Matt Colbeck

Mat ColbeckResearch degree

PhD in English Literature

Thesis title or research topic

“Waking is rising and dreaming is sinking”: the struggle for identity in coma literature.

Paragraph or two about the scope of your research

My research looks at the representation of coma and brain injury in literature, drawing on theories of trauma and identity.

I am particularly interested in the lack of first person testimony and the misrepresentation of these conditions, focusing on the impact this has on an audience’s understanding of both coma and brain injury.

As part of my research, I have been running a writing group at the University, the members of which have all been affected by coma, brain injury or both. In this way, we are able to build up banks of first person writing against which the literary and media misrepresentations can be compared.


Dr Brendan Stone
Professor Adam Piette

Start date


Brief personal biography

I am originally from Staffordshire, where for 8 years I taught at a local high school, progressing to the position of Deputy Head of English and Head of Media Studies.

Prior to teaching and after my MA, I was writing stage plays and having these performed at fringe theatres in Sheffield, London and at the Edinburgh Festival.

I also worked as a screenwriter for a short time, working on a screenplay in LA for an independent film company.

Academic background

• BA (Hons) English Literature, University of Sheffield (1998)
• MA Text and Performance Studies, King’s, London and RADA (1999)
• GTP (Qualified Teacher Status) (2003)

Previous employment

• Teacher – Swinfen Hall Young Offender’s Institution, Staffordshire
• Deputy Head of English and Head of Media Studies – Blythe Bridge High School, Staffordshire.

Your research interests

Literary representations of medicine and trauma


• Conference for Speculative Fiction, Liverpool University, June 2011
• Keynote Speaker – The Way Ahead (Headway National Conference), Leicester University, July 2011


Poetry and Drama

Other professional activities

Trustee member of Headway Sheffield.

Matt's personal website / blog

Questions / topics

1. Why did you choose to do your research at Sheffield?

I had always envisioned that my PhD would include some field research, in particular working with those affected by coma and brain injury with a view to running creative writing groups, thus creating banks of first person testimony. Alongside this, I had always wished to return to Sheffield, having a fantastic experience here during my undergraduate degree.

When I was researching which supervisor would be best suited to my area of research, I immediately found Dr Brendan Stone. I was hooked by his Storying Sheffield project and felt that his commitment to public engagement and citywide projects reflected the drive behind my own research.

2. Your experience of being a postgraduate researcher.

My experience has been incredibly enlightening, though obviously also very taxing!

It is a rewarding feeling to know that, over time, you are becoming an expert in your field of research and are able to engage various sectors of society with your work. Because of the nature of my research, I have been working closely with medical professionals, brain injury survivors and charities, and this has also helped to keep me grounded: to be working with people who are working at the rock-face of coma and brain injury research.

It is a great feeling to know that your research ‘speaks out’ to a wide audience and this continually helps to provide the motivation for my continuing research.

3. The doctoral development programme and other development / training opportunities offered.

Once you have found your way around the doctoral development programme site, there are some invaluable modules available, not least those run by the library. Being out of University academia for some time, I found that the training sessions on referencing styles and thesis copyright were particularly useful. There are also some excellent online training materials available via the library web pages.

4. The postgraduate research community at Sheffield.

From the very beginning of starting my PhD, it was clear that there was a very tight-knit postgraduate community here, with all researchers embraced within a supportive network.

This is important as you always have a group of people with whom you can talk about your research, chat through ideas, and just go out with and let off some steam!

There is also the School of English Work In Progress sessions every Monday afternoon, term-time, in which you can listen to other students’ research papers and test out your own, so again this is invaluable in preparation for any conferences you wish to take part in.

5. Advice to those considering doing a PhD.

The first thing I would say is try to be as organised as possible, in particular with time management. Try to set aside particular slots of each day for PhD work – time can soon run away with you and you may be left thinking, what exactly have I done in that time?

Most importantly, you should try to pick a research area that is going to sustain your interest – 3 years researching one area is a long period and at times, you will probably be tearing your hair out, so it is vital that all of the agonising and, ultimately, fulfilment revolves around an area that you will consistently feel passionate about.

A last tip would be to consistently log the texts that you read and reference any quotes that you jot down. You don’t want to find yourself, in a couple of years’ time, finding the perfect quote in your notes but having to hunt down its source.

6. What is your career plan once you have completed your PhD?

I am hoping to continue to further my arts/science research by looking at the continuing representation (and misrepresentation) of cognitive disability in literature and the media.

7. Anything else that you think may be of interest to those considering doing their research at Sheffield

Additional questions / topics for the video:

• Reasons for returning to study after a number of years in employment.

I had always wanted to study for my PhD but various factors stood in the way. As a teacher, and progressing to Deputy Head of English, I felt that I had gone as far as I wanted within that particular area of education. Having no real ties back home in Staffordshire, I finally made the leap to PhD study and haven’t looked back.

I feel that my experience working in the school has helped me immensely, especially as I gear up to teaching on the undergraduate module in the Spring Semester. Working in a high-pressure job has also taught me a huge amount of discipline which I have been able to apply to PhD study.

Whilst working at the school I was always juggling many projects at one go; planning lessons, marking, extra-curricular classes helped to hone my time management skills, and this has been very important when juggling the various elements of research that I have been performing during the first year of my PhD.

• Have you been able to draw on skills or experience that you gained from your previous employment during your PhD?
(Think I’ve answered this above).

More Student and Graduate profiles