In her final year of college, Emma Hall was clear-eyed and excited about her future.
She had been looking forward to coming to ANU to learn more about computer science, then work in IT, and was keen to try a bit of everything through her double degree of a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science.
“The fact that I could choose from almost every subject area at ANU through this double program was appealing,” Emma says.
She's a Canberra local and had been set on coming to ANU for years, knowing its “fantastic reputation” and having driven around the beautiful campus.
But when first year arrived, Emma found computer science wasn't for her. Rather than just being a small bump along her journey, compounded by other issues, this development was devastating.
“After discovering I wasn't into computer science, I was a bit lost about what I wanted to do at university and in life,” Emma says. “I had a bit of a crisis.”
For the second semester of her first year, Emma dropped down to three subjects. She was experiencing anxiety and depression at that stage, as well as working part-time.
“Leading up to starting at ANU, I had seen only one university experience promoted,” she says. “You go to uni and do four subjects, get out in three to four years. It was tough to deal with when I found I wasn't following that pathway.”
She stood out among her friends in taking this different path – especially so soon into her time as a uni student. Additionally, Emma felt isolated living at home while her friends lived on-campus and, she felt, had an easier time participating in social activities.
Reducing her courseload worked out to be a good decision for Emma. Her mental health improved, and she had the space to think about what to do going forward.
“I had the time to focus in on the subjects I really loved,” she says, “and the freedom to work and socialise a bit more. I had time to pursue my hobbies – including sewing – which at the time had started to turn into an exciting avenue for me.”
Emma had been sewing since she was 15, but once she reached the later years of high school, college and first year uni, she felt her free time should be spend studying, so her hobby got pushed aside.
“As I started to have more time to spend on what I wanted to do rather than just studying, sewing re-emerged as my new passion,” Emma says.
She took a course through the School of Art and Design's Textiles workshop, but has mostly been self-taught. Her talent and commitment saw her cosplay costume of Glinda the Good Witch, from the musical Wicked, win 'Best in Show' at last year's GAMMA.CON costume competition.
“It was a costume I'd spent 14 months creating,” Emma says. “That was something having more free time allowed me to do and learn how to do.”
In July, Emma will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Psychology, and will be off to Orlando, Florida the week after graduation. She's been accepted into the Walt Disney Cultural Exchange program, and will work in costuming.
“I thought this would be a fantastic way to end uni, so I decided to apply for it,” she says. “I'm a bit nervous but very excited!”
When she returns to Australia, she wants to do Honours in Psychology and continue on to clinical psychology. But she'll still pursue costuming on the side.
“Being able to do both studying and the hobbies I'm passionate about has been one of the best parts of my experience at ANU,” Emma says. “I wasn't locked into one thing: I had the freedom to do both.”
“I think it's important to emphasise to people that the traditional uni experience doesn't work for everyone – but there are so many alternative ways to keep doing what you love.”