Recent UQ Bachelor of Commerce (Accounting) graduate Nicole Burns says she was in a quandary on discovering she was pregnant just two days into her degree with the UQ Business School five years ago.
Having completed a Bachelor of Science at UQ in 1997 after finishing high school, Mrs Burns returned to UQ for further study, and said that "at first I couldn't believe that, after waiting for some time to fall pregnant, it would finally happen just as I was starting my degree".
"At first I doubted my ability to be able to finish my studies, but after my husband and I had some time to work through the different scenarios and make some contingency plans I was confident that I could do it," she said.
Mrs Burns' graduation with her business degree last week capped five years of part-time study combined with work and raising her two boys, James, 6, and Aidan, 4.
"I feel relieved that it's over, proud of myself for accomplishing it, indebted to my family and grateful to UQ for assisting me," she said.
"I'm also pleased to think that perhaps one day someone I studied with will remember me waddling into classes when they are doubting their ability to combine family life and further study, and be encouraged."
Between lectures and important assessments, Mrs Burns, from Riverhills in Brisbane's west, was fitting in her work as a book-keeper with making play dough and playing with her sons, and said "thinking of my family helped to calm my nerves before exams".
"Picturing them at home and what we would do later helped to break the circuit on my stress, and it also helped me to take a long-term focus - I didn't have the luxury of getting bogged down in the finer points, I had to concentrate on the main points that I would need in my future career," she said.
"Dealing with typical pre-schooler issues was also the perfect distraction, and assembling Lego is much more fun than revising cost accounting," she laughed.
But despite the joy of having young children and chasing her dreams, Mrs Burns said "having kids during study and work did make things more difficult".
"Instead of just taking my own sick days, I also had to take days off to look after the kids when they were sick," she said.
"Also, I couldn't just attend tutorials on other days if I missed one day because I couldn't be guaranteed childcare especially when my baby was young and waking during the night I didn't feel much like studying or working the next day!"
However, Mrs Burns said the flexibility of the UQ Business School allowed her to complete her degree.
"The UQ Business School helped me with regards to the flexibility and inclusion extended to me by the teaching and administrative staff. I have brought Aidan with me to consultation - my lecturer even had a toy car in his office for my son to play with," she said.
"I have always received understanding when I have been absent from tutorials or lectures and needed material I missed out on. I certainly had no trouble getting a special exam when I gave birth 10 days early during the exam period!
"I also made use of the facilities in the family rooms at the St Lucia and Ipswich campuses after I returned to Uni when Aidan was five months old. Having a secure room with a fridge, a comfy seat and powerpoints made it so easy to combine study and exclusive breastfeeding. I even attended a meeting of the Australian Breastfeeding Association in the Family Room at St Lucia campus while I was pregnant, which helped me to work out the logistics of expressing milk at Uni."
But despite the challenges, Mrs Burns said she wouldn't have it any other way, and said "the best part was having the opportunity to show my sons that education is worth working for and that my husband and I modelled co-operation and persistence in working towards a goal".
"I enjoyed taking them on campus with me, and was enormously proud to have my sons calling out 'Mum' as I walked across stage at graduation," she said.
Studying with young children has meant breaking the mould for Mrs Burns, showing other young parents who want to study that they really can do it, and instilling a sense of value in education for her children.
"I think there is a perception that once you have a baby that many of the things you used to do can't be done and also that you get 'mummy brain' and will be incapable of studying. I hope I can do my small part to encourage other parents that UQ will encourage and assist you to keep studying and that, while you might need to take a bit longer, you can still make it to graduation," she said.