Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Education

Chris Otter

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) | 2012 - 2019

Photo of Chris Otter

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background (including previous study)

I left full time education at the age of 18, having completed A-levels in chemistry, biology and psychology and started work as an industrial chemist in the North East of England.  I studies for a part time HNC and then degree in chemistry at Teesside University whilst working.

With two small children I moved into teaching chemistry, completing my PGCE at the University of Durham in 1999.   My teaching career spanned 13 years and included two 11-16 schools where I taught science and a 6th form college teaching chemistry. During this time I studied part time at the University of Durham for an MA(Ed) in Leadership and Management in Education. 

In 2002 I moved to the University of York as Director of Salters’ Advanced Chemistry and became involved in the development resources for A-level chemistry, with a particular emphasis on resources that encouraged interactive teaching and learning.   In 2005 I also took on the role of coordinator of the PGCE science courses.

What motivated you to undertake your PhD study and why did you choose the University of Leeds?

Teaching often raises questions in my mind regarding the effectiveness of classroom practice, particularly pertinent to both of my roles described above.  I had written a series of resources relating to the use of drama in the science classroom at KS3 and KS4. During a subsequent discussion with colleagues I was challenged to defend the use of drama in the science classroom and realised that I was working on ‘gut feeling’ and my own classroom experiences.  This led me to question whether drama was an effective tool to promote in teaching and learning in the science lab.  The logical answer was to undertake a systematic research project, so I enrolled for my PhD. The Centre for Studies in Science and Mathematics Education (CSSME) has an excellent reputation in the world of science education so it made sense to enrol at Leeds.

What is it that makes you passionate about this area of study?

I have a great love for the subject I trained to teach and believe that students will do well if they are taught in ways that promote their understanding of a topic.  Chemistry is traditionally viewed as a difficult subject, so I am interested to see whether the use of drama in the context of A-level chemistry is an effective tool to assist in teaching and learning. I want to help teachers make rational informed choices about the pedagogical choices they make in their classrooms.

Please tell us about your research topic…

I am interested in the effectiveness of the use of drama in teaching A-level chemistry organic reaction mechanisms. By working in schools and further education colleges with two parallel A-level chemistry classes I was able to teach the same curriculum content to both groups, one using traditional methods with practice examination questions and the other group the same content using drama.

I was then able to administer A-level questions to both groups in order to statistically analyse for differences in performance.

I was able to then run a series of focus groups to find out more about the student attitudes towards the lessons they had experiences.  I was particularly interested in their perceptions of how the lesson helped them understand and remember the relevant chemistry and whether they enjoyed the lessons or not, and why.

How has your experience been at the University so far?

Positive and supportive.

What would you say about the learning and research facilities in the School and at the University in general?

Everything that is needed is here.

How would you describe the research environment in the School? What would you say about the support you receive?

The support I have received from all staff, both academic and administrative has been second to none.  When I have struggled I have always been offered constructive advice and been directed to someone who can help me.

What do you like to do outside of studying?

Meditation, tribal dancing and yoga.

What do you think of Leeds as a city?


What would you say to someone considering a research degree in the School?

Apply, don’t be afraid to pursue your dream.

What are your plans once you have completed your PhD?

To retire from work and travel more.

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