seen a lot of world and some had never left Hobart.”
Over the next six years Andrew studied astronomy, plant and animal science, Antarctic studies, data and statistics, human geography of Asia, and won a scholarship to go to Japan on a cultural history study tour.
“It has absolutely changed me. It has changed the way I look at the world. Now when I read the paper, I understand the statistics, and I can think critically about the issues being discussed.
At school they tell you what to think – at University, they ask you what you think. It’s very different. But they teach you how to research to develop an informed opinion.
In particular Andrew enjoyed human geography, which is about people’s place in the world, and how people tell stories.
“I’ve always loved travel in Asia, but I wasn’t aware of the issues that tourism can create. Now when I travel I know what practices are ok and those that just aren’t. I’m a more educated traveller.”
At the end of the six years, Andrew is glad that he studied the degree, and very proud of the achievement.
“There is a huge sense of satisfaction and achievement. I look at the world in a different way and I’ve got a skillset that is uniquely me, because I chose the things that interested me. University study affects the way you think about yourself and your life.
“I’ve got new relationships with people that I never would have met otherwise. I discovered things that I’d never heard of before… like TED talks! I left Uni with a plan to watch a TED talk every day.
I do wonder what my life would have been like if I went to University when I was 20. But I would recommend it to others later in life. It’s not just about a career, it’s about reinventing yourself. I think it would be great for retired people too, what a great way to spend your time.
Despite being ‘scared sh**less’ at the start, Andrew made it onto the Dean’s Roll of Honour every year. His advice:
“Go in eyes open, it is hard work. But, the support is there if you need it. Seek it out. And, even when you think you’re on the wrong path sometimes, follow your process and you’ll get good marks."