Last Friday, it was my privilege to attend an award ceremony organised by the Association of Open University Graduates (AOUG), to support the presentation of a posthumous award to my former PhD student Jeff Hunt, who died earlier this year (see this post). The Vic Finkelstein Award is given to a postgraduate student in Health and Social Care who has made an exceptional contribution through their research. Vic was a colleague of ours and a pioneer in the field of disability studies, and in research and teaching in health and social care.

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With Lindsay O’Dell, Katie Hunt and Cate Hunt at the AOUG awards ceremony

The award was accepted by Jeff’s widow Cate, who was a huge support to Jeff in his studies, and it was lovely that their daughters Katie and Ness could also be there. My colleague Lindsay O’Dell, as Director of Postgraduate Studies, explained why the decision was made to give the award to Jeff, and I said a few words on behalf of Rose Capdevila and myself, as Jeff’s PhD supervisors:

We came to know Jeff Hunt when he successfully applied to study for a PhD with The Open University in 2010. Jeff had begun his academic trajectory in computing, obtaining an MSc from the OU in 1995, however, having spent a decade in IT and teaching, he discovered an enthusiasm for psychology and counselling, and returned to the OU in 2004 to complete an MSc in Psychology. Jeff then took some time to obtain a postgraduate diploma in Psychodynamic Theory and Counselling from the University of Oxford before developing his own ideas for original research and retuning once again to the Open University in pursuit of a doctorate.

Jeff had a passionate interest in psychoanalytic theory and was keen to apply this to the subject of men’s experiences of fatherhood. Such was Jeff’s enthusiasm for his subject that, as his supervisors, it was all we could do to restrain him from getting started with interviews on day one: when we first met him, he had already carried out a pilot interview with his next door neighbourJeff suffered from a long-term and life-threatening health condition, which meant long periods when he had to suspend his studies. However, he never stopped reading – and thinking. Even in hospital, he tried to interview a patient in the next bed.

Despite the setbacks, Jeff gave a very well-received presentation as part of the Faculty of Health and Social Care’s postgraduate seminar programme, at which he displayed his remarkable fluency in psychodynamic theory. He also managed to pass his probation viva without any corrections or amendments – something very few students ever achieve.

It was a matter of enormous frustration to Jeff that his deteriorating health prevented him from getting beyond the theoretical stage to the empirical research that he longed to do. We talked about the possibility of doing some desk-based research, but Jeff was never really keen.

In the end, his condition caught up with him, and he died in January of this year. It was a pleasure and a privilege – if sometimes a mentally exhausting one! – to supervise Jeff and we miss him immensely. He was certainly one of the most enthusiastic and determined PhD students that either of us have worked with. Given his inquisitive mind and critical scholarly approach we’re sure that, if he had lived to complete his research, it would have been fascinating and ground-breaking. We’re happy to recommend him for this award.

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