A PhD in Psychology, School study journeys

A Psychology & Counselling study journey to a PhD

We continue our series on the study journeys of students in the School. Katherine Langford had to contend with some major difficulties before completing her BSc very successfully, then moving on to her current PhD research.

I completed my BSc degree with the Open University and am now studying a PhD with them. Getting an education has been a struggle as I came down with ME when I was 13, which left me feeling constantly exhausted. At my worst I couldn’t have a conversation more than a few sentences long. Even simple things like watching TV or brushing my teeth were sometimes impossible, so for a time studying was out of the question. As I gradually improved, I eventually managed to get four GCSEs with the help of a home tutor and then one and a half A Levels by studying one subject at a time.

I then started studying a Foundation Degree in Psychology part-time at a local college as I wasn’t well enough to go away to university, but that turned into a catastrophe! Essentially the college stopped offering the qualification when I was part way through the course. Studying there was one disaster after another. The college even told the Student Loans Company that the reason I left was because I had died, so my parents received a letter of condolence regarding my “death”! It was investigated by the QAA and OIA which lead to me at least getting my fees paid back. However, this left me having studied for two years towards a course I would never be able to complete. 

I decided to transfer to the Open University. I could get some credit for my college course to put towards a Psychology degree and study from home. It was ideal for me and turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made. The OU is used to accommodating students with different needs, so I managed to arrange to do my exams at home with an invigilator as I wasn’t well enough to travel to an exam centre. I could study at my own pace and take time off when I needed to. It was hard work, but I absolutely loved my course.

Studying became difficult in 2014 when our house flooded. We had a knock on the door at 3am and were told by a fireman that we needed to leave as the floodwater was expected to rise suddenly. We had an hour to raise as much furniture off of the floor as possible and pack a few things. Fortunately, I remembered to pack my OU textbooks! For weeks, the easiest way to get to our house was by boat. The water was in for so long that the whole house was damp and needed to be redecorated. Everything that had survived the flood had to go into storage. We were out for about eight months and dealing with the builders was even more stressful than the actual flooding. The day we moved back home was the day they decided to replace the upstairs floorboards. Fortunately, the removal men seemed to enjoy taking the mattresses to the right rooms while tiptoeing across the floor joists! I was so exhausted that I was worried that I wasn’t going to be able to continue with my course that year. In the end I managed by arranging for an extension for an assignment. I found the flexibility of being able to study when I had time was invaluable. 

I finally completed my Psychology degree with a First after seven years. I was absolutely ecstatic! I decided that I wanted to go on to study further. While studying my degree, there was a chapter in one of my OU textbooks about how children develop an understanding of science that I found particularly fascinating. Students don’t simply absorb information like a sponge. They have their own ideas about the way the world works which influence their learning. I decided that was the topic I wanted to research. I was very lucky to be accepted to do a PhD at the OU without doing a Masters first. I had a lot of research methods training as part of my degree, so they were happy that I had the skills I needed to conduct my research proposal. My PhD is part-time and distance learning, so most of my supervision meetings and training are done online. Covid-19 aside, I usually travel to the campus in Milton Keynes a couple of times a year. I still struggle with my ME on a daily basis, but I am making good progress with my PhD because of the flexibility of studying with the OU. 

I would definitely recommend studying with the Open University. However, I know that distance learning isn’t for everyone as you have to be very self-motivated. I found the best thing was to work out how much studying I needed to do each day and try to stick to it. Some days my ME makes that difficult. My brain sometimes gets so tired that I can’t even read a single sentence. That’s fine as I know that I can put it down for as long as I need to and come back to it another day. If you are interested in studying with the OU, then I would suggest taking a look at OpenLearn. There are lots of courses available. They are free and will give you an idea if studying with the OU is for you. I also found that learning to write critically, rather than just descriptively, significantly improved my grades. Descriptive writing just paraphrases your study materials. Critical writing discusses the pros and cons of your argument and keeps referring the point you are making back to the essay question. Attending the tutorials if you can is also extremely helpful. Distance learning is a challenge, but it has suited me very well. I wouldn’t have been able to do a degree, let alone a PhD, if it hadn’t been for the OU.

Thank you Katherine!

If you would like to post about your own OU study journey, get in touch with us on FASS-Psych-Co-SocialMedia@open.ac.uk

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