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Case study: Ian Cox

Ian Cox, BA Psychology, Ireland

“I went to art college, studied graphic design and became an animator working in TV and the movies, including work on the Warner Brothers live action and animated basketball movie Space Jam (starring Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny).

I was also a book illustrator, doing educational books. Being an animator in the film industry is good work and pays well but it is not very cerebral; you are effectively working in an art factory, the hours are long and I felt I was not being fulfilled intellectually.

Around the time of the birth of my daughter, I realised I was not happy with what I was doing and looked for something more intellectually stimulating, but to still keep working as I had financial responsibilities.  I had got out of the film industry and was managing a second-hand book shop.  

I had always been interested in psychology; friends had studied sciences and were more concerned with the ‘outside world’ of material things, while I was more interested in the ‘inside world’ of the mind.  My father had schizophrenia and I wanted to understand what was going on inside his brain.

I spoke to The Open University and they were very helpful dealing with any concerns I had. I also spoke to a friend of my wife’s who had done a psychology degree with the OU and she couldn’t recommend it highly enough - so around 2007/8, I signed up. The flexibility of the OU course appealed to me, but in the end it was the quality of the degree.

Study materials were very good, the text books, CDs, DVDs and the online content – a very good blend. The books were extremely good and the presentation to a very high standard.  The tutors were all very good and so were the tutorials.

Having face to faces with tutors and fellow students was very important and in the whole 5-6 years my most enriching experience was the residential school which was well organised, and it was great to be with other students.

Halfway through my degree Facebook really popped up and so there was interaction between students via social media.  It provided a network and a community - particularly for students who were having difficulties.  There was lots of encouragement, which I was very impressed with.  It was all self-regulated and people knew when, and when not, to cross lines and not to help ‘too much’.

Where was I going with my degree?  I am still focused on that big career change. After gaining my Open University degree I have recently started an MA in Counselling and Psychotherapy (not with the OU) and am now doing supervised counselling with patients and when I am fully accredited, I will be able to go into private practice.

I wouldn’t be here but for my OU degree… The range of knowledge and the amount of knowledge I gained from it is streets ahead of some people on my MA course who went to leading universities (UCD and Trinity).  And the OU degree is very rigorous - which I have only fully appreciated in the last couple of weeks as I begin my MA.

What I learned on it I could apply to my relationship with my father. His schizophrenia settled down as he got older and was controlled with medication, but during an episode of ill health I could explain to him what was happening – something which had never happened before in his treatment.  I could talk to him on a sensible level without being alarmist, it was good for him and that affects my work now.  If people know what is happening to them, it is half the battle.

Doing an Open University degree was a life changer for me, a complete U-turn and I couldn’t have made it without it.”

Learn how others have improved their existing careers through studying with The Open University.