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Adam Tate joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in October 2018. His thesis title is 'Becoming a full-time undergraduate university student: the impact of affective influences on student behaviours in the current Higher Education context'.
I first heard about Oxford Brookes in 2014 after moving to Oxford to study for a Masters. The University kept popping up whilst I was working and studying elsewhere.
I knew that I loved Oxford and wanted to move back. Upon reaching out to the University about my idea for a research project, I had an extremely supportive and positive reception by my then proposed supervisor (this was particularly pleasing having studied the works of the proposed supervisor on an earlier course). With this collaboration, I gained a sense of being cared about and empowered rather than being a mere cog in the workings of a large institution.
I was particularly reassured by having an open and honest conversation during the interview. The interviewer was transparent from all angles and realistic about studying at Oxford Brookes University; this was very refreshing!
Immediately prior to commencing my PhD I was geography teacher in inner-city London, a challenging environment perfect for honing time management. I have also worked in construction for a safeguarding organisation within local government and remain a director of a performing arts organisation and an awarding body.
When I have time, I like to volunteer with the world’s largest youth movement, which has led me to represent their interests in the European Parliament. I have created training modules, led regional growth, and made lots of friends. I have also had the privilege to volunteer in the Cabinet Office via the Queen’s Young Leaders Programme run by the Royal Commonwealth Society and University of Cambridge. This involved finding inspirational volunteers and mentoring people around the world in leadership, non-formal education, and youth empowerment.
As the only new student to be reading for a PhD in Education, it at first seemed a little lonely due to a lack of companionship. Nonetheless, my supervisory team have been fantastic, and while both supervisors have significant roles within the University, they always find time for me. Indeed, the staff and other research students at the University have always been friendly and willing to offer their help, be it administrative or academic.
It has been a nice experience settling into being a research student. I would advise other students to make sure that there are interactions with other research students and to make the effort to find a routine that works.
I am researching the extent to which universities’ interactions with their students reflect or embody the ‘soft power’ of the state as distinct from their own wholly autonomous actions as education providers. To that end, my research explores how student behaviours and practices are influenced by universities.
My PhD explores how the ‘traditional’ three-year full-time undergraduate student (FTUG) experience is influenced and shaped in response to contemporary state restructuring, and the impact upon student behaviours and practices in higher education (HE) in England (Morrissey, 2013; Sanchez et al., 2015). The research will examine how HE, and the role of those working and studying within it, is changing in the light of the reorganisation of funding, fees, and student number allocations in England. It explores how this context creates a fundamental ambivalence whereby students are increasingly positioned as consumers whilst simultaneously being subject to a growing number of influences and ‘nudges’ which aim to shape and ‘script’ student behaviours
My PhD highlights how the context of ambivalence is experienced and understood by FTUG students, with additional insights drawn from other stakeholders in the HE ‘network of power’. Drawing upon qualitative data from empirical research, the project will utilise a Foucauldian post-structuralist biopolitical framework to map ‘where’ and ‘how’ interactions occur within and across the ‘networks of power’ in modern HE (Foucault, 2010). I will offer new empirical knowledge on the reorganisation of HE at a time of state restructuring, and intensified concerns about (in)security and sustainability of the HE sector. It will also develop a theoretical understanding of how, in times of change, individuals understand their ‘role’ in HE at a moment in time; in particular, how one ‘becomes and knows what it is to be a student’.
My PhD is thus a response to calls for better understanding of what it means to ‘become’ and be a FTUG in the contemporary HE sector in England; and how students and staff roles are governed, particularly with the reorganisation of funding and fee structures (Gorman, 2012; Ball, 2013). This will provide greater awareness of the ethical implications of HE biopolitics, and uncover the ‘networks of power’ involved in the relationship between the state, universities, and students. I seek to offer an impactful contribution to the debate about the operation, reorganisation, and governance of HE amid state restructuring driven by austerity measures.
I love the stimulation and debate that can be had when critically engaging with the literature, formulating the project that I truly have ownership of. Speaking with supervisors and being guided rather than directed provides a more horizontal experience within the University, one that is exciting, stimulating, and more enriching. It has been great to meet research students and learn about their projects, and to hear just how passionate they are about it. The research student community is a friendly and welcoming one!
One particular challenge can be the lack of structure to a PhD. As there are no modules or regular lectures attached to it, there is sometimes a risk of losing motivation. To overcome this, I have engaged in a range of sessions to develop my skills, which has provided a loose structure.
Another challenge has been readjusting to student life; the transition from teacher to student has been an interesting thing to do. Giving up a job (even a pressured one) can sometimes make you question the decision, but, for me, these things are all about good planning and staying true to the bigger picture; about the dream and desire to do my own research and contribute to the knowledge economy.
The research training at Oxford Brookes is a good starting point for research students and certainly provides a link between Masters and the MPhil level. There are a raft of options to explore and to introduce you to methods from other disciplines, which provides a useful insight and new avenues to explore. One of the most useful things about this training is to have a space for discussion about the methods with other students.
There is also a good deal of other training to help with career development and personal development. For example, the Associate Teachers course, which helps students prepare for lecturing at the University, was a very positive experience and helped to provide me with another avenue for enrichment both social and academic.
After completion, I would like to put my new skills and knowledge to work in the world of business (in particular, taking up a more active role in the education organisations of which I am a Director). In addition, I would like to further work with the charity supporting people with a rare brain disease while also maintaining a part-time engagement in and with the University contributing to the academic community.