Student reflects on inspirational journey after being granted a PhD Studentship

Thu, 24 Jun 2021 16:19:00 BST
(Pictured above) MSc Health History student Gavin Brewis
(Pictured above) MSc Health History student Gavin Brewis

A GCU student has taken time to reflect on his inspirational academic journey after being granted a Studentship to pursue PhD study – despite being expelled from two high schools and leaving school with no formal qualifications. 

MSc Health History student Gavin Brewis applied for PhD Research Studentship (a scholarship which will cover his student fees and living expenses over the next three years) and after taking part in an interview, found out he’d been accepted in time to start his PhD in September.

Gavin chatted to us about his extraordinary story:


Firstly, could you give us a brief outline of your academic journey so far?  

 My academic journey was a bit of a long routed one. I'd initially left education at 15 after being expelled from the two schools I'd attended, Bellahouston and Lourdes. My issues weren't so much the class work but just my behaviour in general, from fighting to being cheeky and answering back. I was always outspoken and I don't think that did me any favours. I joined the Army after working in Kwik Save and a potato scone factory for a couple of years. I did 7 years there and while I look back with a bit of anger that I allowed myself to be exploited, it did give me an opportunity to get away from Glasgow where I was always in trouble and would no doubt have ended up in jail or dead. It took leaving the army and doing a bit of travelling though and experiencing other cultures to really find myself and realise who I was as a person and what I wanted. 

I applied for college after speaking to a friend about politics and society in general. He just finished a degree in Social Sciences and he said that I would do well in it given my interests and broad reading on the subjects in such courses. I had no qualifications but when I applied to City of Glasgow College, Jim O'Donovan gave me a chance at the HND - every other college rejected me on the basis of having no qualifications. I'm forever grateful and indebted to Jim for that chance. I joined as a mature student and from there completed college with an AAB that got me into University and was awarded the Principal's Prize for Excellence. 

From there, GCU was the only place I really fancied going to. Strathclyde and Glasgow accepted me for 2nd year entry, but GCU took me straight into 3rd year so given my age this seemed to me the best idea. I also felt I'd be more comfortable in GCU given my background. I finished my degree at GCU with a First Class Honours and won Best History Dissertation. 

I then applied and was accepted for the MSc Health History between GCU and Strathclyde. This was a decision I was glad of. It gave me more time to improve my writing skills, and I've noticed there was no difference in marking or expectations between the two universities either. I've now finished my modules with distinction but need to finish the dissertation before the final grades are decided.  


Why did you decide to apply for the Studentship? 

 I decided to apply for the Studentship because it's what I'd always planned to do from the start - I always wanted to go as far as possible. I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to better my own circumstances but the fact is, through academia people can actually make a difference. It's one thing to do charity work, but working to change things systematically is far more effective. Through such a position, not just the title that comes at the end of a PhD, but the research can actually help others. I'm a firm believer in what John MacLean said - raise with your class and not out of it. This I feel is an opportunity to do that, and the first step to achieving something meaningful.” 


Could you describe what the process was behind applying? 

 I had applied for the Studentship after speaking to my former lecturers and also some of the PhD applications staff. The process for application wasn't so much daunting as it was time consuming given I still had MSc work to do. 

First, I wrote up my research proposal. I had to do a lot of reading for this as it was a topic area I'd never covered in any classes or modules. A lot of people usually do it as an extension of their MSc research because it makes it less workload. That's probably a good idea if you're doing your application during the Masters year. I was lucky that it was something I was so passionate about and personal too, so ultimately it made it easier. 

After being shortlisted I had to do a 5-minute presentation and interview. This was actually a lot more difficult than I assumed, purely because fitting a 3-year research plan into 5 minutes is quite the task. After being successful on the interview I heard back from my supervisors about the news. 


Finally, how do you feel knowing that you have been awarded the Studentship and what are your next steps? 

 I'm still in shock that I got selected and hand on heart, I keep waiting for something bad to happen because although I'd worked so hard since day 1 of college until now, I just feel this is the best thing to ever happen to me in such a difficult year and I'm still in shock. Nothing this good has ever happened to me. Additionally, my wee Gran died in March and the saddest thing about this whole process was not being able to share such amazing news with her as she was my rock and the only one who really believed in me (other than Oonagh, Fiona, Jim and other lecturers who've supported me along the way). 

 My next step is finish the Masters and try complete it with another distinction. I'm already half way there so my full focus is on that. Once that's complete, I'm going to take a couple weeks break to unwind and relax a little as it feels I haven't had any time off since summer 2019 due to all the additional work I gave myself. A wee holiday will be nice - even if it's up the Highlands to do some camping away from the world for a short while. Once that's done though, it's all systems go and get to work on the PhD project and try make a positive difference to people's lives.” 


Find out more about PhD opportunities on the GCU website 


By Rachael McAlonan 
Got a SCEBE or GSBS story? Email me at or connect with me on social media  here