06 October 2008

What I am up to

The Open University, as I have said before, is the UK's distance learning university, meaning they have somewhere around 200,000 students studying around the UK and Europe. These students do everything online and through the mail and meet their tutors at different offices all over the country. So, if you can imagine, the university campus is basically a huge university campus without any undergraduates or as I said jokingly to someone, any of the problems. There are, I guess, some 300 research students on campus, and we are all supported as the staff is, with our own desks, access to the facilities, printers, copiers, etc.

This year, I will be doing a Master's of Research. Master's degrees in the UK are not in general taught, meaning that I do not have to go to classes. Instead, I will take 4 module courses(each for six weeks and then a dissertation module starting after Easter next year. The module courses have required readings and papers that I need to write the first one has four papers, I think and that are basically task-based. I also have to attend tutorials for the module which will be the closest thing to a class as all of us in the module will attend and meet with our tutor. There are three of those over the course of the six weeks. The module courses I am taking are Intro to Social Research, Qualitative Research Methods, Quantitative Research Methods, and Advanced Qualitative Methods.

I also have to attend a weekly PhD workshop that is aimed at preparing us to do research, and I have to meet with my advisers every one or two weeks. There are other various seminars and training programs that I will likely go to, hopefully including the Researching and Analyzing Metaphor workshop in Amsterdam next July, and some training in the UK on computer mediated communication.

I have been told that the university is spending between £300,000 and £400,000 to train each of us, most of that money coming from government grants. The goal of the MRes and the PhD is to produce self-sufficient researchers, so basically we are given the resources we need to and told to do our work with a little guidance, but it's basically up to us to get everything in when it is needed. From what I can tell, there are also no real grades, just passing and failing.

There is something to be said here about the difference between studying and researching, which both have their benefits, I think. That said, no one here is really studying anything. After talking to different people and the different things people are studying, I have learned that if you are passionate about something and you can convince someone that it is worth researching, you can get money to research it. Yes, even the Wii. Basically, the school gives you support for four years to do what you want, with some limited guidance. For me, this is perfect, and I am looking forward to what the library and Internet can teach me.