Russell Blakelock is a busy man. A paediatric surgeon and senior lecturer in surgery at the University's Christchurch School of Medicine, he is also studying for a Doctor of Education through Otago's Distance Learning programme.
While this might seem like an incongruous fit, Russell has a real interest in inter-disciplinary communication in the medical arena – in medical practice and in medical education – with a particular focus on the way in which personality influences communication style.
“I was initially interested in doing a diploma or master's in teaching and learning, but I spoke to Professor Kwok-Wing Lai [the director of the Centre for Distance Education and Learning Technologies, University of Otago College of Education] about my topic and he recommended the EdD programme. “
Almost as important as finding the right course, Russell needed to find a study option that he could fit around his already tight schedule.
“I did look around, but while some of the content of some other programmes looked good, the travel required was prohibitive and the need to attend onsite meeting and lectures was not possible for me because of my work commitments.”
Otago's Distance Learning programme offers him the flexibility he needs, as well as a sense of community that he also believes to be important.
“It suits my workplace situation – I have total flexibility and great support from administrative staff and lecturers. People are always there to call on via phone or email, or in person, and they always seem to be enthusiastic.
“The biggest challenge is fitting it all into an already busy life. I literally squeeze it between things happening at work; I work late in the evenings and a lot at the weekend. I do find it difficult to get the balance right, but my family is very understanding and my colleagues, with whom I work closely, are very supportive.”
But, while he is busy, Russell believes the experience is invaluable. “As well as giving me a whole new area of knowledge and expertise, I am also gaining a new network of colleagues and friends from across other disciplines.”