I started studying late. I went to university when I was about 25, started with some access courses, and then did a BSc in Cognitive Science at the University of Hertfordshire. After that I was lucky enough to immediately get a job as a researcher here in The Open University’s Knowledge Media Institute, KMi.
After doing my masters degree I was working for Horsham District Council as a research officer, but was finding it limiting compared to the challenge of academic work. I wanted to go back to university and was looking for a funded PhD. I stumbled across The Open University by luck. I came for an interview and was struck by the degree of professionalism. It seemed a very dynamic place – half way between a university and an office environment, and I really liked that.
My discipline is ‘classical reception’, which is a relatively new area of study. The Open University is a world leader in this area – largely as a result of the work of my supervisor, Professor Lorna Hardwick.
I worked for an NGO in Zimbabwe for about five years, on biotechnology projects involving small-scale farmers, before taking up a research studentship at the OU in 2005. My motivation came from encountering the GM (Genetically Modified) food debate and trying to understand how emerging technologies are regulated – especially for the benefit of the poor end-users: small scale farmers and consumers.
Before coming to London to work as a social worker, I was a social worker in South Africa and have been keen to do some research to help me better understand some of the problems of the people I was helping. So when a friend told me about OU research scholarships, I decided to apply.
The first thing I would say to anyone thinking of doing a PhD with the OU is to start by doing the MRes – Master of Research – because it’s such excellent training!
I did envisage going into industry after my doctorate but I’ve enjoyed my OU experience so much I might well stay in academia!
My main research focus is on self-harm – which is when someone deliberately causes injury to themselves, by cutting, burning, biting, scratching or even bone breaking. A lot of my work has looked at things that people find uncomfortable, or society doesn’t like.
I chose do a PhD at The Open University because the project I was offered was just up my street – ‘Looking at data from Titan, Saturn’s largest moon’.
I was living in the UK and studying towards an accountancy qualification, I was about to finish my course when the recession came, and people were struggling for jobs. Someone suggested to me, “if you are interested in a PhD look at what The Open University offers”. Before that I didn’t know the OU did research degrees. I was surprised when I looked at their website at the range of research going on and the academics that were there.