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You did say Hughes Hall was a ‘mature’ College

David Baker tells us about becoming a full-time student again at 69.

Having retired in his sixties, David gave the next stage of his life considerable thought. A quiet retirement didn’t appeal so he decided, in his 69th year, to take up a place at Hughes Hall and enrol at the Faculty of Education to study for an MPhil in Education Research. He has since enrolled in the Education PhD programme.

“Several ideas, ambitions and life events gradually came together to bring me to a point in my life where these decisions seemed inevitable and right.

“As an architect, I had tutored young architects both in my own practice and in a number of universities. But when architecture ceased to be fun in the late 1990’s and the millennium dawned it felt logical to retrain as a Design & Technology teacher and to enjoy the next 16 years of life teaching schoolchildren how to design and make things. When I hit my 66th year and was feeling just a bit tired, I decided to ‘retire’ (I hate the R word) and treat myself to a couple of gap-years to think about what I wanted to do next. My teachers’ pension, my state pension, my savings, some inherited money and the absence of a mortgage meant that I could think widely.

“Cambridge was an easy decision. It had long been an ambition to study here; and being only an hour or so’s drive from London meant that I could continue looking after my elderly mum in north London. On top of that my daughter, son-in-law and two of my grandchildren live here and I knew that they would appreciate help with childcare.

“I’m the old geezer in the middle.” David Baker with his family.

“Hughes Hall was a more involved decision. I knew I didn’t want to be in a college with youngsters who I’d only recently been teaching so I looked at the six Cambridge colleges that limit their intake to the over-21s. Then it was a matter of location and the level of involvement with the education community – I already knew I’d be studying something to do with education. That narrowed the field to Darwin or Hughes Hall. I visited both at the post-graduate Open Day to get the feel of both places. My wife came with – she’s good at this kind of thing. In the end, and without going into too much detail, Hughes just felt right.

“The MPhil in Education Research was the perfect course for me. I was looking for an opportunity to make some sense of what I’d been doing in the previous few decades and to read things that I should have read a long time ago. Fortunately, at that time (sadly now discontinued) the Faculty was offering a very open-ended course that not only promised guided reading and access to the brilliant library system but a structured course in research methods – I like learning new skills.

“All was going swimmingly until March last year. Hughes was a delight – everyone was so charming. I was even allowed to win the Three Minute Thesis competition. I think I got the sympathy vote. The Faculty of Education staff and facilities were inspiring, and I enjoyed the whole business of academic research, even if for the moment, it had to be ‘desk-research’. And thus, having achieved a sufficiently high mark in my MPhil, I enrolled in the Education PhD programme.

“COVID has limited my college experience, but I have attended a number of online events and a small group of us Hughes 1st Year Education PhDs have Zoomed every couple of weeks to keep up our spirits and swap thoughts. But inevitably, being in the sandwich generation, with children and grandchildren in one direction, elderly parent in the other, my companionship needs are very different to the others in my ‘year’. And my future plans are also very different. They are building careers. I’m not.

“So, my advice for people thinking about returning to education later in life is think carefully. There are a lot of tributaries that have to run together to make it work.”


With thanks to David for telling us about his time so far at Hughes Hall and helping to inspire others to avoid retirement. If you would like to share your story, please email comms@hughes.cam.ac.uk.

April 2021