Completing a PhD part-time at Cranfield Defence and Security is allowing me to earn an income while studying and means that I’ve not lost sight of the ‘real world’, which has helped to ground my academic thinking. I chose the PhD as it provided an opportunity to direct my studies into a specific area that intrigues me; one where innovation isn’t constrained by convention.

I began my career in the Royal Navy in 1980, first working full-time flying helicopters on and off ships around the world, then as a part-time reservist from 1993.

I was lucky in my flying career inasmuch as I got to visit many places around the globe. I served in the Mediterranean, the north Atlantic and the Pacific, visiting places such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Panama, and working with partners such as the US Pacific Fleet.

My current role involves working as a helicopter simulator instructor at what we like to call, ‘The University of Merlin’.

Royal Navy aircrew join us at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall for 15 months of air warfare training in how to fly and fight the Merlin Mk 2 ‘submarine hunter’ helicopter. They use the simulator to fly sorties and receive training in everything from radar and maritime surface searches up to high intensity anti-submarine warfare.

The balance between simulator training and flying the real helicopter is about 2:1 ‒ this is important to reduce costs and build awareness so the aircrew can relate scenarios in the simulator to reality. The overwhelming majority of teaching, however, takes place in the simulator with the real aircraft used to confirm the student’s learning.

On a NATO exercise last June in Iceland: we’d been doing some analysis work on an anti-submarine warfare exercise and were just about to have a tour of the submarine that everyone had been hunting for the previous two weeks

I worked at Defence Equipment and Support, a trading entity within the UK Ministry of Defence, between 2004 and 2008, where my work involved buying simulators. I became interested in the procurement procedure for such complex and advanced pieces of training equipment.

I started my PhD in June 2014 and if everything stays on track I hope to finish in June 2019. The general topic is crowdsourcing for procurement with serious games – I’m looking at the possibility of using computer-based games that a range of people across the MOD can play to generate feedback and influence procurement design for items such as tactical displays.

The added benefit of the project is that it can all be done within existing web browser technology, at no extra cost to the MOD. It is highly innovative, with nothing similar currently being pursued in the UK, and is being partly sponsored by the Royal Navy.

Using the control console of the Merlin Mk2 helicopter simulator

Before embarking on my PhD, I completed a Defence Simulation and Modelling MSc at Cranfield, also on a part-time basis, which helped refine my ideas for further study.

Cranfield is so well integrated with the MOD at Shrivenham that it was a natural choice. The University’s Centre for Simulation and Analytics has offered support for my studies, and my PhD topic also links to electronic warfare, so the Electronic Warfare Symposium each year has been useful for networking and learning.

I had to commit to self-funding at the start but the value of the PhD to the MOD has been noted and the last year has been funded through an innovation grant.

Studying part-time and at distance has worked perfectly for me. The resources and support available through Barrington Library and its online presence have meant that I can be based in almost the furthest corner of the Cornwall peninsula and still have access to everything that I need to complete my research with.

At home in Cornwall, overlooking St Michael’s Mount

I would definitely recommend the PhD route for free spirits and obsessive thinkers. If you’re restless and dissatisfied with how things are, then you’ve got to go and find a better way ‒ the Cranfield PhD can give you a team to support your research in finding that ‘better way’.

You can be objective when you’re thinking about doing research; making assessments of financial and time costs, and any pay-off for career prospects, but there’s got to be a personal drive to learn. That’s the most important – a ‘need’ to know more.

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