Helen Campbell-Pickford

I came to the Department of Education from being a teacher, teacher trainer and then Education Programme Manager – I was surprised to find out when I got here that not everyone had been a teacher!

I taught English and Drama for ten years before becoming a  teacher trainer with VSO in Sri Lanka, then working with various NGOs in Malaysia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Oman.   they all had teacher training in common, and in Sri Lanka and Congo a lot of community development and reconciliation work. I applied to this department mainly because I wanted to join the OSAT research group.  I had used Vygotsky in a lot of my teacher training and loved working with his ideas.  It is a very welcoming, sociable group, people are doing fascinating work, and I’ve learnt a huge amount from other people’s perspectives.

To enjoy studying here I think you do need to enjoy working with theories and concepts as much as practical data.  There are places where the research is more practical – here the theoretical side is very important, and developing new theories and ways of thinking about learning experiences has been something I have really enjoyed.  Ways of designing research is something I’ve discovered that I want to take with me into work after the doctorate, because a lot of the work I did in development previously had very little real research to back it up.  I’d like to work in development still, but with a lot more rigorous analysis going into the design of interventions and their impact.

To get the most out of Oxford generally I would say spend your first year going to different departments, seminars, conferences and so on, – don’t get too narrow too fast.  Some of the most interesting work I’ve seen has been in Social Policy, Social Sciences, International Development, the African and Asian study centres.  You won’t keep up with all of them but you’ll find out which other areas really work with yours in unexpected ways – they might turn out to use a method for analysing photographs which is perfect for you, or have advice about dealing with embassies to get research visas, all sorts of things.  And, of course, do at least one thing every week which isn’t work – that’s essential!