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Being A Pioneer

(page 2 of 5)

The 1970s Open University PhD experience through recorded living experience of its graduates

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Professor Max Bramer: "you've got to become very self-reliant, or the ship will sink"
Duration: 00:02:33
Date: 2021
Professor Jeff Haywood: "it felt like a kind of pioneering setting… it was a Wild West"
Duration: 00:01:58
Date: 2021
Clip: Jeff Haywood demonstrates paper chromatography and high voltage electrophoresis
Duration: 00:04:06
Date: 22-07-1972

Being Staff

According to 1970s staff member and one of our PhD cohort, Max Bramer, the OU was under pressure to supply graduates from their undergraduate courses as soon as possible to help ensure their longevity as an institution. Studying for a PhD at the OU in the 1970s meant being in the thick of an almost frantic course development machine. The main job of most of the early OU tutors was to plan and write all the undergraduate courses that the OU offered, but in order to ensure the first graduations, these were frequently written "on the hoof". There was not the time to write all the courses first and then open the university to students.

Many of the interviewees talk very affectionately of the experience they had teaching at OU summer schools. Tutoring people who had already done impressive things with their lives was a humbling experience for many of these, primarily young, PhD students. 

Because of the minimal research facilities, many PhD students shared offices with staff and in some cases, as described by the OU’s first ever PhD graduate Neil Wynn, never worked with or even met any other PhD students. In the second video clip, Jeff Haywood describes a small, flexible, friendly culture where PhD students were given as much freedom as they wanted and were very involved in supporting the OU staff with their activities. "It felt like a kind of pioneering setting... it was a Wild West". Socially, as unlike traditional universities, there was no campus at the OU and because Milton Keynes had not been built at that time and Walton Hall was in the middle of the countryside, many of our cohort social lives revolved around the OU staff that they worked with. 

This meant that students were easily caught up in this frantic atmosphere and volunteered to help write and occasionally deliver undergraduate courses.

The third video here shows one of our cohort, Jeff Haywood, presenting an OU lecture on the BBC in 1972.

Being A Pioneer (page 2 of 5)