For many people, studying a postgraduate qualification can be the starting point of a brand-new career. At the University of Salford, we offer nearly 50 different master’s programmes that are open to students who have an honours degree in any subject – so you don’t need to have studied your first degree in a related area to apply. 

One student who took a different path at Salford is MSc Occupational Therapy student, Peter Saville. After a 20-year career as a schoolteacher, he decided he needed a new challenge and went back to university to change his career. We sat down with Peter to hear his story. 

Photo of Peter wearing Uni of Salford Shirt

Hi Peter! So, why Occupational Therapy?

So, I’ve been a schoolteacher for nearly 20 years, teaching in sixth forms – Biology and Science. But I just felt like I needed a change. I needed a new challenge. I was thinking about going back to university and learning a new skill to add to my existing skills, and I’ve still got plenty of time until retirement! 

I didn’t know much about occupational therapy. I came to the Salford Open day to look at a variety of courses, and it was really the presentation and speaking to the occupational therapy lecturers and students that got me interested in it. It’s all about helping people live independent lives out in the community or helping people who are just out of hospital to do whatever they want to do in life.

So, you’re studying for a master’s in Occupational Therapy? Do you have an undergraduate degree in that subject? 

That’s right. So the MSc Occupational Therapy is the content for the BSc and master’s squashed together – so it’s three years’ of content in two years. The people on the course have a range of different degrees – Psychology, Sport, Dance, you know, all sorts of different courses. But the MSc is taught and so will cover everything that you need to qualify. 

Can you tell us a bit about the learning experience on your course? 

There is a mix of absolutely all sorts of different things, a lot more mixed than I thought there would be. We have a lot of lectures throughout the two years with various BSc students. Sometimes you might be in there with the first years or you might be in with the final year students, listening in here and there and taking part in their lectures. We’ve done a lot of presentations and group work, such as a Dragon’s Den exercise that was good for team building and presentation skills. 

And then we’ve had lots of practical sessions, for example, moving and handling of people. We’ve been around the campus in a wheelchair to get the viewpoint of a wheelchair user. Some of us have had lots of experience with the kind of equipment that simulates various disabilities. And then you go out and about to see how that affects your life – and that’s even before the placements so, lots of stuff! 

What facilities are available to you at the university? 

On campus we have a flat mocked up to simulate real-world environments. So, one of the last things that we did was a couple of weeks of simulations where different members of staff would take on different roles of an emerging story. So, for example, we were in the flat as an occupational therapist with a mother and a son who were having various problems and the great thing about using the flat is it’s got CCTV in there. And so, it’s as much of a real-life situation as possible with your classmates watching from another room on the TV. Afterwards, you can all have a debrief and look at the video and discuss points, for improvement and discussing what went well and so on. 

Have you done any placements as part of your course? 

Yeah. So, you have to do 1000 hours of placement experience and in our course that’s split over 4 different placement areas. So, you start off in year one with a four-week introductory placement, which is a lot of shadowing and following people about and that sort of thing. The second placement in the first year is a bigger block. Again, you get no choices of where you go, but you’re thrown in and you watch people work and you start to develop a bit of a caseload. 

I did a project placement at a local hospital and that was in stroke rehabilitation where they were setting up a database of services for people when they are discharged from hospital which they didn’t have currently. So, I worked with another Salford student to set up the project. Then you do a final placement which is right at the end of the course after you’ve done all your assignments and everything like that. That’s a massive 11-week placement. 

What made you choose Salford? 

There’s a real diverse mix of people at Salford, you know? Lots of different ages and types of people with different backgrounds, which attracted me. Also the location – Salford is set-up for commuters. You know for me, coming on my bike into Salford from Oldham, there are lots of facilities for travel. As for the occupational therapy department, I’ve only heard good things about it from other students. The occupational therapist spoke to me before coming on the course, they said that Salford was a great place to learn as well. 

What has been your experience as a mature student? 

I thought I would be the oldest one on the course. However, I wasn’t and, even on the BSc course, there’s a little gang that I quite regularly get chatting to and some of those individuals are older than me. So, with the vocational nature of a lot of the courses, a lot of people have taken the leap to go and get qualified properly. I think a lot of people have come from work and not so many have come straight from school – I was amazed at how diverse the range of people was. 

What are your plans now? Have you finished your studies? 

So yes, I’ve actually just finished! In terms of a job, I got interviews for the first three things I applied for and then went to the first interview and got offered the job there and then. I took that because it was at one of the hospitals that I had two of my placements at, so I knew quite a few of the people and what the job would be.  

I really felt that the MSc gave me, you know, the confidence and more critical thinking skills. I think that does tell an employer that you’ve got, you know, something a little extra. 

Congratulations! Have you got any advice for someone that might be considering a career change? 

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So, the hardest thing is to make that initial change. You know, I probably left it a couple of years before finally plucking up the courage to come and chat to people at Salford. So, get it in motion, make the plunge and you won’t regret skilling up and starting a new, exciting, challenging career. 

Thanks Peter!