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OU case study: Joe Shaughnessy, Scottish Premiership club captain

Joe Shaughnessy at graduation

With the support of PFAS, Scottish Premiership football club captain Joe Shaughnessy successfully netted a Bachelor of Science (Honours) Mathematics degree – combining his sporting career with flexible Open University studies.

The St Mirren defender swapped a football pitch for a stage when he collected his degree at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, and said: “I'm really pleased to have completed my degree and looking forward to celebrating with all my fellow graduates at the graduation ceremony in Glasgow.”

Joe (29) has no immediate plans to hang up his boots, and says of his qualification, which may be a springboard to a future teaching or engineering career: “When I first started studying for the degree I challenged myself to finish it before I turned 30 and also still be playing football full-time, so that was always my aim.

“It also helped that there were quite a few other players on my team studying with the OU, so we would chat about when assignments were due and how our studies were going etc. We motivated each other!”

Prepare for life after football

The top-flight footballer says: “I left school in Ireland at the age of 16 without any qualifications, to move to Scotland and play football. My parents had said I needed to continue my studies when I moved, so I completed a couple of Highers in my first year in Aberdeen, one being maths.

“When I decided to start my degree it was because I wanted to continue to prepare for life after football and maths was something that always interested me. I thought it would potentially open a lot of doors for me in the future and it was also a subject which I felt I would enjoy studying above anything else.

"I first heard about the OU through a teammate who was studying as well. It sounded like a perfect way of getting a degree while still playing full-time football.

A real sense of community

Joe says: “Being a footballer, I had a lot of free time most evenings during the week. I'd get home from training and could easily spend a couple of hours studying. I really enjoyed studying all the different modules throughout the degree which also made it easier.”

Studies were juggled with travel too: “I took my books on holiday with me to Toronto and Spain a couple of times and tried to fit in a few hours of study when I was away. I did a bit of study on some pre-season trips as well if I could manage to find a quiet spot and still had the energy after a day’s running!”

Joe’s former clubs include St Johnstone and Southend United. As well as partly self-funding his studies, part of his fees were covered by unions - the Scottish and English Professional Footballers’ Associations - after he had completed each module.

"Throughout the degree I felt there was a real sense of community amongst the students,” he says.

“The online forums were great for getting help and also for reassuring you that you weren't the only one who was struggling at times with certain topics! The face-to-face tutorials were also great when I managed to attend them. To see other students in real life and be taught in a classroom setting was something that I really enjoyed and gained a lot from.”

The Buddies’ skipper adds: “I really enjoyed the six or seven years that I spent studying. It was something totally different from my professional life and I believe it's had a positive impact on my mental health.

“It also encouraged me to improve my time management when submitting assignments.”

Very rewarding

As to what his qualification might lead to in the future, Joe says: “I'm not entirely sure yet but one area I'd like to explore would be secondary school teaching. I'd like to get my teaching diploma eventually and maybe work abroad one day.

“I think maths opens up a lot of doors and I might also look into what options are available in the engineering sector.

“I'd like to keep on playing football for another few years so there’s no rush but these are some areas I plan on finding out about.”

And his message to anyone thinking of studying with the OU is: “I would definitely advise people to go ahead and try it. The staff at the OU are always very helpful and can offer great advice if you're unsure about anything.

“The fact that you can study for a couple of years and then take a break if you need to is something that is a real positive about the OU.

“You can make OU study fit around your life and it’s definitely worth doing. It’s very rewarding at the end of each module and there are so many interesting subjects.”


The original version of this article was published on OU in Scotland: Meet our students and alumni.