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Advice on doing a Part Time Physics + Maths Degree with the OU

Discussion in 'Science' started by Kublai, Dec 21, 2019.


Should I enroll on this adventure

Poll closed Dec 28, 2019.
  1. Yes - 100% jump in, it will be worth it.

    0 vote(s)
  2. No - Definitely not, you have it good

    0 vote(s)
  1. Kublai

    Kublai New commenter


    I was after some advice about doing a part-time degree in Maths and Physics through the OU.

    It is a bit of a long post - sorry but I thought I would give as much detail and context as possible.


    I have been teaching for 8 years and currently Physics teacher in a standard comp. I am by trade a Biologist but for 3 years been teaching Physics up to A-Level. My degree is in an unrelated field but converted over as I enjoyed teaching and learning Physics more. I do not have a Physics A Level.

    The degree is Maths and Physics Q77: http://www.open.ac.uk/courses/qualifications/q77

    I am Mid-thirties, I have a young family (2 kids under the age 4) and live very close to work. I work in a standard comp school, the behaviour is fine, I fit in well in the school and on the whole, enjoy my time there (obviously they have bad days!). The workload is standard, I have done a lot to move up through the ranks fairly quickly and I have had to teach myself A-Level Physics.

    Reasons for wanting to do a degree:
    1. First and foremost I enjoy learning and progressing: I have taught myself A-Level Physics and got myself to a standard of getting A-A* of Physics A-Level papers, and feel I would be able to do my job better if I knew my subject in more depth. Also, I do not like sitting still and thus see this as a challenge.
    2. I also feel that if I am doing the studying I might as well get the letters after my name.
    3. On paper, I would always be classed as a non-specialist. Whilst this is quite an ego reason and/or insecurities seeping out, regardless of where I go even if I had 15 years of experience teaching the subject, I am always a non-specialist and applying for other jobs this will/may hold me back.
    4. Exit Strategy from the state sector: thinking about my family, a possible route may be to go into the independent sector and on paper, I would always be rejected. Reasons for going into the independent sector would be for the perceived opportunities for students and doors it could possibly open up in the future. It could also be an environment that I could teach longer in - up to/past 60 without burning out. I am a very energetic teacher and can't see myself being like that when I am 60 in a state school.
    5. Exit Strategy away from education: a Physics and Maths degree would open up more doors outside of education. Quite possibly could open up routes into the IOP, to coach other teachers. I wouldn't even be considered for these roles unless I had a degree in Physics. I have been told this by people within.
    Reasons not to:
    1. Extra workload. My norm is to get up early and work before school, it may shock a few people, but I am far far more productive in the mornings than I am evenings and thus get up at this time. This time would be the time I would plan to my studying.
    2. Time away from family. This time is very important to me, I have turned a couple of jobs - outside education - down as my current life/package (role, school, commitments etc.) is so convenient, other jobs actually adds more time away from my family.
    3. No real pay progression having an extra degree so why do it?
    4. Do a MSc. The MSc's I can find do not have enough Physics in them to satisfy the real reason for me wanting to do further study. And or are based onsite, this is impossible for my scenario.
    5. Long time studying. I am expecting this to take 5 years but fully accept it may take 10. I have no idea how this will feel further down the road.
    6. It will not benefit me if I wanted to climb the SLT ladder.
    My questions for you:
    Considering I am teaching Physics, will the load be that extra? My rationale is if someone works in an office job outside of Maths and Physics and hasn't touched the subject since school days, the load of studying would be high. Will it be that much extra for someone effectively working within the field and discussing Physics/Maths every day? As well as having access to a very good Maths department to clarify any problems I may run into.

    - With respect to being considered for Independent roles, are my thoughts on this correct? Would I not be considered or find it very difficult to get a job without a relevant degree? If I had a Physics Diploma, would that be beneficial?

    - Has anyone else completed an OU degree whilst working full time in teaching and having a young family? If so, how did you find it? How long did it take? Do you regret it?

    - Has anyone completed this exact course (long shot I know)? How was it? How was the content and examinations etc?

    Possible start dates are Jan 2020 or October 2020. To finance this, I would qualify for an extra student loan and this would just be added to the tax I already pay.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this, as you may sense, this has been on my mind for a while (for about a year now) and it is not a quick decision I am making as it could potentially be a 10-year project and impact way more than just my time.


  2. gainly

    gainly Star commenter

    I can't really advise you on what to do but I've done a couple of OU physics modules, just out of interest and to keep my knowledge up to date, but with no intention of getting a qualification. I think you should find stage 1 modules relatively easy, not much more than A level, but stage 2 and particularly stage 3 are fairly challenging. Do you have A level maths? If not you may struggle with some of the maths.

    I think you would find it a lot of work on top of your other commitments and are probably right in thinking it would take more than 5 years to complete.

    If you are really keen you could at least make a start and see how it goes. You will at least have learnt something new even if you don't ultimately finish the degree. The main thing that would put me off is the expense. I took the modules quite a few years ago before the big fee increase.
  3. BW12345

    BW12345 Star commenter

    1) Do you think you'll have say 20 hours a week for it? Half a dozen won't do unless you're particularly bright.

    2) Buy a few of the books and see how they look to you. I would suspect the maths might be a challenge. Some people reall hit a brick wall with it when they stop being able to "get their head around" it. You may be able to swerve unattractive elements by taking eg astronomy instead of stats. Try Wangsness, Electromagnetic Fields to see how that looks. By the end of the first term (equivalent) you'll be understanding Maxwell's equations and why he was a clever fellow, and things like tensor calculus.
    Quantum field theory, up to supersymmetry, relativistic wave equations and Lagrangian methods, the quantum theory of scalar and spinor fields, and then the guage fields. Invariance of the Lagrangian for the complex scalar field, and on, will all be in the course somewhere (though I haven't analysed it). If you have a bit of a butchers at some texts to see how they look to you, you'll have some of the flavour. I think it's a different mindset, compared with A level.
  4. briancant

    briancant Occasional commenter

    I've studied both Maths and Physics with the OU whilst teaching.

    Quite a long time ago I did the Msc in Maths. It was enjoyable but the work load was large. I had to complete 6 modules but after 2 years I just wanted to finish so studied 3 modules in one year. It nearly killed me. So my advice would be take your time and just do one module a year.

    I then did a Diploma in Physics which I really enjoyed and found really useful. I don't know if the OU still do it but it was perfect for anyone who wanted to teach up to A level. I would recommend it if they do.

    Then a few years ago when the OU announced fairly massive fee increases I decided to turn the Diploma into a full degree as there were reduced fees for those who had already started. I didn't enjoy the level 3 modules at all. They had no relevance to my A level teaching. The OU had gone down the road of everything being online so there were no face to face tutorials. I was in a succession of rotten schools in Spain at the time. I did manage to finish the degree but have never used it in any way. I think because I was struggling at work it was the wrong time to do the course.

    From what you say I think it is vital that you get a qualification in physics. To move on you will need it and the students do deserve someone who is properly qualified in the subject they are teaching. Like I say I would recommend the diploma.
    Kublai likes this.
  5. Kublai

    Kublai New commenter

    Thank you both for your replies.

    I think from both your responses - and others - best bet would be to get the text books, study as I go and see how I get on.

    I think you are right in the sense that it would be very difficult/time-consuming to study stage 3 with a full time teaching job and family commitments.

    And the more and more people I speak to they advise against it due to as you say gainly - the cost and the requirements for progressions. In the best case I should look at doing an MSc with some Physics elements attached as that will be a progression.

    I have had a look on Ebay and I can buy the second year Maths (I am currently studying A Level Maths which equates pretty much to Year 1) course as well as the old course materials for the Physics components. This all comes to a cost of £100. Which is far better than £30k of debt and 10 years of my time.
  6. Kublai

    Kublai New commenter

    The diploma literally ticked every box. Had the maths content and the Physics was literally the A Level spec but no doubt to a higher level. Sadly, they have moved to a Certificate in Physics which has some bolt on module of experiements in space.

    But £4.5k is still steep as I am sure the Diploma you did was £2.5k.

    You echo a previous colleague of mine who said they (being Degrees in general) aren't value for money anymore.

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