Interview with Joe Matthews

Joe Matthews headshot

Joe is a second year CDT student in the health stream. With a background in academic research, his interests are in digital technology and behavioural change and his PhD looks to develop a digital sleep intervention for smokers.

You can find out more about Joe's work here.

What did you do before you joined the CDT? How do you think that has helped you in the course so far? 

I come from a research background: I’ve worked at a few different Universities in different research positions and a lecturer position. I then moved to the University of Bristol where I was a researcher for 5 years. My background means I have a really good understanding of the research process generally, which translated quite well onto a lot of the modules of the CDT in the first year.

What motivated you to apply for the programme?  

This course came at an important time in my career and really aligned with what I wanted to do next. My core research interest is in behaviour change, so I would never say that my main focus was digital health per se, but this course gave me a mechanism and the skills through which to explore digital health behaviour interventions, which is what I wanted to work on. I had applied to other health programmes but had always got the feedback that my interests would be better suited to a digital course, so this was the perfect fit in combining the two.  

How did you find the application process? 

I found it OK, although it was quite daunting having not gone through something like that before. I remember being really nervous on the day. It’s an interesting format because you are with the other candidates for a lot of the day, which is different from job interviews. But actually you end up spending a lot of time with those candidates and chat about eachothers interests and backgrounds. It gives you a bit of a taster of what the course could potentially be like. I think that’s really important because it’s not just a day to see if you’re a good fit for the PhD programme, it’s also a day to see if the PhD programme is a good fit for you. 

'By far the biggest thing I learned in the taught year was the basics of computer programming: I found it really daunting as someone who has zero experience in computer programming at all, but the course has been really beneficial, and I actually ended up really enjoying it.'

What skills do you think you developed over the course of your taught first year? What skills do you think you are developing now as you move into doctoral study? 

By far the biggest thing I learned in the taught year was the basics of computer programming: I found it really daunting as someone who has zero experience in computer programming at all, but the course has been really beneficial, and I actually ended up really enjoying it. Out of everything on the CDT I’d say that’s been the best learning experience for me. In terms of moving on to my PhD research, I’ve run a lot of research programmes in the past, but now I’m actually having to do the groundwork and thinking about experimental designs. I feel like I’m taking it to that next level where it’s my own project I’m working on now which is quite nice. 

How have you found transitioning out of the first year into being a research student? 

For me, its kind of like doing the job I was doing before, but working on things that really interest me and that I want to explore for myself. The transition’s been really nice, it’s a way that I’m used to working. 

'The CDT taught year sets you up really well for the kind of interdisciplinary work that you do with supervisors from different specialisms. I look back at some of the things we covered in the taught year and I feel a lot more confident incorporating them into the project now than I would have done.'

How did you go about developing your PhD project idea and finding your supervisory team? What support and resources were available to you to do this? 

Having already been at the University I identified people that I had worked with previously and had a really positive working relationship with. I’ve got a great working relationship with my primary supervisor and I got some really good advice from the CDT in terms of finding a secondary supervisor who would be great for the machine learning aspects of the project. The CDT taught year sets you up really well for the kind of interdisciplinary work that you do with supervisors from different specialisms. I look back at some of the things we covered in the taught year and I feel a lot more confident incorporating them into the project now than I would have done. Even things that at the time I thought, I probably won’t use this in my PhD, I’m now finding that I’m using quite a lot of. 

What’s in like living in Bristol (in a non-Covid world)? What do you get up to outside of studying? 

I play a lot of sport: which is great within the University. I play football for the University which is nice because you get to meet loads of people that work at the University which is really beneficial. Bristol and the surrounding areas have got loads to do: you can be out in the countryside in 20 minutes, its got loads of great pubs and loads of really interesting things going on. For me, it’s the sporting opportunities across Bristol and my local area which are just great. 

'Don’t be intimidated by the content, it’s challenging but it’s really beneficial.'

What advice would you give to people considering applying for the course? 

I would say: make sure you back yourself, because, I think particularly in the health stream, there can be modules that seem really daunting and you could be put off thinking that you’ll never be able to do it, but if you work hard you’ll definitely be able to master them. There’s loads of support available and the CDT management team are really helpful in providing that support. Don’t be intimidated by the content, it’s challenging but it’s really beneficial. 

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