Thoughts from the committee
Interview with Alex Sandham (Treasurer)
Evelyn Slavid (Revision Weekend Officer)
How did you become interested in psychology?
Evelyn: I did a psychology degree because I was a teacher and I thought that I would go into educational psychology. By the time that I'd finished my degree I'd moved into teacher training and I stayed in that, then because of the work I was doing with students I decided to do a Masters in Counselling and Psychotherapy.
Alex: I started a psychology degree because my son was born with Down's Syndrome and it appeared to me that anybody who was going to have any influence on our lives had 'psychology' in their title. Just talking to parents, they'd found it quite difficult to deal with Psychologists and the feeling I was getting was that war was waged by parents and Psychologists, so I thought if I needed to wage war I had better know on what terms I was waging it, hence the psychology degree.
How have you used your psychology degree?
Evelyn: I've used it in my training work with students in schools and indirectly it has led me onto a way of working with students and children in schools.
Alex: My undergrad degree led on to a Masters looking at the psychology of human and computer interface and then I did my PhD in investigative reasoning - the heuristics and biases of the hypotheses that we generate. For my work I use it directly for all sorts of things, looking at Human Machine interface design, perception, looking at attention - when people are looking at various displays how long can they remain vigilant and what types of tasks do they need to move away to carry out in order to have a rest before they come back to being vigilant again. Also detecting deception, investigative interviewing and decision making in many of it's different forms, so all sorts of ways. I consider myself very lucky that I use quite a broad spectrum of psychological theory in what I do.
So when did you first become involved with OUPS?
Alex: I started my Open University degree in 1992 and went to my first OUPS event in 1995. I think I first came across OUPS that very first summer school that I went to.
Evelyn: I started my degree in 1989 and went to as many of the OUPS revisions weekends that I could. I was asked to go onto the committee to help by Lilli in about 1990. I've worked as the revision Weekend Officer now for about twenty two years and I've loved it.
Has OUPS changed a lot in the time you've been involved with it?
Evelyn: I think we're much better now at adapting and changing. When I first got involved we were at Nottingham University and we've moved to Warwick, which is much better for our students. So it changed geographically, but it has changed, I think, in that we've got better at evaluating what it is that students want. I think we've got a very cohesive committee who work well together with the students' interests at heart.
Alex: I suppose for me, OUPS has changed in the same way that the OU has changed - technology's made a big impact. What is not different is the reason for OUPS existing. The whole committee is made up of people who have been through the OU experience, have been involved with OUPS as students and want to carry on that support. I do see it as a support mechanism for the students of the OU and that ethos hasn't changed at all. I think that will remain as it goes forward because OUPS is a charity and it exists in order to provide that support to OU students and that is its sole purpose.
Evelyn: One of the big differences from when I started is that we didn't used to have a Business Administrator. When I started as revision weekend officer, before the internet, I took everybody's name over the phone, I'd make little cards of everyone who wanted to come and it was really slow. We've now got Irene, who is a fantastic Business Administrator and so some of that work has gone. I think it is important to emphasise one of the things that people still don't know is that we are all volunteers, I think that is something if I look to the future I'd want people to be clearer of the roles that people have.
What direction would you like to see OUPS go in in the future?
Evelyn: I think as the OU changes we're going to have to work with that. We're going to have to think a bit more outside the box about the courses that we run if we're going to keep students coming in. I think we should work at broadening our horizons. At the moment we offer fifteen free places which I think is good but I would like it if we could expand that.
What were the student numbers like earlier on?
Evelyn: They were huge. I can remember a revision weekend with 800, that was in the early days and then the recession hit and it more or less halved. We had a lot more money and now it's tight because it's tight for students and the cost of degrees is really expensive, so we're going to have to work really hard to keep our numbers up if we are going to keep breaking even. All we ever want to do is break even.
Alex: We need to continue to negotiate hard with the University to get the best rates that we can for our delegates to keep the costs down for the students. As Evelyn said it's just to break even, we just need to make sure that we cover our costs.
Evelyn: I suppose one of the things that I would like to see is more OU students finding out about us. In the old days the OU used to advertise us very freely and I think there's been a slight change there. I think the argument is because it's not open to all students. We have worked and worked at making it open to all students through our free places, through giving the students lots of warning about when we're going to be running our courses so they can save money. So in that respect I'd like to work at getting more students to find out about us.
How does it work with the free places?
How does it work with the free places?
Evelyn: Well people write and apply for free places and we look very carefully at the criteria. Something that's new is that we now have someone to support the students with special needs which we didn't have in the old days.
Alex: We're not looking at anyone's bank accounts. It's pretty broad brush in terms of if they're receiving certain benefits then somebody else has done the assessment and they must fall into the criteria. It's a difficult balance because you could argue that if we charged students more we could have more free places but that's not fair on the other students, so it's a tough call.
What do you feel you've gained from your involvement with OUPS?
Evelyn: I think for many of us we've made really good friends. Whilst it is a lot of hard work we've actually gained an awful lot. I think I've gained through the people I've met over the years. When I think of the fantastic students we've had, many with special needs, many working full time and doing degrees, I feel privileged to have met them really and if I can support them I will.
Alex: It's also a continuation of the stimulation, the whole interaction with peers and students that keeps you on your toes and stops you getting complacent.
Have your roles on the committee changed?
Evelyn: No, I started as revision weekend officer and I've stuck with that really.
Alex: Well, I did five years as treasurer and then I had a rest for eight years and now I'm coming back. During that eight years I did my PhD. I've got some space in my life now and I'm coming back so that I can rekindle some old friendships and also it's about giving something back. I had such a ball at the OUPS weekends whilst I was a student and it was so invaluable to me in terms of the help the OUPS weekends gave me for my final degree that it's nice to do it for others, whilst still getting the academic stimulation. That's something you don't get when you're in your chosen field because when you're seen as the expert there's nobody there to challenge you, so it's quite nice to get into debates because I'm not in academia so I don't get that on a day to day basis.
Do you think that OU students and what they want has changed over the years?
Evelyn: It's really interesting how many people are studying with the OU instead of going away to university. I'm sure that's to do with fees, so I think the demographic has got younger. In the early days we met people who were just studying for the fun of it, that sort of person isn't here anymore. The people that are studying now are mainly the ones doing the degrees. They're earlier to go to bed after the disco because the pressure is much greater than in our day I think.
How do you think that OUPS benefits OU psychology students?
Evelyn: For me it was absolutely invaluable, I had a young baby and it was absolute pandemonium. I was supported so much by OUPS and I think one of the main things was the contact with other people, the fact that you could say this is a weekend away from home where you could actually just think about your course, talk to your peers, moan if you wanted to. It was just contact with other students at a time when you felt very isolated really.
Alex: I don't think I would have got my First without OUPS because I didn't do any exam preparation until I arrived here and then I just basically followed the story that the tutors laid out. To a large extent it reduced stress levels because I knew once I'd booked on the weekend, that I'd get my structure and then I could take that structure and implement it, so it wasn't 'oh my goodness where am I?' Like a metronome, it gave me a marker where I started and a pattern that I could follow. I delivered good answers in the exam because of the interaction during the weekend and the input from the tutors. For me it was invaluable. I hate to think how I would have managed on my own really.
This interview originally appeared in the 40th anniversary edition of News and Views.