Please tell us a bit about yourself, your background etc?
After graduating from Durham University in 1996 with a degree in English Language and Linguistics, I became an English teacher and taught in secondary schools for the first 10 years of my career. At that time I lived and worked in Cambridge. I then moved into management and took a leadership role in a sixth form college in Greater Manchester, where I worked for the following 10 years. I still work in the FE sector in a leadership role, but obviously I also study part-time here at the University of Leeds. All of this makes me pretty busy! I live at home in Manchester with my partner and my cat.
What made you want to apply to your course and to Leeds?
Around 2011 I got a bit bored with working all the time, so I became interested in further study. Consequently, I applied to the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds to do a MA by research on a part-time basis, so that I could continue to work full-time and pay the bills! I started my MA in 2012 and completed it in 2014. I thoroughly enjoyed the MA and the demands of independent research, so after a year out I decided to further my studies and embarked on the PhD at Leeds at the start of 2016.
What is it that makes you passionate about your area of study?
Despite being an English graduate (and teacher!) I’ve always loved politics. I am sure this interest in politics started because I grew up in a politically active household. My dad stood for parliament when I was young, so there were always political anoraks hanging around our house. I think I must have caught the bug for all things political from them. My main area of interest in politics is election-winning strategies. In that respect, my MA explored the electoral strategy adopted by New Labour under Tony Blair in the mid-1990s and demonstrated how this was emulated by the Conservatives under David Cameron a decade later. I’m now developing that theme further in my PhD by looking at other election-winning strategies from other eras. In doing so, I’m trying to sculpt a theory known as “opposition-craft”. I don’t really see the point in politics unless you are out to win elections and form governments, so my passion for my subject stems from my core belief that political parties only help those they seek to represent by being in power.
What do you think of your course so far – what aspects of the course have you enjoyed the most or are looking forward to the most?
I’ve only just started working towards my PhD, so it is early days at the moment, but I’ve enjoyed formulating my title and proposal. I’ve also found scoping out potential areas of research to be stimulating. I enjoy writing (maybe that’s the English teacher in me), so I’m looking forward to actually putting pen to paper and getting my points across. My MA took me in directions that I never anticipated at the start of the course; that in itself was interesting, so I’m also looking forward to my PhD research also leading me towards new areas of study.
What would you say about the learning facilities in the School and at the University in general?
Effectively I’m a distance learner because I live and work in Manchester while studying at Leeds. In that respect, I only occasionally come over to the university for my tutorials. With that in mind, I use a lot of the online facilities to manage my studies. The online library has been great and enabled me to combine study with full-time work, as I can get on with my research at any time of the day. When I do come to Leeds, the facilities are fantastic – I’ve been really impressed with the newly refurbished Social Sciences building.
What would you say about Leeds as a city?
Leeds is a great city. I only wish that I could devote more time to being here. I think the University of Leeds campus is great, and pretty special in that it is largely centred on one site.
What do you like to do outside of studying?
Well, for me this is largely about working full-time. I hold a senior role in a very large FE college, which leads me to travel a great deal around the country and work pretty long hours. That takes up most of my time. Aside from work, I am a keen runner and I enjoy spending time with friends and family. I’m also fairly addicted to the endless political comment on Twitter.
What would you say to anyone thinking of applying to your course?
Do it! Obviously I write that as a mature student, but studying at Leeds has revitalised me after 20 years of work. The course has been stimulating and always enjoyable. Staff in the department have been so helpful and friendly. The academic staff are obviously incredibly knowledgeable about their area, but they have never been intimidating in their approach to teaching. In that respect, they have always been approachable and helpful in guiding me along the way. The administrative support has been superb as well. There is a lot to navigate your way through, so the help I have received from the staff working in the office has been brilliant.
What do you plan to do once you’ve finished your course?
I really hope that one day my studies might lead to a change of career. I would love to take my studies beyond the PhD and into professional research. Given that I am a teacher by trade, I would quite like to teach at university level as well.