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PhD Student Story

CPRL PhD student Kimberley Ward gives an insight into what it’s like to study at the OU whilst also being a police officer with Dorset Police.  Kimberley is currently studying a PhD into ‘Exploring the role of online dating in sexual offending in the UK’ with the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at The Open University.  Her study is supported by the Centre through our part-time PhD funded studentships, available to officers and staff from our 20 partner forces and agencies.

"Some of the best skills I have gained from my time in the police service, are those of multi-tasking, time management and relentlessness and my goodness am I pleased that I have! Although on the surface it could be argued that there are more impressive and interesting skills to be learnt as a police officer, in my mind there is nothing more important. Frontline police officers are highly skilled at multi-tasking and managing time; our minds are continuously calculating risk and assessing options, we consider multiple outcomes of multiple investigations whilst simultaneously managing back breaking workloads and responding to physically and mentally challenging incidents.  We work all hours of the day and night and we all grow to be relentless; we don’t give up until we get a result.

So, in 2018 when I decided to embark upon a part time PhD through CPRL, I felt reassured when I realised that the skills I most valued in my policing career, were the exact skills I needed for my next challenge. I won’t pretend that managing full time police shifts and a part-time PhD is a walk in the park: it isn’t. But having already developed time management and multi-tasking skills acquired over years of frontline policing, I have found it relatively manageable to prioritise my time. As a part-time student, I work under an assurance to myself that every hour of work dedicated to my PhD studies results in some value. If after a difficult shift, I am not in the right frame of mind and I feel that nothing of value could be produced, I don’t force myself to work. Instead I focus on something else until I feel that my time will produce some value. This way, I don’t trick myself into believing I have hit my quota for time spent on my PhD. I simply measure my workload through the value I have achieved.

Being a full-time police officer whilst also working towards a PhD presents some unique challenges. For one, unpredictability. I am a self-proclaimed control freak, I work from colour coded study timetables and to do lists and my study time is planned months in advance, but in policing, commitments can change in an instant. Covid-19 has presented a huge obstacle in my carefully planned out study timeline. Whilst many people from other professions have been gifted more time at home, in the form of furlough or home working, police officers have continued to show up day in, day out. Study days which I had planned months in advance have been cancelled to combat expected sickness rates on the frontline and rest days at home where I could normally work peacefully are now interrupted by a bored husband who has nowhere else to go. Therefore, I feel extremely fortunate to be studying through the Centre for Policing Research and Learning who already understand the specific challenges facing police officers in post graduate education and are continuously supportive of not only my research, but my welfare and policing career.

My PhD is the second qualification I have studied for with the OU, the first being a Post Graduate Certificate in Evidence Based Practice. Both qualifications have worked well whilst being on a frontline shift pattern and allow me to plan my own timetable. Although embarking on a PhD whilst working full time as a police officer initially seemed daunting, being almost two years in now, I can honestly say it is one of the most rewarding decisions I have made. Every day I am getting closer to answering an enigma which has baffled me since the beginning of my police career and to me, that is what it is all about!"

Kimberley Ward, Dorest Police

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