Conor Scully

Conor Scully March Graduation Profile 31st March 2023

“I didn't know anything about Assessment before I took on this Phd,” says Conor Scully. Three and a half years later he has a doctorate in the field and has conducted novel research with the potential to improve the training and assessment of student nurses.

Having completed an undergraduate degree at Trinity College, Dublin, and a Master’s in Sociology at the University of Amsterdam, Conor saw an opportunity to pursue a Phd in the Centre for Assessment Research, Policy and Practice in Education (CARPE) at DCU Institute of Education. CARPE is focused on researching methods of assessing students and learners in educational and other settings. 

His Master’s research had concentrated on theories of objectivity and subjectivity, but he was uncertain if he could apply this knowledge to the field of Assessment. Conor credits CARPE’s Dr Michael O’Leary for encouraging him to make the leap into a whole new discipline. “He convinced me that there would be the opportunity to use the skill set that I had developed, and the interests I had in sociology, while also doing a Phd in Assessment research,” he says. “I was able to develop a project that was both of interest to me and using the kind of concepts or ideas that I would have been interested in, while also doing something that was useful for the centre and was useful for our funders.”

In his PhD research, Conor explored the way in which student nurses are assessed for their competence in practical nursing skills. Specifically, he looked at assessments of procedures for blood pressure measurement and gastric tube insertion. Conor says marking students competency in these kinds of skills is challenging. “Basically they're trying to come up with a way of objectifying or structuring judgement, or grading things that are very difficult to structure or objectify.”

The study involved video recordings of DCU Nursing students carrying out the two skill sets. He then showed the videos individually to different assessors and examiners. After getting their feedback on each video, he got them to score how the students had performed the tasks. Conor hopes the research will be useful for the development of assessment in Nursing Education because “there actually has not been a lot of research done about this topic in nursing. So I think it is relatively novel.”

Having stepped outside his comfort zone to complete the PhD, Conor believes it's a pathway that others should consider. “I think if you are motivated and you’re intelligent and have access to the right people and the right resources you can learn about almost any topic. Like, I feel like an expert on this subject now, about which I knew nothing. And now I'm looking back, 3 and a bit years later, with a PhD in Assessment.”

Reflecting on his experience, Conor says that finding a supportive environment is crucial for anyone considering a PhD, “I would think that it's more about finding the right people in terms of supervisors, the right setting, I really liked working at CARPE. And those are the things that will get you through as opposed to really wanting to make sure that the topic is the perfect one for you.” 

In terms of the challenges of PhD life, Conor says it is a big step up from Master's level, and he is full of praise for his supervisors’ guidance to bring him “into the PhD space”. Conor says that pursuing doctoral studies developed his project management skills, but he found that the task requires patience and endurance. He says obstacles get in your way but “you need to just try and make peace with the fact that there's going to be times when you just stall.”

While doing the PhD he also worked part time in the writing centre in DCU, assisting undergraduate students with their written assignments. Having found this a rewarding role, Conor says that it may be one of his career options. “I think I either see myself either trying to stake out a career in academia and maybe to start looking for post doc positions starting in September, or else move towards the student support area. So continuing in a university setting, but not in a strictly academic capacity.”

Conor Scully was awarded a PhD in Philosophy in DCU.