Dr Simon Walker is a father of two, a self-confessed nerd, and has an infectious passion for history.
If you have been inspired by Simon’s story, you can start your social science career here too.
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He started his career here studying HNC Social Science and now he is a teacher, a university researcher, a published author, and a YouTube vlogger. Read on, to follow his amazing journey as a mature student, and the moment he realised that he ‘wasn’t as stupid as he had thought’, and was going to University!
Why did you choose to do a course in social science?
I wanted to be a high school teacher. I also love history so I chose to do social sciences, but also got really interested in sociology and politics, psychology and research methods. The course was good and the lecturers were fantastic.
What was your highlight of your time at college?
Honestly, I think my highlight was the time they told me I was going to University. I remember it really clearly, we were in the corridor and my tutors decided to play a little prank on me and told me I had failed! I just crumbled and leaned back against the wall because I was so upset and angry at myself. All this was a massive sacrifice; I quit a career in recruitment to go to college so I could become a teacher. When I looked up again they were all laughing and smiling and said ‘Si, you got 96% on your final exam, you are definitely going to university’. It was that moment that is more vivid in my mind than getting my degree, my masters, and even been given a doctorate – none of them compare to the moment I realised that I wasn’t as stupid as I had thought, and I was going to University.
What did you do before you came to college and why did you choose to come to college?
Before I came to college I was a recruitment consultant for five years, and before that I had been a holiday rep, which was a very ‘tame’ job. It was also a very hard job, sometimes working 80 hours a week, and I just didn’t like the person I was at the time.
I wanted to do something else and that was teaching, but when I was at school people were telling me I was dumb, and I left school with basically nothing! Then I went to college and discovered that there was much more interesting things to do in life!
What skills did you gain and how did you develop as a person coming to College?
I mean it sounds really cheesy to say that College changed my life but it did. I was a different person at the end of the year at college. I turned up on the first day wearing a suit and everyone else was 8 years my junior wearing t-shirts, and I suddenly realised that I had to change and be different (in a good way).
I started a new social circle which was nice and also gave me self-belief! I got a good mark for my first essay and I thought to myself, actually maybe I can do this.
I developed presentation skills and team working skills, but really it was about confidence. When I left to go to university I was absolutely terrified, but I felt ready and I think that’s one of the best things about the HNC course, they prepared me for my next step.
How did you feel as a mature student walking into the class that day?
I was the immature student! No, I was quite apprehensive as there was a lot of young faces, I don’t do nerves, but that day I did feel a bit nervous. I took a deep breath before walking into the classroom, but as soon as I walked in and said ‘hello,’ that just carried on through. Luckily I had met Una (lecturer) at my interview, and I think just seeing she was there on my first day helped me.
What did you do when you left college?
I left college and went to Strathclyde University and studied History, Spanish and Sociology. I covered everything – French history, military history, early modern history, and then went on to things like ‘Life under the Nazis’.
When I was in my first year I met a lecturer who told me, “you are actually quite good at this and quite smart – you have been getting first class all the way through – you could do a PhD”! I was in first year at university and someone told me I could do a PhD and I just laughed it off!
I am not naturally smart but I am a grafter, so I read every book, I would read a book a day to try to keep up. At the end of my fourth year I wrote a dissertation that, combined with my other marks, gave me the highest mark in the year, so I got a first class honours degree in history.
I then took an internship at the National Library of Scotland as a researcher, and then I found out I had won funding from the Welcome Trust to do a Masters in Health and Healthcare History. I applied for funding again from the ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) and they commissioned me to undertake my PhD in Military Medical History.
So for the next three years of my life, I read a lot, I wrote a lot, and, obviously I cried a lot as I studied the lives of Soldiers in the First World War. I have read diaries, testimonies, oral histories to experience so many different perspectives from the First World War.
Then I started teaching, a little bit in schools as part of an outreach project, but also became a tutor in university and did some lectures.
I undertook an internship with the Scottish Government to organise the Scottish Festival of Politics 2017, and I spoke at conferences in Lisbon, France, Italy and England.
I started a YouTube series called ‘Feeding Under Fire’, which is where I cook First World War food and show you how to cook it.
I am publishing a book which is based on my thesis called War Bodies. It will be released with Bloomsberry later in the year.
Over the last year, I started working for an organisation called FOCUS West, where I work with pupils from SIMD 20 areas in the West of Scotland. I help them apply to university and college.
Now, I am in the early stages of working with Stirling University to research military suicide from 1850 to modern day. I’m researching stories of those who have died, and building a toolkit to work with the M.O.D with the aim of saving lives in the future.
So you could say that you started at College and you have literally gone everywhere?
The simple truth is, I wouldn’t have gone any of these places without Ayrshire College. I would have stayed in recruitment and I wouldn’t have had these amazing opportunities.
What are your plans for the future?
I am in the process of looking at research bids to work on the suicide project with Stirling University. I will be joining some fantastic researchers in sociology, education and science, and I would be the only historian, and one of the few suicologists in Scotland.
That’s my plan and the idea is to spend 3 years researching this, then write another book.
What’s the bit that you love about your social science education and career?
Is it really vain if I say I love being called Doctor?
I am a lifelong Doctor Who fan and my title massively befits my bow tie collection and pocket watch. The only people that call me doctor are the bank and they tend to want money!
In all honesty the best thing about my education is that I now get to teach. The best thing about it is, I get to do what I do, and thank you!A