40 Pencil Stubs…

Many, many years ago I remember sitting in a pub in Shetland hearing about a friend of a friend who had just graduated from The Open University with a First-class Honours degree in Physics. I was chuffed for her as I’ve always had a respect for those who could understand the incomprehensible, bizarre world of physics, and I was secretly a little bit jealous. I was more than a little bit jealous, to be honest. There was a part of me that wished I’d finished university the first time around, when I went at the tender age of 17. I’d skipped an elementary grade because they thought I was clever, so I graduated high school a year younger than my classmates. I went to uni straight afterwards because that’s what you did if you didn’t want to go to community college. I didn’t want to go to community college, I wanted to get as far away from the rural village I grew up in as I could. I wanted to become a journalist. I wanted to write.

In my first year, shortly after the Christmas holidays, I was struck down with an incredibly sore throat and an overwhelming tiredness that refused to lift. My body felt like it was made of lead. I really struggled to get out of bed and I felt like death. I had no money as my student loan payments hadn’t started up yet (they didn’t come in until the Easter holidays) and I had no family support to speak of. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I knew I needed to see a doctor. With superhuman effort I removed myself from my bed and trudged to the hospital in the strange Canadian city I was attending university and waited for hours and hours to see a doctor. The doctor finally saw me, diagnosed me with glandular fever and sent me on my merry way in a matter of minutes. Did I even think to get a doctor’s note? That was the furthest thing from my mind. I wanted to get home and get back to my bed. After waiting for hours I was exhausted and very, very ill.

I should have asked for that doctor’s note for without it I hadn’t fulfilled the attendance requirements for my English class. I missed all my classes equally, lying in my dorm bed poorly with glandular fever, but my English prof had taken a dislike to me earlier on in the year and so she flunked me for the year, despite my A grade. She’d seen me walking to the doctor’s and if I was well enough to walk to the doctor’s I was well enough to come to class. Failing me brought my GPA down to below the threshold required to attend university for the following year, and they asked me to withdraw. I appealed their decision, but alas, no doctor’s note meant it didn’t happen.

Exam revision

<Shrug.> C’est la vie. I chalked it up to experience and moved on, but hearing about that friend of a friend and the wonderful institution called The Open University planted a seed in my mind. I bought a few physics books, including Erwin Schrödinger’s What is Life? and read it (with a dictionary at hand). I enjoyed it but really had no idea what he was saying. I rang up the OU and asked for a prospectus. I wanted to know more. This was a second chance for me.

I’d always had an aptitude for biology, getting fairly good grades in high school with minimal effort, but I never thought of it as a serious course of study until that prospectus arrived. All the science degree pathways began with a broad science module, S103: Discovering Science, which covered biology, environmental science, geology and physics. Some of it I really enjoyed and some of it I really, really struggled with. The quantum physics book was the worst. I cried over that book, proper big fat tears and sobs as I threw the book at high force across the living room so that it skidded across the floor to rest under the upright piano. I left it there overnight. The assignment on that book was my first mark in the 90’s.

Eight years, two breastfed babies and 40 pencil stubs later here I am, at the end, with the piece of paper I’ve longed for in my hand. I did it! My only regret is that I didn’t have this drive and determination in my late teens/early twenties, but here I am, pushing forty with a First-class Honours science degree of my very own.

I want to shout it from the roof-tops, and to my English prof from way back when? Neener neener. 😛

Why don’t you have a look at the Open University prospectus yourself?
You never know where it might lead. xx
Open University memories
Inspiring Women Blogging Prompt


  1. Heather Haigh says

    OH well done! I know how disciplined you must have been as I started a Maths Degree with the OU but I never found the time to complete it.

  2. says

    Thank you for linking up at daddy space ! I had to defer my recent attempt to study with the OU as with 3 under 3 it is not a good mix ! Glad you got your papers now and hope your old english teacher reads this

    • says

      It’s certainly not easy. I had two babies during my studies along with my older son. I mind nursing baby propped up on a pillow with another pillow with my study books on it and writing with my free hand. Multitasking! I hope you get back into your studying again some time when you’ve a bit more peace to do it. xx

  3. callisto1275 says

    Well done you !! As a fellow OU graduate I know the pain you go through, those deadlines, the summer schools, the nervous/anxious wait for the post and the exam results at Christmas. It’s not easy to do when the kids have been ill all night and you have 3 lots of bedding to wash, dry and administer calpol! Congratulations xxxx

  4. says

    Well done and I hope you shout very loud. I’ve had no education worth speaking about but from my limited reading on quantum physics I don’t think there’s anything in it to prove that the next time you throw that book that it won’t pass straight through the floor.

  5. says

    awww my lovely what an epic achievement!! well done! i have been studying too recently and its such hard work with children and a house in tow!

    thank you for sharing and linking up with #MagicMments xx

    • says

      Best of luck with your own studying Jaime, it is really, really hard work with young children about! You can do it! Thank you for your lovely comment xx

  6. says

    Huge congratulations to you Elizabeth. I did stay the course at 17 but in my 40s did my Masters by distance learning and it took me four years by the time I took breaks for new jobs and life getting in the way. It’s tough and you have to be very disciplined. Enjoy your success.

  7. says

    Amazing! Well done you! You absolutely should be shouting it from the roof tops. It was tough enough doing it when I was young. I know full well I’d never have the motivation to do it now xx

  8. says

    Wow what a story, brought a tear to my eye! You’ve been on such an incredible journey so too right you should shout out from the rooftops. Huge congratulations it’s an amazing achievement. Thank you so much for sharing with #whatsthestory

  9. says

    So pleased for you =) I know I couldn’t do what you’ve done – my Chemistry degree is hard enough with having friends, fellow students and teachers all around me everyday available if I need help, let along what you’ve achieved alongside your degree!

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