Kathryn was forced to drop out of traditional university due to her ongoing mental health issues; but she never lost the desire to learn and started again with The Open University. Today, she has a BA Open (Hons) degree, a Masters in Classical Studies and is currently working towards a PhD. She credits the OU and her tutors for helping her reach such a spectacular goal.
“Part way through my second year of studying overseas at a traditional university, my mental health issues became unmanageable and I had to return home before being able to sit my exams. I moved away from higher education for a while, working and travelling, but it was still an ambition of mine to finish my degree, to prove to myself that I could do it.”
‘It was a revelation’
“I decided to try a 10-credit module with the OU to see if distance learning suited me – it was a revelation. I loved being able to work through the textbook at my own pace and found the module website really accessible. I was thrilled to find out that I could transfer my credits and embarked on an Open Degree, which allowed me to study a mix of modules tailored to my interests and passions.
“I studied a combination of physics and arts modules, which guided me on the path to a postgraduate MA in Classical Studies – I signed up as soon as I’d completed my undergraduate degree! Although I have now moved away from physics, it’s an area that I will always love and I may end up back at the OU to complete a BSc in the near future.”
Part way through her BA, Kathryn was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
“Learning to navigate a complex mental illness was extremely challenging, but studying with the OU gave me the time and flexibility to navigate my way through different medications, therapies and lifestyles as I worked out how best to manage living with a mental illness.”
“Much of my course materials were online, making it easy to study, no matter where I was. This meant a 20-minute wait at a doctor’s surgery could be turned into 20 minutes of study time.
Balancing work, study and down time
“I worked full time throughout both of my OU degrees, which took an incredible amount of grit and determination. I would study hard during the week in order to have weekends off – unless an assignment was due of course. This meant early mornings, lunch time and evening study sessions around full-time work. I also used to book a day or two of holiday when I had a big assignment due in order to have a full writing day. It was really important to ensure I had down time. By protecting my weekends I rarely felt overwhelmed. I found that in short but focused study sessions, such as during my lunch break, I could actually be really productive as there was no time for procrastination.
“The tutors are excellent and a huge part of what makes the OU so great. They were always incredibly supportive when times were tough.”
“My MA tutor in particular was extremely supportive and recognised what I could achieve, pushing me to be the best I could be. I truly believe I would not have gained a distinction or had the skills to start a PhD without her as a mentor.
“I studied with the OU for six years, starting at the age of 22, unsure of where I was going in life and what I wanted to do. I finished at 29, having already started a PhD and knowing I wanted to pursue a career in academia. I knew dropping out of my original degree was the right decision at the time – the OU has shown me how I can achieve my goals through hard work, determination and a better understanding of who I am. The OU has shaped me into the PhD researcher I am today, and I will be forever grateful to this wonderful institution.
“Studying with the OU has given me so much more belief in myself and what I can do when I put my mind to it. I am so proud of what I have achieved during this period, both with the OU and in my working and personal life. It was rewarding, challenging, inspiring and demanding – sometimes all at the same time! The OU will always have a special place in my heart, I don’t know where I would be without it.”
Photo: Chris Bellew /Fennell Photography