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Kelly Purcell

Law (LLB)

'I went to a dance and drama boarding school until I was 14. I then had to change schools when my mum moved to Oxford and I didn’t like the one I moved to.  It put me off school so I got a job waitressing.

'When I was 18 a family tragedy made me realise I had to do something with my life.  What happened to my family became a high profile court case and a national media story.  I was in court for two years and didn’t know anything about what I was hearing.  So I enrolled on a Certificate of Higher Education in law at a local college, but didn’t finish it because it all became too much for me.

'I went travelling and when I came back I felt much better – I started waitressing again, and completed the Certificate course.  I applied to Birkbeck and when they offered me a place on the full time course I jumped at it. In virtually the same week, I discovered I was pregnant.  I thought “Oh yes!” and “Oh no!” at the same time! But I decided just to go for it and prove that I could do both.

'I applied to Birkbeck because of its evening teaching.  I just wanted to get on with the next stage of studying, and at Birkbeck that was possible.  I also wanted to study in London rather than Oxford, but to be near enough to my mum.  I was waitressing 21 hours a week, so I could work, commute to university and do my studying, and still have a baby!  With Birkbeck everything fell into place – it answered all the questions I had, and I could balance everything I needed to do.

'Juggling academic work with a baby is all I’ve known, although it isn’t always easy. My daughter Bella was seven weeks old when I sat my first exam, and I was breastfeeding on demand, so I had to keep stopping the exam, feed her and then go back into the exam room.  It took me a lot longer than the standard three-hour exam!

'I’ve developed a routine, and I could not have done that with daytime study.  Commuting into London on the bus gives me an hour’s break to do some reading before getting to my courses.  Sometimes Bella comes in with me, and if I only have an hour’s tutorial I’m not leaving her for too long. My partner and his parents also help a lot.

'I like the independence of studying at Birkbeck.  You are studying with people who’ve really thought about why they are here – often they’re doing it part time because they want to further their career.  You have that as common ground and I have found that very helpful.  I haven’t been able to enjoy my time socially as much - in my first year I was pregnant and the second I was breastfeeding, so I didn’t go drinking at all! But I’ve made friends and I have had some great experiences.

'I spent a week shadowing a barrister in chambers and a week with a judge over the summer, as part of the Access to the Bar awards at Middle Temple.  Birkbeck put me forward for this and I’ve had a lot of advice and encouragement from my personal tutor [Matthew Weait] who has been fantastic. 

'Spending time at Middle Temple has really made me think I’d like to be a barrister.  Everyone there was incredibly helpful and welcoming so I feel a real allegiance to them. I had no family background or long-standing interest in law – it has grown as I’ve done the LLB course.  In April [2013] I’ll be shadowing barristers in Crown Office Chambers, which I’m really looking forward to. I think it’s my background in drama that makes advocacy so appealing!

'I have student loans, but I also have my waitressing job and I had maternity leave pay. I get tax credits. I am never not working.  And you get good tips waitressing! 

'When I found out I was pregnant I had to make a decision. I had to make it a positive, rather than a negative, that all this was happening at the same time. I am doing this for my daughter and to make life better for me and for our family.'

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'I am doing this for my daughter and to make life better for me and for our family.'