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Helen Russell

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While working full time, Helen wanted to study to achieve her dream career in digital marketing. Attracted by the OU’s flexibility and reputation, she signed up for a degree and will graduate in 2023. Her studies have already helped her set up successful blogs and volunteer for Showerbox, a charity in London who help secure shower facilities for the homeless. Here she tells her inspiring story.

"I left school at 16, wanting a career in healthcare but had a change of heart. At 18, I wanted to work within an office/business environment and in 2013 I saw an advertisement for studying courses with a training provider called Pitman Training. It was then that I pushed myself to go for a Diploma and in 2015 I finished my studies with eight Diplomas to my name. It was then I realised how much I loved studying business related subjects and could see the potential and determination that I could achieve more. I guess you could say I got the education bug!

"I never thought about university but after studying with Pitman Training my mindset changed. I was working full-time in a law firm as a Legal Secretary and so attending a traditional university wasn’t an option. I started to search for distance learning degrees and found The Open University.  I read many online forums about the OU, how it was regarded highly by employers and confirmed in my mind that I was making the right decision by enrolling.

"I decided to study for both personal and career goals. I wanted to become a successful businessperson working within a field that I understood and felt passionate about. Personally, I wanted to achieve a degree to show myself that I have the intelligence and ability to achieve something life changing.

"In February 2018, I enrolled on the standard Business pathway as I thought that having a broad specialism in business would help with securing a job especially if another recession happened, however, all that changed in 2020. Due to pandemic I began to think long and hard about my degree and realised that no matter how solid I thought my plan was, there was no guarantee of being able to find employment during a pandemic. I started to look at the modules that I really enjoyed and noticed that all of them were marketing based and so as of Autumn last year I changed my degree pathway to Marketing as my passion lay here and it was now more important to me rather than trying to be the most marketable with a generic degree.

"When I first started studying, I was quite shy and had no idea how to write academic style essays. Over time I have seen my grades improve and I am starting to believe in myself more now. The Open University had a big part to play in that and I am grateful to have the opportunity to study with such a wonderful and inclusive university. I feel more empowered as I feel that I am always cared for and listened to by the staff. Everyone has made me feel so welcome with each new module I do. The online Freshers week was a lot of fun too! The Open University really lives up to its name and I wholeheartedly support everything it stands for and represents. It really is open to the people and there is no other university I would rather be at. 

"I have really enjoyed the modules and materials so far, the current module that I am studying has been done all online, but we are sent physical books as well, which I love. The tutors have been helpful and respond quickly to any queries I have, and I feel that this year they have been incredibly supportive of us studying through the pandemic. 

"When I was working full-time, I would come home, have dinner, and then start studying for the rest of the night until I became too tired to continue. I plan what I study each week by looking online at my study planner on the OU website, take a section at a time and study that small section and its tasks for one day and then move on to the next section and its tasks the next day.

"I feel that my studies are having a positive effect on my career as I am now looking to pursue a career in Digital Marketing and the knowledge, I have gained so far is going to be beneficial to this. The best element of being a student with the OU for me is the ability to change your life by achieving a degree all from the comfort of your home. It shows employers that you have the unique ability of learning on your own whilst working. It proves you are committed and hardworking and makes you stand out from other students. Studying with the OU as a distance learner whilst working full-time has been challenging for me because you not only work most of the day and have limited time for yourself as you are busy juggling university work and submitting TMAs but you have to stay motivated and push yourself to do the work. I also studied two modules at the same time which was very challenging as sometimes the TMA deadlines were close in date or the same day, which was a little difficult, but I managed to pass them both. I wanted to give up a few times because I felt that I wasn’t good enough when I got low marks in my TMAs. I also thought about giving up out of fear that there would be no future for my career due to the pandemic, but I kept reminding myself why I started this in the first place. I didn’t come all this way to get halfway through a degree and quit. This gave me back my motivation and I am more determined than ever to complete my degree and finally get into my dream career.

"I am to graduate from The Open University in 2023 so not long left to go for me! I am looking forward to that moment as all the hard work will have paid off and I can’t wait to attend my own graduation as I never thought I'd be graduating from a University with a degree. My studies so far with The Open University have fueled my passion and love for marketing which is only continuing to grow, so much so, that I pursued a free course with Google’s Digital Garage called Fundamentals of Digital Marketing and after successfully completing the course I enrolled with Digital Marketing Institute where I studied their Foundation Certificate in Digital Marketing. I successfully completed this course and I am now a Certified Digital Marketing Associate. I am looking to study either a Postgraduate Diploma or a Masters degree in Digital Marketing.

"My course has also led me to create two blogs, one of which is sharing my study journey at the OU.  I also volunteer as a Social Media Assistant for Showerbox, which secures shower space for the street and hidden homeless in London. Without my OU studies, it would not have been possible to do this. 

"My advice to OU students is believe in yourself. Understand that this is not always plain sailing as nothing ever is. There will be bumps in the road along the way but if you are determined and passionate about whatever it is you wish to study you will succeed. Try if you can to attend the online Freshers week as it gives you a chance to settle in and meet new people, some might even be in your area or on your course and you can form a study group. I would highly recommend attending online tutorials for your TMAs as it really helps me know what I am expected to do in the essay and it gives you a chance to ask the tutors anything you are not sure about, the tutors are there to help you. And lastly, enjoy your journey with The Open University and remember that learning is a journey so it shouldn’t be rushed. Learning never stops. So, once you graduate from The Open University continue to learn that's the only way you'll ever get better. The real work starts once you graduate."