When it comes to choosing a career or a qualification, why not have the best of both worlds? That’s exactly what Open University Psychology student Joe Acaye, 23, decided when choosing his next step after college.
“My dad is a retired NHS psychiatrist and the whole field of mental health intrigued me,” explains Joe.
“I started searching for universities with Psychology degrees accredited by the British Psychological Society, but I didn’t want to give up my job. I like the independence working brings you and working full time and going away to university isn’t feasible. At first I thought, I’d have to choose one or the other until my dad suggested I look up The Open University.”
Flexibility to earn while you learn
One of the best bits of studying part-time is that Joe can continue gaining hands-on experience in the NHS as a Pharmacy Assistant – all while working towards his dream job.
“I want to become a clinical neuropsychologist,” says Joe. “That’s a mouthful of a title, but it’s a psychologist that specialises in identifying and treating illnesses or injuries that affect the brain or central nervous system. I want to go as far as possible, like my dad’s done in his career.”
Joe’s commitment as an OU student is something he believes will set him apart in years to come.
“By studying with the OU, people at work see how determined I am and how disciplined I am. Even though I am working part time, I’m still in a job which is fairly intensive. Working on a critical care unit and other wards, I can still come into work for up to 10 hours, go home, and still do some coursework and submit an assignment. So I would hope my future employer can see how dedicated I am, because I was able to work and study at the same time.
“People sometimes ask me how I balance it all and I just think of where I want to be and of my dad, who is a doctor. He’s had to work at high intensity for a great amount of time before he retired. So I draw on that wisdom of ‘soldiering on’.”
Support every step of the way
It’s a balancing act that is possible thanks to Joe’s incredible support network who are always looking out for him – quite literally.
“I have a very close supportive group of friends,” says Joe. “I have a board with loads of pictures of all my friends in my room so whenever I just want to have a study break, I look up at it and I think, ‘I can’t slack off because my friends are looking down on me!’”
Joe’s parents are also hugely supportive of his studies, whether it’s his dad discussing Joe’s latest assignments, or his mum bringing him food to refuel when he’s been at his desk too long.
“My parents are very encouraging. When I chose the OU, my dad reassured my mum that it is a valid route. Yes, it’s going to take longer because I’m studying part time, but three extra years is nothing really because I’m now at the halfway stage, which is crazy.”
‘I’ve never looked back’
Joe admits that before he became an OU student, he never realised just how much support he’d receive from his tutors and fellow students:
“So far my journey has been amazing. My first-year tutor helped me loads. I think my first TMA (tutor marked assignment) score was 55%. I was fairly gutted, but without me having to do anything my tutor reached out to offer me support. From that 55%, I got 65% and then towards the end of module I was scoring 75%. And my grades have just been increasing for all the modules.”
It’s a journey that is showing Joe just what he’s capable of. For anyone else needing some motivation to go after their goals, Joe had the following advice:
“Do it! I’ve never once questioned my decision to study with the OU and never looked back. It’s the best choice I’ve made so far. It’s a new way of studying that a lot of other universities are trying to adopt, but the OU has been doing it for over 50 years while everyone else is trying to catch up.
“What I’d say to potential students is choose the OU because they’re masters of distance learning, they know what they’re doing, and you’ll be in safe hands.”
Joe’s top study tips
Joe also had the following study tips that have him helped in his OU journey so far:
1. Plan ahead
Joe likes to get a head start on his modules by reading through his textbooks as soon as they arrive. He can then see exactly what’s coming up and plan accordingly.
“Planning ahead for each module is a massive game changer. By knowing what I need to study and looking ahead, I can think, ‘that subject is a bit tricky, so I’ll give myself some extra time to work on it.”
2. Try the ‘paragraph a day’ method
When assignments seem too massive, Joe breaks them up into bite-sized pieces to ward off writer’s block.
“In my first year I came up with the saying ‘a paragraph a day, keeps the anxiety away’. So on one day I will focus on writing the introduction, then on another day, I will focus on gathering references and writing the next paragraph.”
3. Keep all your materials to hand
“I have a kind of ‘Control Centre’ where I study, keeping the books I’ll be using for the entire year on my desk. They never leave, they’re always there. I also have my iPad where I take notes so that all my references are easily searchable later on.”
4. Get creative with note taking
With a lot to balance, Joe uses this digital notetaking technique to help him quickly get back into the ‘zone’ when studying.
“I think I average like 12 pages of notes per chapter. It’s crazy but that’s been a game changer since I entered my second year. I now take notes on my iPad, which means] I can write as much as I want and can just search for words or specific topics later on. It means I don’t have to spend time hunting for an hour for a reference as they’re all in the same place.
“I don’t want to be coming in from work and get lost thinking of what I need to do next. So I’ve adopted a super organised way of taking and storing my notes. It helps to focus me, so I know where my attention needs to be.”
Introducing a new photo series of OU students
Joe is one of four students featured in a brand-new partnership between The Open University and Alamy, which aims to increase authentic representation of Black and Asian distance learning students. Find out more about this campaign here