Jo and Ian Mcgleegan

Epsom family Opened to a two degree challenge


Joanna McLenaghan walked quite literally in her Epsom father’s footsteps when she followed dad Ian across the stage to collect identical degrees recently at a ceremony staged by The Open University.

The pair signed up for an OU MSc in Maths in the same year and there followed six years of “total rivalry” to see who could get the best marks for assignments.

It’s the third degree for Joanna, 36, who is now a data scientist managing a team of people at Gousto, the recipe box company.

She earned a first-class degree in physics at Oxford followed by a doctorate in the same subject from the University of St Andrews. But her latest achievement was hard won by burning the midnight oil whilst working full time.

Jo, as she is also known, says her OU degree was definitely a factor in her gaining her latest job at Gousto as she says employers know the “level of effort and commitment that you have to put in, particularly doing something over six years on top of a job. Whilst I already had the undergraduate degree and a PhD, I think as an employer, when you’re looking through hundreds of applications having something like this on a CV really helps you to shine,” she said.

Ian McLenaghan, 66, from Epsom in Surrey, is full of praise for his daughter: “I’m incredibly proud of her achievements. We might have started out on the same pathway but she’s much more of a people person, who’s capable of doing things like management. “That’s something I avoided like the plague when I was working. I just wanted to go away in a cupboard somewhere and work on my own solving technical problems.”

Yet Ian is something of an academic himself. He also has an Oxford degree in physics, and in the same subject holds a doctorate from Imperial College as well as an MS from the California Institute of Technology. He began his MSc while semi-retired to “keep Alzheimer’s at bay” but also admitted “I guess we like studying”.

Jo says she clearly remembers Ian encouraging her and supporting her studies through childhood: “I always remember, before I went to high school, that my dad and I had these study sessions where he cut out these different molecules and then we’d attach them together with paper clips. And he was always buying me things like magnet sets, so he definitely encouraged me from a young age.” She says once he bought her a book on Java programming!

For Jo, her dad is an inspiration: “He’s had a lifelong love of learning that he’s been willing to pass on. He taught himself coding and computer programming and it’s that curiosity that has guided him his whole life.” She added: “I think a lot of people think you just learn when you’re a child; a teenager and then you when you go to university and then that’s it!”

The Open University (OU) is the largest academic institution in the UK and a world leader in flexible distance learning. Since it began in 1969, the OU has taught more than 2.3 million students worldwide and currently has over 208,000 students.Seventy-one per cent of directly registered students are in full-time or part-time employment, and 76 FTSE 100 companies have sponsored staff to take OU courses.

Philippa Green reporting.

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