Doing a PhD while working in education

19 October 2017 – Lisa Lyon


After completing post-graduate studies, many practitioners may consider studying for a PhD. Today Lisa Lyon, an experienced nurture practitioner, shares with you her advice and experience about working full time while completing a Doctorate in Education. 

You have been doing a PhD on nurture part-time since 2016. For what reasons did you decide to start your PhD?

I finished my MEd in 2015 and at the time decided that I didn’t have the time to continue with my studies any further. However, after a year I really missed studying and improving my practice in a different way, through research rather than just rhetoric. I thoroughly enjoyed my MEd and benefitted on both a personal and professional level. I was able to share some of the things I learnt with colleagues and change things in my school as a result of what I had learnt.

You used to be a head teacher in a special school, how has your PhD impacted your practice?

All of my studies have impacted my practice, I not only learn from studying but also from colleagues with whom I am undertaking my studies. We are a small group of education professionals working in a range of settings and it is always helpful to learn from each other. I have read widely about the issues affecting pupils in my school and been able to apply what I have learnt on a practical level to make improvements in my own school, my practice and that of my colleagues. I am a firm believer that we all have more to learn. Because you are able to choose the focus of your study it is always going to be relevant to the role that you are doing in school.

What benefits have you seen from doing a PhD so far?

I have learnt a huge amount, I have broadened my horizons and deepened my understanding of a range of areas. As I am doing a taught course there are elements that I would not personally have chosen to undertake; this is beneficial as it has taken me out of my comfort zone and developed my understanding of wider educational issues and approaches to research. I have been able to extend my knowledge and used a range of methods to research specific issues. I have also developed my ability to be more critical rather than accepting research at face value.

Would you recommend nurture practitioners to do a PhD and why?

Absolutely, I feel that examining our own practice through a different lens can be very revealing. Often we are so involved in what we are doing that we do not see some obvious areas that can be improved or see it from the view of others. Becoming more objective can only be beneficial. I also think that it adds credence to the work that practitioners are doing and can provide evidence and leverage in discussions with SLT/LAs regarding funding etc.

What challenges have you encountered so far and what has motivated you to keep going?

The biggest challenge is time. Managing a family, study and full time work is always going to be challenging. I have to be realistic and sometimes it has to be just good enough. I have also had to be exceptionally organised and stick to plans. Sometimes though other things have to take precedence and we have to be realistic. Equally there have been times when I have felt that I just haven’t understood concepts or new learning, it is important to develop a good support base; others on the same course, friends doing similar study, family who can just make you a cup of tea and above all don’t be afraid to ask your tutor – that is what they are there for.

You are currently studying part time at the University of Birmingham. What universities you would recommend for doing a PhD on nurture?

I am studying at Birmingham as I did both my undergraduate and Masters degrees there. I know the School of Education well and it is local to me. It is also a highly respected university. I am aware that there are many other universities offering PhD courses, it is important to choose one who has someone who is able to supervise your work effectively and knowledgeably and whose pattern of study works for you. I go for a Friday afternoon/Saturday every couple of months but I know other people’s universities who require them to attend weekly in the evening for example – choose what works for you!

Finally, what advice would you give to a practitioner who is considering starting a PhD? 

Make sure that you are realistic about how much time it will take, don’t have unrealistic expectations of yourself. Find an area of study that is of interest to you and relevant to what you are doing at work.


Many thanks to Lisa for sharing her experience! 

Lisa published her research in the 3rd Volume of the International Journal of Nurture in Education. Have a look at her paper by clicking here
If you want to get in touch with Lisa, please send an email at