Father-of-five returns to study to improve the connection between students and universities

A psychology graduate has become one of the first PhD students at UCLan Burnley and wants to improve the experience for students studying at satellite campuses by researching the different connection they feel to their university compared to those based on the main campus.

David Lightfoot, 44, from Accrington, has begun a Postgraduate Research Degree in Psychology, becoming one of the first students to begin a PhD at the Burnley Campus.

David started working in the building trade after leaving school by joining his father’s business but quickly realised it wasn’t for him. He tells us, “I went into retail because I just thought I needed a job that was going to pay me regularly. I ended up working for Kwik Save and then Morrisons as a grocery manager. However, it wasn’t fulfilling enough for me, and I wasn’t happy.”

“So, I quit my job one New Years’ Eve. I went home and told my wife, and she was supportive…but followed that up by telling me she was pregnant with our fourth child!”

Looking for a new career path, father-of-five, David attended a Burnley College open event. He reflects, “I wasn’t sure what I was going to do but thought I’d come and see what options were available to me. I was interested in physics or astrophysics but there weren’t available at Burnley, so I was a bit disappointed. Then I spoke to someone about Psychology, and she sparked something in my which made me realise this is what I wanted to do!”

“I started the Level 3 Foundation Entry course which was what I needed to get onto the degree. This taught me some of the skills needed to study as well as introducing me to courses like Psychology, Law, Sociology, History, Maths and Criminology. This confirmed that Psychology was what I wanted to pursue. I then started the Level 6 BSc Hons Psychology and Criminology with Burnley College, which is accredited by UCLan.”

"“I like it in Burnley because there is a good working relationship between tutors and students. In fact, one of my daughters is currently studying Psychology here too.”"

David Lightfoot, PhD Psychology student

David then realised that it would be better for his career aspirations to complete a single honours degree in one subject area. He explains, “I had started thinking about becoming a psychologist, and to do that, I needed a degree in Psychology. So, I transferred to the Preston campus after year 1 and graduated with a degree in Psychology in 2015.”

It was the desire to help people that kept David going on his academic journey. “After my degree I started a counselling course at Rossendale College and achieved a Level 3 in Counselling. Whilst I was on that course, I began to volunteer for the Children’s Society as a mentor in Manchester. I really enjoyed that. That led to a role a volunteer coordinator where I would recruit, train, and manage the volunteers.”

“It was a fantastic experience and I got to work on a project called the Families Greater Together project that supported children and adults that had suffered from domestic violence. We offered therapy, talking therapies and play therapy for the children. It was really rewarding. It also gave me the opportunity to teach, and I realised how much I enjoyed it. Once the project funding came to an end, I decided to start a teaching course – but I needed to get my maths and English first because I’d left school with no qualifications.”

The teaching course opened opportunities for David. “Burnley College offered me a job halfway through my PGCE and I started teaching on the Psychology and Counselling courses and I did that for a few years. I loved it because I love the subject so much. I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to talk about something I enjoy so much!”

David Lightfoot at his undergraduate graduation
David Lightfoot at his undergraduate graduation

However, David had already set his sights on the next step in academia. “I wanted to do my masters. I had a chat with Dr Kat Cartmell and she suggested I skip the masters and go directly onto the PhD (via MPhil). It was exciting but a bit scary at the same time. I hadn’t done education in the normal order, but this felt like a big step up. I handed in my notice at the college so I could focus on it fully. However, I’ve been offered an Associate Lecturer position at another university so will be working toward my PhD part-time over the next six years.”

Talking about the focus of the PhD, David explains, “I’m focussing on connections, which is a fairly new topic within psychology. I'm looking at what factors make up the students’ perception of connectedness and is that any different to students that study at satellite campuses like UCLan Burnley because it's a satellite campus, that is largely run by the main campus. I want to see what impact that has on student studying away from the main campus.”

The research could have a positive impact on the future of the Burnley Campus, “If I can demonstrate there is a difference, which I believe there is, then I want to look at ways to improve that connection between the university and the students away from the main campus; that should improve progression, grades and student satisfaction.”

Talking about the future, David mentions his desire to teach future students, “I really want to be a lecturer at UCLan. Once I’ve earned my PhD that will be what I’m aiming for. I like it in Burnley because there is a good working relationship between tutors and students. In fact, one of my daughters is currently studying Psychology at the Burnley campus.”

For anyone thinking of returning to study, David offered the following advice, “Go for it! I left school with no GCSEs and went straight to work. There are new opportunities out there and it’s not too late. The tutors are supportive and taking the first step is probably the hardest part.”

Discover more

  • Postgraduate Research Degrees in Psychology, MPhil / PhD / MSc (Res)

    Our postgraduate research degrees in Psychology will enable you to enhance your skills as a researcher and contribute to the advancement of knowledge in this field.

  • Psychology

    Our psychology courses provide a blend of theory and practice to prepare you for the real world.

  • Psychology, BSc (Hons)

    If you’re fascinated by the way people act, react and interact, Psychology sheds light on it all – giving you the chance to explore the mechanics of the human condition.