Full-time carer and “superhero student” achieves dream degree

Caring full-time for her grandfather with Parkinson’s disease, 26-year-old Danielle Haigh-Wood was convinced that she’d never achieve her dream of getting a degree. However, after taking the plunge with a short history course, she was hooked on OU life and began studying for a joint humanities degree in philosophy and history, graduating at Bridgewater Hall, Manchester last year.  Danielle said:

"The Open University is more than just a university; it is a way of life. It creates students that are more than just students, it creates superhero students. Students that can study while also having other responsibilities and commitments."

The challenges of being a student and a carer

Student Danielle Haigh-Wood

Danielle Haigh-Wood

Starting studying at age 19, initially Danielle didn’t advise her tutors that she was a full-time carer despite the challenges she faced:

“Being a carer means that sometimes your family commitments have to take priority over your studies. This resulted in assignments being written the day before a deadline, studying during the night and having to leave exams early. Being a carer did initially make me struggle with time management. However, studying with the OU really helped me finally learn how to manage my time effectively.

"When I started my degree, I didn't realise how much support was available for students carers at the OU. When I finally did tell one of my tutors that I was a carer, I was amazed at how much support I was given. He explained that I could always contact him if I needed extensions and extra support. Unfortunately, I only got the courage to ask for support in my final course, however I am eternally grateful that I did. I think the OU is wonderful at providing support for students who have other responsibilities.”

Tutor support and advice for student carers

Danielle’s advice to anyone studying who has caring responsibilities is to talk to your tutor:

“My advice to any student carers or people with lots of responsibilities who are starting an OU course is to tell your tutors about your situation. Don't make the experience harder than it needs to be by not speaking up. I was embarrassed to open up but ended up regretting not doing it sooner as it would have made my life a bit easier earlier on in my studies. The OU offers a lot of support for students and the experience of making people aware of your responsibilities as a carer doesn't have to be scary.

“I would also say that you need to ensure you make time for yourself, and look for people who are in a similar situation. This can be through social media, attending OU events or just asking people. It makes the experience of being a student carer a better one.”

A bright future - with more education

“I'm the first person from my family to attend university and I think at the start, my family struggled to understand my desire to do a degree. They couldn't understand why I would do something that was both a challenge and frustrating. However, after passing a few courses, I think they understood why I wanted to do it. When it started getting closer to my graduation date, I think they finally realised how important education is.”

Now, Danielle is planning to start an MA with the OU and possibly a PhD in the future, and her dream career is to become an OU tutor – “Seeing how much education changed my life, I would like to work in it."

Starting study at age 19, Danielle never thought she could achieve a full degree by 26. But, she says, “The OU made me realise that I could do anything, be anything and become anything I want to be. I could never have imagined I would be planning to do a Masters degree and dreaming of doing a PhD. I am still a full-time carer, but I am now a carer with goals and a degree.”

More information:

Free short courses on OpenLearn

Study Arts and Humanities with the OU