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PhD student: Hannah Wixcey

Hannah is a full-time PhD student examining the relationship between retention and well-being in Further Education. Her supervisor is Professor Brendan Cropley.

My PhD aims to understand why learners withdraw from Further Education and the impact that well-being has on their decision to withdraw from (or complete) their chosen course.  

Particular emphasis is being placed on mental well-being as a potential predictor of retention and attainment. The first empirical study of my thesis, which involved interviewing withdrawn learners, indicated that “personal reasons” had the biggest impact on their engagement, with further investigation revealing that mental well-being has a significant role to play.

By understanding why learners are inclined to withdraw, and the role that mental well-being plays in this process, FE colleges will be better positioned to support students in their pursuit for educational and personal achievement. The potential impact of my research is aimed not just towards the education system but also towards wider systems that consider the mental health of the general population.

Doing a PhD is one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences of my life. It has extreme highs and extreme lows. The highs can be over something as simple as getting good feedback on something you have written or conducting an interview where you have “clicked” with the participant.

One of these “highs” was having the opportunity to present at a national conference for the first time. It was extremely nerve-racking but on reflection I realised that I had achieved something that I never thought I could do.

I am very lucky to enjoy all aspects of my working/research life even though it is a careful balancing act between full-time PhD, being a probationary sport and exercise scientist specialising in sport psychology (which means I get to work with a whole range of amazing athletes) and my role as a behavioural specialist for School of Hard Knocks, a social inclusion charity, where I get to work with children who are at risk of exclusion from school. 

The opportunities that come from completing a PhD at USW are amazing. I am offered a range of CPD courses to facilitate my development, teaching experiences across all year groups, and peer-support from fellow learners and academics. 

Most importantly, I feel like I am part of something: a sense of belonging to an institution, a cohort of other PhD students and to the field of research that I have immersed myself in.