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A Lifechanging Experience

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The impact of an Open University PhD on our graduates

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Professor Jeff Haywood: "my interest in being an educator increased"
Duration: 00:02:10
Date: 2021
Dr Ken Richardson: "one thing that doing the PhD had taught me was the value of scholarship"
Duration: 00:01:56
Date: 2021
Professor Oliver Boyd-Barrett: "I… never stopped being drawn back into the fray of academic work"
Duration: 00:02:40
Date: 2021

What Did Our Pioneers Go On To Do?

Eleven of the cohort had successful academic careers and one found success in commercial organisations.

Neil Wynn was the very first OU PhD graduate in 1973 and the passion he developed at the OU for delivering higher education to a broad range of students stayed with him when he chose to work at the, then, new Glamorgan Polytechnic (now The University of South Wales), teaching history and American studies, until moving to the University of Gloucestershire in 2003 where he remained until his retirement in 2017 where he is now an Emeritus Professor.

Two of the twelve interviewees were women. Julia Goodfellow’s academic career resulted in a Damehood for services to science after ten years as Vice Chancellor of the University of Kent and being the first female chair of Universities UK in 2015. Joan Whitehead’s career started as a psychology tutor at Cambridge University and she played an active part in both university politics and then as a Labour County Councillor on her university retirement in 2012, to 2020.

As he comments in his video clip opposite, Jeff Haywood was so influenced by the experience of helping with writing OU courses during his PhD time, "my interest in being an educator increased" that he changed career direction from a professor of neuroscience at Edinburgh University to professor in the university’s Department of Education becoming Vice Principal with responsibility for IT, library and digital education. Some spent much of their careers as tutors at the OU itself; Stephen Potter is still an OU Emeritus Professor involved in sustainable transport and the environment, and Alfred Vella has lectured at the OU since 1992 alongside roles at other universities in computer research and development. In Ken Richardson's video excerpt, he passionately describes how his PhD transformed his life from that of being a passive student to one of an active scholar, and that he has tried his best to maintain these values throughout his career in the OU’s Department of Education, ultimately becoming its first acting director of the OU’s Centre for Human Development, retiring in 2003 to focus on the pure scholarship he loves. He says "one thing that doing the PhD had taught me was the value of scholarship". Max Bramer studied the then politically complex world of Artificial Intelligence, and became Digital Professor of Information Technology and Head of the Department of Information Science at the University of Portsmouth where he is now an Emeritus Professor.

Three of the group, including Joan and Max, were staff when they studied for their PhDs. In the last video clip, Oliver Boyd-Barrett details how his career developed, starting with how he continued to work in the OU school of Education for 20 years before being invited to set up a distance learning MA at Leicester University in 1994 and then moving to California in 1998 and to Director for the School of Media and Communication at Bowling Green State University in Ohio in 2005. He narrates how "I... never stopped being drawn back into the fray of academic work".

Two of the interviewee group now live and work abroad, one being Oliver and the other, Bill Morris, moved to Canada straight after his PhD to a post-doctorate appointment at the University of Western Ontario working his way up to his current role as Emeritus Professor of Geography and Earth Sciences at McMaster University, Ontario.

Not all of this cohort’s successes were in the field of university education. Don Aldiss has had a long and successful career at the British Geological Survey, from his graduation in 1978 until his retirement in 2014. Also working in the field of geology, Michael Baker undertook a post doctorate at the OU to investigate the use of satellite imagery in geology. He then worked in this field in Australia for a mining company and in 1986 to date, set up as a successful independent consultant in the field of satellite imagery.

A Lifechanging Experience (page 2 of 2)