Graduation Tales: “It’s never too late to change career and focus on your passion”

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It may have taken more than two decades and a change in career, but University of South Wales (USW) lecturer Matt Hutt has finally achieved his PhD – and says it’s never too late to focus on your passion.

Now a Senior Lecturer in Professional Learning: Education, Leadership and Management, in the School of Education, Early Years and Social Work, Matt previously worked in school leadership and decided to move into academia to concentrate on his research interests.

“I first thought about doing a PhD at the age of 22 after my first MA,” he said.

“I kept it as a vague aspiration in my back pocket until circumstances were right and I finally started it 46. I guess it shows it’s never too late to bring things back off the back burner!

“Writing 100,000 words on a sustained topic was very enjoyable, and I’m glad I made the mental commitment to myself to do it four years ago. Having said this, the thing never felt like a burden, or felt onerous. When the time is right, the time is right!”

Matt will soon receive his PhD, which explores the ways in which perceptions of trust, autonomy and accountability are intertwined in secondary education in South Wales. He uses education practitioners’ narratives of trust, accountability and professional autonomy to study the perceived reality of school improvement.

“The PhD provided an opportunity to extend my thinking on a particular topic of professional and academic interest, and it gave me a fantastic opportunity to think about one particular topic in exhaustive depth and detail,” said Matt.

“We went into lockdown a month after I’d submitted. This meant an online practice viva, which was very useful, and an online real viva, which worked very well.

“I think any online meeting is more tiring perhaps than the real life equivalent, and so an online two-hour viva was probably more intense than a two-hour face-to-face viva. In these terms, I was particularly glad I had done the practice viva (online) a month before. I was able to record that one, watch it back and I made notes on how I’d answered questions, and where I wanted to modify/add to my responses.

“Obviously there weren’t exactly the same questions in the real one, but I think it paid to have the notes with me and to have watched myself back a few times. You don’t quite get the interpersonal cues in an online viva that might help you relax into it, so I think it was important to feel completely prepared before I started. The online practice viva, organised by my supervisors, was key!

“I’m pleased to have completed and I’m happy with the fruits of the research and the way it was written up. It’s satisfying in a sense to have finished, and I’m looking now hopefully to publish some aspects of it. It has given me a solid platform from which I can engage in collaborative research projects.”

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