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Barry Ryan

What would you like to do? Make up for the past.

Barry Ryan lives in Cork. He used to make excuses not to talk about his schooling, but in a remarkable turnaround now has a 2:1 honours degree from The Open University. 

Barry explains: 

“Before I started studying with The Open University, I was so embarrassed that I’d never finished school. When friends talked about their school grades and stories, I’d always make excuses and leave. I didn’t want them to ask me about mine, as they’d then know I’d never finished. I thought they’d think I was stupid or that there was something wrong with me. I thought that people in college or college graduates were so much better than me. 

A girlfriend of mine at the time, who knew about The Open University, suggested it to me for a degree. But I had no idea how to write an essay or study properly, and so I was concerned when starting again that I wouldn’t be able to do it. I chose a degree in Psychology because I wanted to get into counselling at the time and wanted to work with ‘at risk’ children. 

I was very interested in the material I was studying, which helped. I think being interested is half the battle. I also knew this was my only chance at making a better life for myself and I wasn’t going to drop out... Seeing a potential career at the end of the course was great.

For me, doing exams was the most challenging part; I’d had no experience of doing major exams because I’d left school so early. Throughout the degree I only had four exams and each one counted towards the classification for the degree, so this meant each one was extremely important and left no margin for error. But my family were very supportive. I’d bounce ideas off them all the time - even though they had no idea what I was talking about! I found that talking about a concept to someone who didn’t understand it at all really helped to embed the information. 

While doing the course I got an internship at a day service for people with intellectual disabilities, and from day one I knew this is what I was born to do. I became incredibly interested in the psychology of disabilities. I could see the principles of behaviourism at work and through reading the positive behaviour support plans, I could see how I could use my degree in this field. My employers were very supportive and gave me extra time off during exam time to study. I’m also eternally grateful to my local credit union for giving an unemployed school leaver educational loans.

I’ve gained so much confidence doing this course and it’s shown me that I’m capable of speaking with anyone academically, that I’m not inferior to anyone. Now I proudly tell anyone I’m a school dropout; it’s something The Open University finally allowed me to put to bed. It gave me an opportunity to have an actual career instead of working dead-end jobs for the rest of my life.  

My whole world view has changed. For example, I apply the circle of enquiry to lots of things every day, and understanding how to critically evaluate evidence has been an amazing eye- opening experience. 

I’m a Social Care worker and I work with people with intellectual disabilities. I got this job in October 2015 and the mix of experience from the internship and my psychological background seemed like a very attractive mix to the interviewers. I find my degree to be completely relevant to the role and provide a valuable psychological insight to my colleagues who mainly have social care degrees. 

In my work I use what I learned from the course pretty much every day. Since finishing my degree in 2015 I’ve studied challenging behaviour in IT Carlow and am currently studying Autism at University College Cork. I’ve also looked into applied behaviour analysis and I’m hoping to do a masters in this in 2017.” 


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