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Open Universiy VS other universities (PhD)

(39 Posts)
Chandra Fri 04-Feb-05 12:00:24

Hi, I have been accepted by a good university to do my PhD, however... I'm feeling very tempted by all the advertising of the OU. How effective is the supervision when done at long distance? Any experience? I expect that whether I go to the Open or not I would be working from home so it's going to be very lonely anyway, but just wanted to found who offered the best oportunities to stay motivated through out the course.

Kelly1978 Fri 04-Feb-05 12:15:01

I don't knwo about doing a PhD, but I'm studying law with the OU, and have found the support great so far. Speakign to other students tho, I think it is the luck of the draw, as some tutors are a lot more supportive than others. I think because it is distance learnign they do have to provide a certain amount of support though. My partner went to a good uni, and he had a total lack of support from his tutors, so in our experience the OU is def better.

Chandra Fri 04-Feb-05 12:29:27

Thanks Kelly. is there any "open day" or online thing where prospective students can contact other students to talk of their experiences? knowing that the OU has mechanisms to ensure an adequate and consistent level of supervision at PhD level would really tip the balance.

Kelly1978 Fri 04-Feb-05 15:22:34

I've been trying to find out, but I can't find anything for prospective students. As a student there are both online and rl facilities for meeting other students, but I'm not sure for prospective students. There is lots of information on the website tho, you could have a good look round ont here for the information you want.

Chandra Fri 04-Feb-05 15:32:47

Thanks Kelly, I couldn't find anything either, I have sent an e-mail asking for more info.


tamum Fri 04-Feb-05 18:21:26

Chandra, I don't know if my experience is any help, but I have supervised PhD students in the past who for various reasons have actually been registered with the OU, and I can't honestly say that they've had much support. We got a form to fill in every year about progress, and the bill for the fees, and that was it really. When concerns were flagged up about progress nothing was done. It's a different situation I know, because I was the supervisor and I'm not at the OU, so they may just have been leaving it up to me. I can say though that the students certainly didn't get invited to anything at the OU, and weren't asked whether they were being adequately supervised or anything.

My advice for what it's worth would be to stick with the good university that you've got the offer from unless there are big advantages to OU on a day to day level. A PhD from a good university will be looked on more favourably than an OU one in the end. Good luck!

Ellbell Fri 04-Feb-05 20:44:34

Well done Chandra! I think that the really key thing is WHO your supervisor is going to be. The relationship between PhD student and supervisor is so important and can really make or break the whole experience you have as a student. (I had a great experience, my supervisor is still a very close friend and I'd never write anything without showing him first. DH had a nightmare experience and couldn't get out of academia fast enough!) Your subject area may also make some difference. You say you're going to be working from home, so I assume you're not in a science subject, where you need lab access or anything. But have you thought about access to libraries? Obviously if you are registered with a good (local?) university you'll get free library access. I don't know how it works with the OU, but I had some experience with the University of London External Degree system (years ago, though - and this was at UG level so might be different) and I know that their students had to pay to use libraries - even (I think) University of London libraries... This could be an issue, especially for a PhD, where you are going to need to do a lot of 'book work'! Constantly having to order stuff on Inter-Library Loan can also work out expensive. (Depends where you are in the country a bit, I suppose - if you can get to the BL, it's not such an issue.)

As far as loneliness is concerned, universities are increasingly making an effort to ensure that PhD students are given the opportunity to meet one another (socially and perhaps more formally in 'research training' sessions and such like) so you might not be totally 'out there on your own' unless you live a very long way from your university.

So... my advice is to ask yourself WHO you want to work with. This relationship could be very important to your future, so you need to trust the person (both on a personal level and on an academic/intellectual level) and you need to feel that this is someone who really knows and cares about your subject (a lack of enthusiasm is worse than a lack of knowledge, IMHO!) and who will 'be there for you'.

Does this help at all?

Chandra Mon 07-Feb-05 13:56:08

Well, that's the main problem... being with a supervisor I know and fairly like or take the gamble to see if I can get a better one.... This is so difficult...

Ellbell Mon 07-Feb-05 20:21:25


It should be perfectly OK for you to talk to the other prospective supervisor (informally - without committing yourself to anything) and to both get an impression of the sort of person s/he is and to gauge how helpful s/he would be with your research (e.g. how enthusiastic are they about your project, how much expertise do they have in the field, do they sound genuinely excited by it, etc.). Can you also find out - or even ask to be put in touch with - previous postgrads who've worked with your prospective supervisors? That can really help you to get an idea of what they are like. How much success have they had in getting people through the 'PhD process' and out the other side (and preferably into jobs!)?

You say that you 'fairly like' the prospective supervisor in the university where you've been offered a place. That sounds a bit like damning with faint praise... Do you have reservations about him/her?

If it's not too personal a question (and if it is, please just ignore it...)... what sort of field are you working in? Obviously, the more 'scientific' the subject, the more the 'technical' knowledge fo the supervisor counts, whereas - in general terms - the more 'arty' it is, the more you can rely on someone with a good general knowledge and good support skills (not just moral support skills, I mean, but good knowledge of libraries, sources of funding, and so on...).

I don't think I'm helping much... but I've thrown out a few more ideas, anyway. Good luck with it all.

Ellbell Mon 07-Feb-05 20:29:07

Send me to the bottom of the class for not paying attention! I read the previous PhD thread, but then promptly forgot all that was in it! You're doing Art History, Chandra... Don't know what conclusions I'd draw from that... just that you should probably find out as much as you can about any prospective supervisor and talk to her/him a lot before committing yourself. But you'll need to get a move on, because AHRB deadlines are looming (or have you already secured funding?). Oh, and bewared of p-ing off your current institution... I wouldn't let them know that you're thinking of changing unless you actually decide to go for it. Filling in AHRB forms (... as I know!) involves a huge amount of time and effort, and if they've done a lot to help you they might not be too happy about you then taking your proposal elsewhere. Nothing they can do about it, if that's what you decide to do, but I wouldn't mention it until you've made a decision. Sorry... will stop wittering on now as I don't think I'm helping you at all!

Frizbe Mon 07-Feb-05 20:35:32

Ok Tamum, you've riled me

'A PhD from a good university will be looked on more favourably than an OU one in the end'

Oh Please, spare me.......

The OU is one of the best Universities in the country, its graduation figures speak for themselves and it is definatley the foremost university as regards distance learning.
Obviously I studied with the OU, at degree level myself, and found them great to work with,lots of one to one contact with my tutors, great library access at both Universities local to myself. I have a friend doing her MA with them at present and she can't fault them either, obviously Phd is a differnt level altogether and students are left to 'get on with it' a bit more, but I think the advice given above more than fills the gaps on any misgivings you may have, so I'll shut up!

misdee Mon 07-Feb-05 20:38:44

dh is/was studyting with OU. i have been emailing his tutor the last week about him taking a break in his study due to him being in hospital and she has sorted it all out for him thro email and over the phone via me. nothing but excellant IMO in that respect.

ChicPea Mon 07-Feb-05 20:41:20

I have to agree with Tamum. Academic friends have said to me in the past that it is more prestigious to study at a university than gain a degree from the OU. Having said that, when I see applicants' CVs with an OU degree, I know that it has been a hard slog studying part time while at the same time working full time or raising a family.
Good luck with whatever you decide.

Ellbell Mon 07-Feb-05 20:51:49

Back again... Can you tell that I'm trying to put off doing some marking tonight?

I can't talk from personal experience about the OU, since they don't offer my subject area. However, I would still tend to say that, for a PhD the supervisor and the subject area are more important than the place. Also, facilities are important. I wouldn't want to do an OU PhD if I lived in deepest Cornwall, say, or the Highlands of Scotland - just because of the difficulties of getting to libraries. (This is obviously not the case with UG degrees, when the OU produces much of its own material anyway, but it IS an issue when you are trying to produce original research). But if you are in London and can get to the BL and whatever galleries etc that you need, then why not?

Another thing to ask when you talk to prospective supervisors... How do they feel about you publishing while still working on the PhD? It's hard to get a job without publications, even though it's also hard to finish a PhD and try to publish at the same time. Again, I have no 'correct' answer, but it's a useful question to ask, to see what they come up with...

Finally, one thing that might be relevant... A lot of PhD students gain some extra money and valuable experience by teaching tutorials, covering the odd lecture for their supervisor, etc. This would obviously not be the case with the OU. Again, it's less important if the only thing that you want to do is to get the PhD. But if you are looking to apply for an academic job at the end of it, then the experience might well be very important.

Right... I really do have to get off here now, or I'll be up till 1.00 a.m. yet again...!

Good luck Chandra.

tamum Mon 07-Feb-05 21:20:52

Frizbe, I didn't mean to rile you, but I think you have misunderstood. I wasn't talking about undergraduate degrees, but about a PhD, and I stand by my comments. Universities are judged at that level by their research output. I will freely admit that I don't know anything about History of Art, but in my subject (and maybe I should have qualified this), OU did not score highly in the RAE. This will reflect on the perceived value of PhDs. I'm sorry you don't like it, but there it is.

Chandra, I have just looked up History of Art and the OU got a 5 rating, so good but not top. Maybe worth comparing to your other offer? Otherwise just follow Ellbell's excellent advice!

nikkim Mon 07-Feb-05 21:33:05

I think it depends upon the degree and what career you are hoping to enter. I am doing a psychology degree with the OU and had a frank discussion with the careers advisor regarding how OU degrees are percieved. If I wanted to work for a blue chip firm or perhaps lecture at Oxbridge then perhaps they may look down on my degree although I think this is changing as the OU is well known for the quality of its materials and course structure ( although of course this varies according to the course.)

But for myself personally I do not think the fact that my degree is from the OU will do me any harm, admittedly I already ahve a degree from King's so i meet the eitist criteria but my OU degree has BPS recognition so has a hallmark of quality that will be welcomed by future employers.

Chandra Mon 07-Feb-05 21:41:23

Thanks for your comments, I wanted to answer fast to ensure you were still there but I have been rewriting my ideas so many times that surely you have gone to sleep!

Well, the cause of my indecision is based on the following.

-Supervisor. There's only one person who can supervise me at my current University, he has been great lately but just after I complained I was not receiving a constructive supervision. So, yes, I'm a bit concerned he may go back to his "previous" self. Comparing the level (number and importance of publications) the prospective supervisors at the Open U. are well ahead, but if they are not really helpful it doesn't matter how many publications they have, I would be better off, as some of you have said, with a supervisor that shares my enthusiasm for the topic.

-Cost. AHRB funding will be difficult to secure as my research interests are not considered a priority by them, besides, my current university is not exactly known for their research in that period so, even my supervisor has recognised that the chances of getting funding are almost non-existant. If I get AHRB funding for the Open...I can't relocate. And have a problem with references because I would need to ask my supervisor for a reference to be accepted by another prospective supervisor and with that I can ruin the relationship with the one I already have.

So I guess I'm going part-time. Part time is slightly cheaper in the Open and it has the added advantage that if I work in my research FT, even if I'm paying part-time fees I can submit my thesis as I finish it, even if that is in less than 6 yrs. With my current U. I'm not allowed to submit a thesis in less than 6 yrs, even if I have finished (because I was paying PT). I really don't feel like spending 6-8 yrs of my life in this, 4 if I can manage would be the ideal (I would be rather old to enter into the job market if it takes that long).

Libraries are not an issue as I have easy access to the British library.

Argh!!! should I toss a coin???

tamum Mon 07-Feb-05 21:42:42

No, of course people won't look down on you. I do have to stress that I am talking about PhDs, where there is no course structure and there are no course materials, it's the research output that matters. I was also talking (from my own very narrow perspective!) about staying on in an academic environment after the PhD. I didn't mean to upset anyone, I was just talking about Chandra's specific circumstances where shewas trying to decide between these two options.

serenequeen Mon 07-Feb-05 21:43:23

dh is an academic, and i'm afraid tamum is absolutely right on this - sorry.

Chandra Mon 07-Feb-05 21:44:28

Great!!! you are still here

tamum Mon 07-Feb-05 21:46:16

Just read your last post and no, don't toss a coin, I take it all back! If you're going part-time then definitely go for the flexibility of OU and the chance of submitting early, especially if the research output of the OU department is better. Having said that I would do as Ellbell says and try and contact the prospective supervisors informally, and ideally go and meet them, before making up your mind. I'm sure they'll be only too happy to talk it though with you.

tamum Mon 07-Feb-05 21:46:49

Thanks SQ I've been feeling awful.

Chandra Mon 07-Feb-05 21:58:18

Thanks Tamum, that's more like it I would follow Ellbells advice. (and be back to you with more questions )

PS. Just wanted to say that my respect for the Open is huge. I used to work as head of a department of development of multimedia and internet applications to support student learning and... if there's a University in the world succesful in offering long distance learning is definitively and without compatition... The Open University (another reason why I feel so tempted...)

Chandra Mon 07-Feb-05 22:00:02

Now, does anybody know where I can get a keyboard with 1" square keys so I can avoid typos that make me look as if I do really have problem with my spelling?

tamum Mon 07-Feb-05 22:00:51

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