This week it is an absolute pleasure to welcome over blogger, influencer, father, oh and Open University student James Newton for an interview. More of an informal chat I’d like to think but either way James was kind enough to agree to it and responded extremely quickly. Hope we didn’t eat into any valuable TMA time! Enjoy the interview and please LIKE/SHARE/TWEET if you get a chance 🙂 much appreciated.

Hi James, thanks for taking the time to speak with Surviving the OU today. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your involvement with the Open University – i.e. which module are you currently studying and degree working towards?

I started studying with the Open University in 2012, enrolling on a Natural Sciences degree along the broad based pathway. After studying s104 I decided that physics was the subject for me. I then switched to mathematics and physics, which luckily required s104 to be studied first.

Due to module orientation I then decided to move to level two, to avoid having to wait six months, and completed s207: The Physical World. Now I am currently almost at the end of MST 124 and half way through MST125 (Essential Mathematics 1 and 2).

Why did you choose the Open University over the other options available?

I should say that I chose the Open University because it is a fine educational establishment, and after long deliberation I chose it over wasting my time studying physics at Trinity College Cambridge. But that wouldn’t be entirely true! I’m now 31 years old, I have a lot of responsibilities in the shape of a mortgage and a family to support, so I needed something that was ultra flexible. I could, and still can’t, afford to work any less than full time so attending a brick university was always out of the question. So looking at distance learning you really can’t beat the Open University for their experience and learning materials, I’ve spoken to students of other so called red brick universities who say they use the Open University’s material!

Another reason is I didn’t do A-Levels ! I always thought this would be the biggest mistake in my life, and something I would find very hard to rectify, so when I found out they’re not required I jumped at the chance!

From what you have experienced so far would you recommend the Open University to others?

Yes I would, I know it’s a well worn-out clichĂ© but it can change your life. What is wonderful is, studying with the Open University only helps you to find the greatness within yourself. It rewards your hard work like nothing I’ve ever done before. What you can achieve will definitely surprise you.

What difference has studying with the OU and gaining relevant qualifications made to your career path or plans?

Well I have a relatively well paid job, but it is highly mundane and pretty much leading me into a dead-end. I will be leaving as soon as I graduate to become a Teacher. It’s the hope and ambition that I have thanks to the Open University that gets me through the day at times.

The Open University is something described as a “distance” learning establishment. Have you at any point felt distanced or isolated during your studies or has the support network always been sufficient?

For all the good I have to say about studying with the Open University, and distance learning in general, I would say that the isolation is definitely the biggest downside. It can be very disheartening to be stuck at a certain point of your subject and have nobody to share the problem with. Of course we have tutors at the other end of the phone, but to think you’re the only idiot stuck on something can get you down. Equally if you finish a tricky TMA question or something falls into place it can feel like a bit of an anti-climax when you have nobody to share it with. The fact is that most of the time you’re not alone, there will be someone somewhere going through exactly the same thing. So I would say get involved online. Even if the module forums aren’t very active, there’s so much going on, on Facebook and Twitter that you are sure to find people who are in the same boat. It’s definitely helped me.

Students come together at tutorials, day schools, residentials and informal study meetups. How do you approach the social aspect of the OU? Do you engage with the Students’ Association for example?

Unfortunately none of my modules have residentials, which is a shame because I would have been interested in attending those. I try to get to the tutorials as much as I can, and before moving I was in the London region so we used to go for a drink after. This was great to have an informal chat away from the classroom with fellow students. I have been invited to a few meet-ups in my local area so I will be attending those. Due to time restraints I usually keep the social side to social media. However, I’m always interested in meeting new students especially if we can incorporate a beer into the equation!

You are currently running a very well-received blog over at Why did you start the blog and how is it going at the moment? Where can our readers find out more or connect with you?

james ouI had read a few study blogs in the past and loved reading how the writer was getting on with their studying. So I thought I would give it a go myself . It has really helped me to contextualise and give focus to my student life. It’s also a nice escape from all the numbers and equations, to write down my feelings and share them with whoever will read them!

I am pretty active on Twitter @studyblogger so please come and say hello I love chatting with students about their study highs and lows!

Besides the blog, I have also started a podcast called The Student Life Podcast, which you can find on iTunes or follow us on Twitter @studentlifepod for full details.

Lastly I have also started a spoken-word study blog series on iTunes called Student Blogcast. This is open to any students who want to contribute a spoken blog post, or simply a short story! so please get in touch on Twitter @studentblogcast


Thanks James for taking the time to speak to Surviving the OU ~ David