Postgrad Lives: 'Distance learning gives me a much broader perspective'

Mary-Joy Albutt is doing a distance-learning MSc in public health, specialising in health promotion, through the University of London External System. She fits this in with her full-time job working for Dudley Primary Care Trust (PCT) as a health promotion adviser for young people.

Why are you doing this course?

My interest in public health was sparked when I was a lecturer in health and social care at Stourbridge Further Education College. It was while discussing a range of health promotion materials that I realised that the vast majority were considered ineffective by my students. This was a big factor in me deciding to do the MSc, which I started in 2007 and should complete next year. In 2008, I got my current job at the PCT.

How's the course organised?

There are six core modules, including epidemiology, health promotion theory and statistics. These are completely exam-based, although you have the option of doing an assignment, for which you can get feedback. Then you have to do nine advanced modules, for which you have to write an assignment and sit an exam. The ones I'm doing include globalisation, communicable disease control and managing health services.

How do you get on with the distance-learning system?

I really like it, because my co-students come from all over the world, and when I'm doing a unit on HIV, for example, I can email a student in a remote village in Africa. So I get a much broader perspective than if I'd done a course at a local university, where I'd probably be with students from my own area working in my locality. The university sends you all the books and materials in the post, but there's also a really brilliant student web page where every single module has its own site, and you can ask questions about the module and have discussions with other students. And after these discussions have been going for a couple of days, a tutor will give feedback on the site, which is really useful.

How do you work it around your job?

The coursework takes up most Saturdays, and, when I'm writing assignments, Sundays as well. The hardest thing is physically sitting down to do the study, but I find it really stimulating: it's subject matter that I'm interested in and I'm learning a lot of new things.

What next?

Part of me loves studying and the intellectual challenge of it, but there comes a point when you have to practise what you've learnt, and I think when I finish that'll be it as far as my own qualifications are concerned. But I might try to see if I can become a tutor for the OU.

What has it cost you?

The whole thing cost me £9,000, which I took out a personal loan for. But I think it's money well spent because it certainly contributed to [my] getting my current job, so it'll pay for itself within three or four years.