by Deborah Melman-Clement
"I'm always looking for the next big thing in my career," says Denise Wilson.
Denise thought she found her next challenge in 2007 when she decided to earn an M.Sc. in Nursing at Queen's University.
After working for eight years as a critical-care nurse in the Intensive Care Unit at Toronto Western Hospital, Denise felt she was ready to put her career on hold and invest in her education. "It seemed like a crazy thing to do," she recalls, especially since her twin sons, Callan and Eirik, were just 18 months old at the time.
"I put a lot of thought into where I wanted to go," she says. "One of the reasons I picked Queen's is that Kingston is such a great place to raise a family." The couple was all set to pack up the twins and head east when her husband, Julian, was offered a better job in Toronto.
The family stayed put, but Denise didn't let that hold her back. She spent her first year commuting between Kingston and Toronto, juggling her family life with the demands of a hectic grad school schedule. "It's probably not for everyone," she laughs, "but we made it work."
She credits her success, in part, to the structure of the Queen's Nursing program. "It's very flexible," she says. "It's really geared toward the adult learner."
Because Denise's first-year classes were condensed into two days a week, she was able to commute from Toronto with minimal impact on her family. "The classes were on Thursdays and Fridays," she explains. "I came in on Thursday morning and I was home the next day." She even managed to find an apartment just off campus — with a little help from Queen's Accommodations — where she could stay on Thursday nights.
Although she was only in Kingston one night a week, Denise says the city made a big impression on her. "Kingston has always had that close-knit-community reputation," she says. "I felt that in terms of the university. In a bigger school, you can get lost in the crowd. I never had that feeling at Queen's. It's much more personal."
Since her second year consisted mainly of remote study and thesis research, Denise gave up her apartment in Kingston and moved back home with Julian and the twins full-time. Still, Queen's was never far from her thoughts. She corresponded regularly with her fellow students and her supervisor, Dr. Marianne Lamb, who she describes as "superb". "She returned my e-mails promptly, which is good, because they included the odd cry for help," she says. "It's easy to feel engulfed by the information, especially when you're studying remotely, but Marianne was very supportive."
All that support — from her supervisor, her peers and her husband — will enable Denise to graduate in 2010. "It's been a hectic couple of years," she says. "I don't think I could have pulled it off anywhere else."