If I’m looking a bit bemused in this photo it’s because, to my right, sits the Deputy Minister of Education for the Republic of Slovakia – and he’s just asked me to advise him on government policy. Me! Quite a turn up for the books and one of the many outturns of completing my EdD at NTU, just over four years ago.
Everyone has their own journey to postgraduate study and, when it comes to PhD and Professional Doctorate, so often people fall at the first hurdle: There will be just so much to do, it will be impossible. Good news – you don’t have to do everything. The second bit of good news is that, in becoming a doctoral level candidate, you will begin to think and write forensically, in a way which will help you not only in completing your thesis and defending your viva, but in so many walks of life – including advising Slovak Ministers of Education!
When I began my EdD back in 2002, I was already a Headteacher of a secondary school (and still am), as well as a dad with three children. It had been my ambition for many years to complete a doctorate in this decade of my life and I found in my supervisor a fellow traveller, someone interested, as I am, in the philosophy of Martin Heidegger, which I then applied to my study. Essentially, I researched, philosophically, the extent to which the traditional school, with its mechanistic, grinding out of results, can dehumanise and devalue the very people who experience it – children and young people.
For me it was so important to fall in love with my topic before I began writing and see in it a source of real moral value. It had to matter to me, it had to have legs for the long haul. In choosing a D-level topic, think love, not mere infatuation. This meant whenever I began work – typically in the evenings, over weekends and in school holidays – I had no resentment, no sense that this was being done to me. Together with NTU staff I had owned my topic and, whenever I felt a little frazzled – and of course that happens – I knew I was adding to knowledge in the way that doctoral study allows- and demands. I never stopped being inspired by this exciting feature of D-level work.
Throughout my studies I had networked extensively and, as I came to the end, it was extraordinary how things opened out for me. First, a role at the University of Notre Dame (USA) in their London base, designing and leading a 3-credit course in my particular area (each of my three visits to campus at South Bend, Indiana, has been fantastic).
Secondly, three fascinating visiting lectureships including Chicago, Krakow and UCL in London – all from word of mouth and friends I have built up over the years. And all directly facilitated by achieving the EdD.
Thirdly, together with a Slovak Headteacher friend of mine, we founded a conference for school and college leaders in a country where there was a real desire to inject some energy into pedagogy. That there is now an annual event is something that I’m really proud of – directly linked to the moral purpose of my professional doctorate and also to my professional contacts as a school leader and practitioner-researcher.
Finally, four years ago due to continued work I was honoured to be invited by Saint Mary’s University, Twickenham to be Visiting Professor in Catholic education at their Institute of Education. A research post with full professorial title, I have written on school-to-school collaboration, co-produced multiple Lockdown Symposia, as well profiling the impact of social media on young people, from my position of Headteacher and academic researcher. Equally satisfying has been supervising Doctoral students and, I hope, helping them to fall in love with their subjects and see where the journey takes them.
So, I hope you are enjoying your journey, too!
Professor Simon Uttley (graduated NTU EdD, 2016)