Pierce Holland was at a crossroads in his life at 18. He had a been offered a place at university, but the subjects he was going to study didn’t excite him. His employer offered him a managerial role and his parents wanted him to work. Then a conversation with an old school teacher led him to look at The Open University, so he had the best of both worlds – work and study. Pierce is now studying a subject he loves – Computing, IT and Cyber Security. Here’s his story…
“After my GCSEs, I decided to stay on at the same school in the sixth form. I studied Biology, Chemistry and Physics at A level as I was good at them, not because I actually enjoyed those subjects. I was also working part-time at McDonalds, working weekends. Results day arrived and I’d been accepted to go and study Forensics at Sheffield Hallam. My family weren’t keen on the idea, because none of us had ever gone to university before, we’re a very working-class family. My dad believed that I should go out to work and get employment experience.
“I had spoken to my manager about transferring to another branch so I could work while I was at uni. I was offered two choices: transfer to Sheffield or become a manager and stay where I was. Being a naïve 18-year-old, I decided I would prefer the money than study, and deferred my uni place. A year went by and I realised I didn’t want to pursue studying science, I had commitments now, like paying for a car, and I was starting to put money into my life which meant it was harder to drop working.
Finding the right path
“The OU wasn’t even thought about until I went to visit my secondary school for a reference as I had been accepted for another job. I saw my old biology teacher and he told me that he studies with the OU, and we got chatting about it. I went online and had a look at the degrees and here we are! I opted for studying natural sciences which I did for about a month and realised I wasn’t enjoying it, I so deferred for a year, came back to it the next year and then I deferred again and that’s when it hit me. I need to stop doing what I am doing because I am good at it and I need to study something I enjoy. I spoke to the Student Support team and we talked about my options. They guided me through it all and I decided to study computing and IT – I love computers and hopefully I will then be able have the career that I want.
Changing my degree
“I was coming to the end of my second year and in one of my tutorials, people were talking about cyber security, and I wanted to see if there was a module I could study. I found it on the OU website and all of the first two years worth of modules I had already studied were the same as the ones for cyber security, so I decided to transfer my course.
“I was never a planner, now my Google calendar has all of my studying information on it, which I set up at the beginning of each year. I have a calendar up on the wall above my desk and I put on post-it notes for when my TMAs are due, and I just cross off each day so I know so I can organise my time based on when I have got my shifts and when I can study. At my current job I work six days on, then I will have four rest days – first day I relax, or see friends, then I have two days of studying, and then a day off. If I need to, I can always study after work or before work. If I’ve got an hour free, I will do a bit of studying and I often take my laptop to work and study at while I’m at lunch.
Studying with the OU
“When I first started studying, I was worried about what support we could access. I know I can send my tutors an email, their response is always helpful, you can always have an open dialogue with them no matter how small. It’s so easy to reach out for support if you need it as there are online forums as well, if you do have a question, a lot of the moderators are tutors that are teaching that module and can help.
“Not only do you get printed materials, for your module but you also get everything online, so you can pick it up wherever you are. Before the pandemic, I would take my laptop and go and sit in a coffee shop and get some work done. Students can also access the OU library which is a brilliant tool, I used that for the first time recently because I needed some help with referencing, and I’ve been on it ever since as there is so much material in there.
“The pandemic has not necessarily had a negative impact, if anything it’s been more positive. I know if I go home and study, it’s a bit of time for me to immerse myself into something I enjoy and ignore the outside world for a couple of hours and focus on studying. If you are not working at the moment and are at home without anything to power your brain, I can imagine it is quite tough. I was quite excited to keep my brain occupied, so if anything it has been a positive impact rather than anything detrimental.
My support network
“My friends and family are really supportive, they are happy firstly because I’m happy and enjoying it, but also they know that it’s not too demanding or too stressful, and that I can continue to work as well as study. My friends are really understanding as well, if I have to cancel plans with them to study, we will re-arrange to meet another time. Studying doesn’t consume your life, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a life, you have to realise what you can do and what you are capable of.
“At the moment I work for my local police force, and I work in the control room. I have recently been accepted for a new job in the force which is more IT based and is more interesting to me. I only went for the job because I studied with the OU. I’m going to be starting work there in a couple of months and I’m hopefully going to be staying with that team or moving to do something similar but when I finish my degree.
“My colleagues are interested in my studies, it’s something that sort of takes them aback, as when they ask what my hobbies are, I tell them I am studying. It’s always something that I was worried about, especially at job interviews as I thought they would think I cannot put 100% into my work but it’s more the other way round, I think they see it that I have dedication, that I am working and studying to improve myself.
Advice from one student to another
“I would completely recommend the OU, especially if, like me, you were thinking of going away to university. It was such an anxious time for me, especially before I started my degree, I was unsure if I had made the right decision not to go but I can confidently say that this was the right decision, the best decision for me and I think as a young person, well anyone of any age really, it is important to remember that in this day and age there are so many other options.
“You don’t have to go to a bricks and mortar university if that isn’t for you, working and studying from home is so flexible and easy and dependent on you. It can work out for anyone and you can throw yourself in as much as or as little as you need to. If you want to study and you know what you want, I would rate the OU. Any day.”