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Mature Student Reveals Journey from CERN to Hope

A mature student at Liverpool Hope University has revealed his journey from developing tech for the famous Large Hadron Collider, to retraining to be a teacher. 

An accomplished scientist, Chris Huffee spent years working in industry and was even part of the team that developed software for Switzerland’s CERN nuclear physics facility. 

But Chris, 44, says he now wants to share his extensive knowledge with others. 

And he’s embarked on a Postgraduate Certificate in Education, or PGCE, specialising in Physics so he can help create the next generation of potential nuclear physicists. 

chris huffee portrait

(Image credit: Jane MacNeil)


Chris, originally from Hull but now living in south Liverpool, explains: “As a mature student you might go into university thinking, ‘Can I do this still? It’s been a long time since I was in education’. 

“But that’s why I wanted to share my story. It’s good for people to hear that you can do a PGCE in your 40s and be successful with it. 

“It doesn’t matter what age you are, there’s a real need for people who are passionate about science, and who want to teach people about science. 

“It’s hard work, and you need to go into it with your eyes open, but it’s possible no matter what age you are.”

Chris first came to Liverpool in the mid 90s to study Applied Physics at Liverpool John Moores University, before going on to study towards a PhD. 

And it was at that point Chris began working in collaboration with CERN - aka, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, an organisation that rocked the world in 2012 by proving the existence of the so-called Higgs Boson ‘God Particle’. 

Chris’ role was part of a team developing hardware capable of capturing and filtering the results of testing on subatomic particles. 

And he says: “It was a great place to be and I was surrounded by incredibly intelligent people. My involvement came at the start of the project, and it was 20 years of development from that point to the discovery of the Higgs Boson.”

Chris went on to work in the research laboratories of industry giant Unilever, once again focusing on image analysis, following a brief stint in Namibia, Africa, helping to build schools and working on a cheetah conservation project. 

And, ultimately, Chris began using his expertise to share the joy of science through youth community projects. 

Most recently he’d been working with the Liverpool Library Service delivering tech training for children, and also with Do Epic Stuff (DoES) Liverpool enterprise, a social enterprise and co-working space which provides community access to tools like 3D printers and laser cutters. 

He adds: “I always saw myself as a teacher, but I also personally felt like I had to get real-world, industrial experience before being confident enough to teach.

“Through my work with charities I’m still fundamentally a scientist, and I’ve been using those skills to help teach children how to do things like working with circuit boards or programming computers

“And, really, it’s not actually that much of a leap between doing that and doing a PGCE.”

Also crucial to Chris’ progress was a short Subject Knowledge Enhancement (SKE) course he undertook at Hope prior to starting the PGCE. 

Chris, who also took advantage of a grant which paid for his SKE, reveals: “If you are rejoining academic life after working in industry, I’d recommend the SKE to anyone. 

“It gives you that time to refresh your knowledge and really discover what a school curriculum consists of, because it’s vastly different to what I was taught.

“I was fortunate to take advantage of the grant and, if I’m being honest, the bursary for physics is also generous - it’s not a bad income at all. 

“I’m going to be earning more this year than I will during my first year as a teacher. It all feels too good to be true!”

And Chris credits another unlikely positive influence on his decision to teach - the global pandemic. 

He adds: “Covid-19 has, in some ways, been the best thing that’s happened to me because it’s forced my hand into doing this. 

“Before the pandemic, I was probably two or three years away from really taking the plunge, but with all of the chaos and restrictions emanating from Covid-19, I thought, ‘Now is the time to get this done’. 

“I was nervous about how young people on the course would react to me but I think they’ve barely even noticed I’m a mature student. We’re all just simply on the same path together, helping each other out.

“There will be people like me sitting at home thinking, ‘Well, I could do that but I’m not what a student looks like’. I’m proof students come in all shapes and sizes these days.”

** To learn more about a Secondary PGCE programme at Liverpool Hope University, head here.

Published on 01/12/2020