Tom Prosser is a Ph.D. candidate in Health Psychology. He received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Canterbury Christ Church University. He is now going into his fifth year of a part-time Ph.D. and is a University Instructor within the psychology department. His research focuses on university student drinking and how E-intervention (electronic based interventions – Apps and Websites) can help students moderate their drinking behaviour.

Hey Tom, would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself?

I grew up in Reigate, Surrey, but I now live in Chartham, a small village just outside of Canterbury. I moved to Canterbury in 2012 to start my undergraduate degree at Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU) and I’ve been here ever since. Canterbury is a lovely place to live and since moving here I’ve bought my first home and got married this year, so the area really feels like home now.

Well congratulations! You’ve been here a while now, what attracted you to the part-time PhD/ Part-time instructor role? 

It has always been a dream of mine to work towards achieving a doctorate. I was never very academic at school, often underachieving in exams due to my dyslexia. However, I had some very supportive teachers and lecturers pushed me on to achieve a 2:1 in my undergraduate degree. I was due to start a master’s by research at CCCU, when my supervisor told be about a job advert for a part-time PhD/part-time university instructor post. The benefit was that compared to other PhD students, who often either are scholarship students or self-fund, this would be fully funded, and because I would be teaching, I get paid a salary as well. While I was told not to get my hopes up as it isn’t common to jump straight from undergraduate to PhD candidate, I applied and was surprised to be offered. My advice to any students wondering what to do after their degree, is that even if you think that you’ll never get a job, it is always worth applying, as you might be surprised by the result.

That’s great advice, so what are your research interests?

I’m fascinated by the idea of utilising technology to help treat risky health behaviours. I started my PhD with the idea of looking at how interventions might help common student mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and stress. However, I after doing some primarily research, I discovered that it was already being quite heavily researched. So I changed my focus over to student drinking, as it is quite challenging to ask students to change a behaviour that is still strongly ingrained in the university experience. I hope that with new generations of students, who are knowledgeable and more reliant on technology, coming into universities that Apps and Websites will be increasingly useful to helping change risky drinking behaviour.

Are there any exciting projects are you working on? 

I started off my PhD by carrying out a meta-analysis into how effective E-interventions were at reducing student drinking, and I was very pleased with it being published in the Journal of American college health (here). I was also able to take the results of the meta-analysis to a conference in 2018 (ESRII 2018 Dublin). The results showed that E-interventions were effective at helping university students reduce their drinking. However, the effectiveness of the intervention was quite small, often disappearing after six months. Furthermore, often only a small number of students used the intervention. This raises the question on how to increase the effectiveness and the uptake of these alcohol interventions? The next studies in my thesis focus around understanding students views of alcohol interventions, and ways that we can increase student’s uptake of alcohol interventions. I have also worked alongside the student union as a advisory researcher as they have worked towards achieving a Alcohol Impact award. 

What has been your best experience at Canterbury Christ Church University?

It’s difficult to pick just one, as an instructor I particularly enjoy working with the final year project students, helping them develop their reports. It’s always refreshing to see students with a passion for what they’re doing.

As a PhD student, it probably winning the departmental three-minute thesis competition. It’s tricky to reduce everything you do down to three minutes and still include enough detail to get the complexity of your project across.

How would you describe the faculty at Canterbury Christ Church University?

I always say that we are very fortunate to have such friendly and supportive faculty at CCCU. I have enjoyed going from a student to a colleague, although for the first few months I felt like an impostor, pretending to know what I was doing. All of the staff in the department are really supportive of the PhD as well, often asking how it is going, and providing really useful advice from when they were working towards their PhD. I have always enjoyed how this supportive environment isn’t reserved for a handful of lucky students, the lecturers here really want to see all their students succeed and develop. This makes it a really nice environment to develop both as a researcher and as a lecturer.

What do you do in your free time? 

Haha! What free time?! Just kidding! Although in all fairness, when the marking comes in, you’ll see me staring off into the distance with my seventh cup of coffee. During the quieter times I try and keep a good work-life-PhD balance. I try and keep in shape, mainly because a lot of my working week is spent behind a desk for long hours. If the weather is good, you’ll find me out running along the Great Stour way, and if I can get away for longer, you’ll find my half-way up a mountain in the lake district or Snowdon national park. Apart from that my free time is spent the usual way: TV, reading, walking around Canterbury and spending time with my wife.

When are you due to submit and what are your plans afterwards?

I plan to submit my thesis around April 2020, so I am currently in the process of running my last few studies and writing my thesis up. Once I am the other side of the PhD, I would like to stay in academia and become a lecturer. I have loved learning how to deliver seminars and lectures and I find the whole process very rewarding, staying in academia will also allow me to keep developing my research skills and exploring the factors around student drinking. I’m excited to see where life takes me!

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