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Experiences of a mature student at the OU

I studied psychology in Turkey around the early 80s as a second degree. My first degree was in Applied Linguistics. One of the subjects of the Programme was Psycholinguistics* and I fell in love with the subject. Around that time I was working as a linguist at the National Language Authority preparing specialist dictionaries; among them were a Terminology of Psychiatry and a Terminology of Psychology. All these led to a growing interest in psychology, particularly Psycholinguistics. However, Psycholinguistics was a PhD Programme and I had to study Psychology to progress towards it. Following painful entry exams on six psychology subjects and methodology and statistics, I managed to get a place in a Clinical Psychology MSc Programme. I had to study harder than the others as they had studied psychology for four years at the university, whereas I self studied by reading text books in my free time, whilst working full time. This is how I gained the self-discipline and motivation, which is required for distance learning.

Also being an English Language teacher was very helpful as the language of the Programme was English. Many psychology graduates struggled with that. But we found a way out - we were a group of eight people. When we were given chapters and chapters of material to read, we would split the texts according to individual abilities; a couple of days later we would meet at one of the member's house to exchange the knowledge we gained. This also allowed us to exchange views, discuss, debate, dispute, all of which led to an improved level of critical thinking.

When I got my degree as a Clinical Psychologist, I came to a crossroads; whether to continue on the path I started and apply for PhD in Psycholinguistics or accept the offer from the University Hospital where I had been practising for a year at the psychiatry department. Fate had other plans for me. For family reasons first I moved town, then moved country, settling in the United Kingdom.

I faced the same crossroads in the UK too; should I continue studying or work?

As I had a one-year-old baby, I thought combining work and study wouldn't do. I wasn't aware of the Open University then, so opted for work. During my Master's study, I worked part-time as a journalist. I had language skills. I was a teacher and translator. I could use those skills. On the other hand, psychology was always a driving force for me. Yet, I did not feel confident enough to pursue psychology. I was trained as a psychoanalyst and I felt my spoken language was not good enough to understand English native speakers during counseling. Also I had no clue of how the NHS or academia worked on the area of psychology or clinical psychology. So the choice was towards languages and journalism.

I got a job at the BBC and that was it. I was a researcher/monitor/journalist for 16 years. Is there such a thing as a 16- year-itch? There was one for me. I was volunteering for a charity at the foundation stage. Later I became one of its founders. Here, I found the opportunity to get back to psychology. It was obvious that I could not do this straight away. Firstly my degree was too dusty. Psychology had progressed a lot since 80s. Secondly, if I wanted a position anywhere as a psychologist, I had to get accreditation from the British Psychological Society.

After 20 years in the UK, I was now a bit more informed about the education system and the field of psychology. I was also aware of the Open University and I knew that I could do my accreditation through distance learning. I approached the OU and to my dismay, I learned they could only transfer 75 credits (out of 280) that I gained in Turkey and I had to take six compulsory modules. Well, that was that and in September 2011, at the age of 56, I enrolled in the BSc Honours, Psychology Programme at the OU, starting with two modules; Educational Psychology and Social Psychology. Student Services warned me that these might be a bit too ambitious to start with and advised to start with one Level 2 module. I was so overconfident. I thought that as I had done this before, I could do it again easily. I had my first shock when I got 45 per cent from my first TMA in Social Psychology. I knew the subject so well. So where did I go wrong? Well, first of all, my language was "too journalistic" according to my tutor. Twenty years of journalism both in English and Turkish language had to have some effect! Secondly, my over-confidence worked against me. I wrote the essays in short breaks, while others spent ages, in making draft after draft. Unfortunately, I did not have the time to write drafts. Working full-time and studying two modules worked against my study. The result was low marks. The exams were the worst with just 8 days in-between; I had to prepare for two exams. A horrible experience!

Still, this did not stop me doubling up my modules the following year, as the clock was ticking and I wanted to finish my studies before I was 60. But the work was too hard, as I had to do two residential weeks one after another - Exploring Psychology and Cognitive Psychology, which required writing two hefty reports following the residential weeks. It was the busiest time of my study, if not my life. But I had learnt my lesson from the first year. I was now able to use the invaluable tutor guidance; corresponding with them regularly, asking anything that I did not understand, as well as attending all tutorials. I also established friendships with fellow OU students both online and in real time. This allowed us to exchange information and meet to study together.

Best of all were the OUPS events. The first year I was overconfident and thought I could to without them. The second year the driving force was to learn well as well as improving my marks. To achieve this I knew that I had to try different ways. I saved for several Overview Days and Revision Weekends. These events were extremely useful in allowing me to acquire a much needed community spirit as well as an information gathering exercise. I met so many people who were from different backgrounds and had different experiences. These days also helped me to meet more tutors, some of whom were previous OU students and some were still studying at the OU. I became more and more proud of being part of a community like the OU.

I graduated in October 2013, received my degree in April 2014 and I am now accredited as a psychologist by the BPS, I can confidently say that if it wasn't for the OU and its community (fellow students, tutors and the support workers), I could never have got this accreditation. I would also like to say to any new comers: Do not try to show off what you know, as you may intimidate those who don't know as much as you do. Do not hesitate to show what you don't know, as if you don't ask, you won't get the answers. And remember, all your fellow students are people like yourself, people who are trying to juggle their daily lives (work, children, care responsibilities etc.) and their study. We are all in the same boat, so please support each other and let others support you.

Emel Soylu, BSc Hons, Psychology

* Psycholinguistics or psychology of language is the study of the psychological and neurobiological factors that enable humans to acquire, use, and understand (Science Daily, http:// www.sciencedaily.com/articles/p/ psycholinguistics.htm accessed on 12 May 2014).


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