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My OU journey

No one tells you when you start studying with the OU that it is addictive. Like so many others I came to the OU only intending to do one module. I ended up staying for nine years and twelve modules.

For me, it was a combination of reading Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything” and having friends who I knew were studying with the OU that kicked started it all. I realized that there was so much I didn’t know about science and it seemed like a good way to learn more. I had studied part time before, gaining a professional qualification, so I knew that I could manage it while working full time. In 2004 I started my first module; S103 Discovering science. I really didn’t know what I was letting myself in for as it included physics, biology, chemistry and geology. As well as quite a lot of maths. The latter made me realize that I if I wanted to keep studying science I would need more maths. I am still not quite sure what came over me, but I next signed up for, and passed, S151 Maths for science.

I realized that if I was going to keep studying I really need to be able to get to tutorials. This was a key motivator in helping me finally pass my driving test, shortly after turning 30. “Just one module” then turned into another science module; S250 Science in context, which lead onto S204 Biology and then a residential SXR270 Investigative biology. This was a little more exciting than I had planned on as it finished just as the floods of 2007 took hold and it took me two and a half days to get home as our train station was shut due to being completely under water. Huge thanks to my parents at this point for driving to Birmingham to come and get me when we discovered there would be no trains for several days at least.

I had slightly more time to revise for my first exam with OU than I had bargained for as I was made redundant for the second time in my career three weeks before the exam. I started a new job a week before the exam...which I passed, despite a lot of nerves and a total lack of affinity with biochemistry!

But what does this have to do with psychology? Well, I realized at this point that I was racking up quite a few points with my modules and it wouldn’t take that many more for this “one module” to become a degree. I realized that if I added psychology modules, then it could grow up to be a Life Sciences degree. I started with DSE212 Exploring psychology which I really enjoyed. The timing at this point becomes a little fuzzy, but at some point I had a chat with the careers advisors and was advised that if I wanted to go further with psychology, such as becoming a lecturer or going into research then I would really need the named psychology degree. That would mean not just two years to do the level three modules, but going back and doing two more level 2 modules too... Well, I really enjoyed my psychology modules, and really felt this was for me and that this could be a good career change, so away I went.

However life is rarely that simple. I started my first psychology module in 2007, shortly after the aforementioned change of job. In 2008, two days before I was due to go on my first psychology residential, I was diagnosed with pneumonia and I spent the week in hospital instead. Complications led to a repeat stay in September and major chest surgery early the following year. Recovery was slow and painful, but I kept myself occupied with a 15 point psychology module (Applying psychology). This could be done at a pace slow enough to match my recuperation. I also returned to work, gradually increasing my hours.

I was just starting to get somewhere near full time hours again at work in early 2010 when I was diagnosed with depression. In the space of that year my house was burgled, my relationship of almost twelve years ended and I was diagnosed with chronic pain following my chest surgery.

During this time I completed the first of my third level psychology modules (DD307 Critical social psychology) and the online version of the psychology project that I had missed due to my alternative vacation in the local General three years before.

I started to learn to live alone again, kept company by my study companion; my cat. I used to refer to her as my furry paperweight as the minute I put my study stuff down, she would curl up on it and go to sleep.

I had moved onto DD303 Cognitive psychology and studying gave me something to focus on while everything else seemed to be unravelling around me.

Sadly my cat passed away a week after the residential part of DD303, three weeks away from her 19th birthday. The DD303 textbook is very thick and she seemed to think it made a great pillow.

The loss did not help with my worsening depression, along with the realisation that no matter how hard I pushed myself, my stamina had never returned following my operation and continued to cause other health issues. This meant I was forced to reduce my hours at work and between this and the effects of my medication I had to give up my job altogether early the following year. I was finally diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome earlier this year.

However, there was some light in the dark; I got my best mark in the exam for my essay on the effects of depression on cognition, thanks to my own lived experience. My mental health nurse used to comment that I was never without a textbook as I would read in the waiting room prior to my appointments.

My tutor for my next module, SD226 Biological psychology was fantastically supportive, once I had plucked up the courage to admit the problems I was

experiencing, and the OU themselves were brilliant as they arranged a home exam for my final module, ED209 Child development, when I wasn’t able to travel after our local exam centre was closed.

I passed my final module and last year I finally achieved my degree. I still hope to continue my studies at a postgraduate level, but this is currently on hold while I try and improve my health. I have help with this though, as I adopted a cat again two years ago. She has no interest in lying on my books however, she just wants me to put them down and feed her instead.

It wasn’t quite the journey I had planned, or even expected, when I thought I’d ‘just give a science module a go’ almost a decade ago, but it has been an amazing experience and allowed me to make some really great friends and achieve something that at times seemed completely impossible.

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