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From Access to PHD at Ulster University

02 September 2022
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Kevin Atcheson’s brother persuaded him to study the Access in Combined Studies saying - you won’t regret it. He didn’t. Kevin’s now completed an Honours degree in Environmental Science and International Development and currently working on his PHD.


Name: Kevin Atcheson

Age: 37

Where do you live?

I am from Muff, on the Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal. Born and raised.

Where did you previously study?

I attended Scoil Naomh Brid in Muff (primary education) followed by three years in Scoil Mhurie, Buncrana and two years at Carndonagh Community School (CCS).

How did you find school?

Honestly, I struggled with the change from primary to secondary education. I found it really tough making such a massive change: more people, bigger school etc. I did almost anything to get out of going. I completed my secondary schooling in CCS which I enjoyed thoroughly. However, I only left with a mediocre Leaving Cert.

What did you do after school?

I did all sorts! Throughout school I had worked in a local shop and remained there for a period afterwards. I served my time as an apprentice painter, worked for a groundworks contractor and did shifts behind the bar in my local pub. I became interested in hospitality, so I applied to Tourism College, Killybegs, and was accepted onto a bar skills course. Part of this course was spending a period in industrial placement. I ended up in Galway where I stayed for nearly six years working in varying aspects of hospitality.

Where did you hear about the Access Course, what drew you to it?

On a trip home, my brother Mark urged me to return to education-he told me about the Access Course at NWRC. He had recently completed it and had progressed onto university. I can remember the words he said “You won’t regret it”…. And I haven’t.

What Access course was it?

It was the Access course in Combined Studies. The course covered a little bit of everything.

How did you find your time at NWRC?

I absolutely loved every second of it. First, I formed some friendships that are steadfast to this day (Joe and McBay). Secondly, it was far removed from secondary education where the onus was upon the individual to complete course work and achieve deadlines-treated like an adult per se. This really inspired me. Also, there was a variety of subjects to study- I particularly enjoyed English literature and psychology. I found out at NWRC that you get out what you put in.

Would you recommend NWRC?

Without a shadow of a doubt. It’s a fabulous institution that really does hold the best interests of the students at heart, young and old alike.

What did you do after the Access?

I applied for and got accepted to an Honours degree in environmental science and international development at Ulster University, Coleraine. It was a four-year degree programme that included a one-year placement in industry. It was the skills and knowledge that were developed over this time that provided the foundations that I now use in my PhD. I am specializing in catchment science examining the relationships between the physical landscape, ecosystems, and human activities within a water catchment.

Did you ever think when you completed the Access that you would go on to complete a Doctorate?

I did not really know what a PhD was until I entered university. To be honest, it never crossed my mind but the further I got into my studies, the more I enjoyed. I realised that post-graduate study could be a natural progression for me.

What would say to anyone who is considering returning to education, but isn’t quite sure?

I would implore anyone who feels that they may want to return to education to do so. There are so many avenues and support structures in place now (like NWRC) that may have not been previously available for some. For me personally, I was a mature student on my return to education. I had become used to earning an income and enjoying a lifestyle without too much financial concern. Going into education full time meant that I was not earning a wage and having to work weekends. It was a tough grind sometimes. Sacrifices have to be made- it’s really if you want to make them or not.

What’s the plans now?

At present, I am assimilating data for three remaining experimental chapter my doctoral thesis. I hopefully will complete it by December 2022 so all energies are being invested in this at present. I could potentially remain in academia if a suitable position became available. But then again, If a suitable job came up I would jump on the chance.

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