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Celebrating our new PhDs at graduation


Last week, we celebrated the achievements of 92 research students as they graduated from our university. We met up with three of our graduating PhD students to find out more about their journeys from student to Doctor.

John Allan at graduation

Dr Helen Heaviside

Helen Heaviside used her PhD to delve into the psychological impact of media expectations on athletes. In a first-of-its-kind study, Helen unravelled both the positive and negative consequences for athletes and their families.

Helen said: “One of the highlights for me has been working with my supervisory team. When I chose Leeds Beckett for my masters and PhD, I was inspired by the type and amount of world-leading research that was being conducted by staff here; and Dr Andrew Manley has inspired and challenged me throughout the whole PhD process.

“I cannot believe I am graduating today and becoming a Doctor. What is really great about attending my graduation is that I am celebrating this achievement with the people who have supported me throughout this journey – my friends, family and colleagues.”


Helen has secured a lecturing position at the University College of Football Business at Etihad Stadium, where she is teaching research methods and sport psychology.

She said: “During my PhD I was given opportunities to teach students and this experience has been vital for me achieving this position. I am also going to be publishing my PhD research and continuing to research.”

Helen Heaviside at graduation

Dr John Allan

John Allan, a Course Leader here at our university on the BA (Hons) Physical Education and Outdoor Education course, spent five years capturing and analysing the impact of Outdoor Adventure (OA) residential programmes on the psychological resilience of 2,500 new students at Leeds Beckett.

John said: “More students than ever are entering university suffering from stress and potential mental health problems, which can lead to drop-out. Resilience equips us with a ‘can do’ bounce-back philosophy in testing circumstances. My research shows that residential OA programmes offer a powerful positive mechanism for generating a range of immediate and lasting adaptive capabilities which can be transferred into students’ academic lives and enable them to achieve higher grades.”


For John, the highlight of his time studying has been working with his supervisor and Director of Studies, Professor Jim McKenna.

He said: “Jim is the most inspiring and supportive individual I have ever met.  He is firm and fair with hard work, effort, precision and excellence his expectations. These are my values now.”

John has published book chapters and journal articles from his research in national and international publications and is continuing to use his findings to benefit our new students.

John Allan at graduation

Dr Tilly Rathmell

Tilly Rathmell works for an organisation supporting families where there has been parental substance abuse.

She explained: “I began working for a new, innovative service and it became clear that the difficulties that parents lived through, their coping strategies and support networks shaped the outcomes for their children and other family members. The families suffered from many inter-related problems, which needed intense, multi-faceted support.

“This was the motivation for my research, which examined the experiences and views of the organisation’s service users, family members and staff.”


Tilly’s stand-out memory from her studies was tackling her viva voce. This is the oral exam that all PhD students take to defend their thesis and demonstrate the high standard of their work to a panel of academics.

She said: “I really enjoyed my viva. Although very nerve-wracking, it was great to be able to discuss my work at length with experts in the field.  And it felt great at the end - so satisfying and such a massive relief - just brilliant!”

Tilly now plans to continue her research and begin lecturing alongside her work with families. She added: “I feel amazing to be graduating and getting my PhD. It’s been a fantastic day – I still can’t quite believe it’s happened!”

Tilly Rathmell at graduation
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