Gary is a full-time DPhil student who came to Oxford over 30 years after taking his BSc (Hons) Geography and PGCE at Liverpool University. Throughout the course of his former career he also gained an MEd (Training Development) from Manchester University and an MBA from the Open University.
What degree did you apply for and why was it important to you to study this?
I applied for the DPhil in Education at Oxford because after many years as a practitioner in education, with experience of managing and directing this activity within a large national organisation, I wanted to research ways of improving its impact on wider society. Whilst I entered the programme with a clear initial idea of what I wanted to pursue, I was glad to find that it positively encouraged a fuller exploration of my research interests and their potential for doctoral study. This led me to focus on how knowledge exchange (university-business collaboration) is conducted across the University of Oxford. I am particularly interested in the factors that support or present challenges to new learning through such collaborations. My hope is that my research will aid the better conceptualisation of how learning is best achieved through knowledge exchange and that this will inform the development of future approaches to this vital activity.
What would you like to do once you’ve completed your postgraduate degree?
My DPhil research is giving me a deeper understanding of how and why academia and business (in the broadest sense, including the public and third sector) interact with each other and I am keen to use this, building on the knowledge and skills I have gained previously, to drive forward improvements to the effectiveness of this activity.
What do you most value about the teaching at the department?
As a DPhil student all teaching is in seminars within the first year. These are interactive and engaging, often stimulating lively discussions. The sessions are relaxed and informal, providing a great opportunity to engage in testing assumptions and sharing ideas with a diverse group. Individual supervisions with my two research supervisors provide a welcome opportunity for me to test the rigour of my thinking, approach and writing about my own research topic. I know my supervisors extremely well and in that high trust relationship they offer constructive criticism, advice and encouragement to make sure that I continue to maintain progress towards my DPhil milestones.
Why do you think it’s important to study education?
For my part of educational research, I am focused on learning processes involved in collaborations with external partners across the University. It is clear that there needs to be a strong focus on the content of the research that often lies at the heart of such engagements but my research is finding that it is also essential to give thought to the learning processes that will facilitate the exchange or creation of new knowledge. In that respect, education is germane to all Departments involved in these important activities, across the University of Oxford and beyond.
What’s the community like at the department?
As researchers, we all have two homes in Oxford, our Department and our College and I feel very comfortable in both. In my experience, staff (both academic and non-academic) and fellow students alike are engaging, lively and welcoming. I acted as a student representative within the Department during my second year, which involved engaging with staff and fellow students on a range of issues to continually seek ways in which we can keep improving things. This is a great way to get to know people better, whilst at the same time trying to make a wider contribution and I would encourage future students to consider getting involved. I am particularly fortunate to belong to a very closely knit research centre within the Department, the Centre on Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance (SKOPE), which provides the hub for my daily research activities as well as a social focus with my close colleagues and friends.
How do you get involved in other research activities within the department and what are they?
I was invited to assist the Director of SKOPE, Professor Ewart Keep, in the evaluation of a major funded project into vocational education and training, run by UCL’s Institute of Education and the Association of Colleges. This involved regular trips to London to engage in workshops and culminated in us running focus groups with project teams and interviews with college principals. We produced both an interim report, after Year 1, and a Final Evaluation Report at the end of the two-year project and presented the key findings of both. This was a great opportunity to extend my professional network, to deepen my understanding of current issues in vocational education and training, and to apply research skills developed in Oxford. Although this does not relate directly to my research, it sits within an area in which I retain a strong interest and I found this involvement to be very rewarding.
What further opportunities have you gained so far through your degree?
There is so much on offer at Oxford and the sheer breadth of high quality activities and events on offer is incredible. I enjoy daily running and cycling around Oxford and try to attend a range of events. There is a full seminar programme within the Department but also more widely across University, which attracts some very high profile speakers, and I enjoy dipping into both. More widely, the debates and speakers at the Oxford Union, concerts and plays in the Sheldonian Theatre and colleges, along with many other activities, provide for a packaged agenda.
Did you receive any financial help through the University and if so what was it?
I was very fortunate to be awarded a SKOPE Studentship, which paid my University fees for three years of study. In addition, SKOPE has also paid my College fees in return for additional work on other research projects.
Which College are you based at and how has it contributed to your student experience at Oxford?
Green Templeton College is a great staff-student community and the college site is incredibly attractive. I feel that I undoubtedly found the best college for me but I am sure that many others would say the same of their own colleges.