Alumnus Ray Doran talks us through his experience as a ‘mature’ student at Cranfield, and how his professional life has taken a very new direction after achieving an MSc in Quality Management in Scientific Research and Development in 2013.

As I drove from my home in Abingdon one day in June 2013 I set my Tom Tom so that it would guide me to a little village called Cranfield in Bedfordshire. I had flown over this airfield many times as a fledgling Private Pilot and was now set to become a student there at the age of 57!

I had just joined a Contract Research Organisation (CRO) that provides analytical services to the pharmaceutical industry as a Deputy Quality Manager and within a short time the company offered to fund a postgraduate qualification. I think the CEO was impressed by the fact that I had started on a higher education path many years after leaving school and had acquired qualifications that were tough to come by for a ‘mature’ student such as myself with a young family.

I had, since leaving school, gained an HND in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, a Private Pilot’s Licence (PPL) a BA (Hons) in Business and Management (aged 47) and a NEBOSH Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety. I was a committed lifelong learner and really enjoyed this academic journey now that the children had flown the nest and I now had lots of spare time to fill the void.

At the Cranfield Open Day, the Dean of the faculty Dr Charles Wainwright told us that on its inaugural graduation day the guest speaker was none other than the world’s most famous astronaut Neil Armstrong - I was sold! I had been 13 years old when Neil Armstrong had set foot on the Moon in 1969 and like many others was in awe of the US space programme; I wanted to fly more than anything else in the world and my first major achievement after leaving school was to gain a Private Pilot’s Licence (PPL) from the Oxford Air Training School at Kidlington Airport.

At the start of the MSc it felt like my first day at school! I found the first few modules mentally exhausting and I wondered if I’d taken on too much at my age. My cohort was lucky to have excellent speakers with a vast level of experience and knowledge of this new world of drugs, clinical trials, the FDA and of course examples of major scandals in the industry. All lecturers and guest speakers were sourced from the ranks of The Research Quality Association (RQA) so their pedigree was sound.

Lifelong friends

The most memorable thing throughout my time at Cranfield was the level of support and fun we had as a class. There were other fellow students who were also “mature” and the level of comradery was high but competing against each other was also a fundamental part of the confidence and growth journey from undergraduate degree to a Master’s.

I was lucky to meet other students who remain friends to this day; I even taught a lady from Russia to play squash on those winter nights. In the summer, a lap around the airfield and then a drink or a meal in one of the many restaurants or student bars ended a good night. The week passed very quickly and so did the whole course.

For my thesis, I chose to research the Intellectual Property Protection dilemma that faced global pharmaceutical companies setting up in China. As my company’s long term strategy at the time was to gain a foothold into China I researched the implications of protecting our Intellectual Property Rights. The Chinese had a worldwide reputation for copying almost anything and selling it cheaper, albeit at the expense of quality! My research was received very well and I not only passed with a merit but also my poster received the runner up accolade at the RQA Conference the following October.

Cranfield pushed out all the stops for the graduation ceremony. My wife and two daughters came to cheer me on as I strode up the steps to shake hands with the guest of honour; it was a surreal moment and I actually felt a bit deflated simply because I was going to leave this establishment of learning excellence and ply my new found skill in the pursuit of pharmaceutical excellence.

It had been challenging to get to this place in my academic journey and when I graduated I recalled Confucius’s adage, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step”.

It was not the end goal that was the reward; it was the Cranfield experience. Cranfield stimulated a passion and quest for deeper knowledge and understanding. Not only that, but it was the people I met along that journey that made it a really enriching experience.

From pharmaceuticals to space

So what am I doing now? It is thanks to my MSc from Cranfield that I have literally spread my wings of ambition and I am now a Senior Quality Engineer for Reaction Engines Ltd, based in Culham just south of Abingdon; the company is developing a unique engine that is a hybrid of a jet and rocket combined. The futuristic space access vehicle called the Skylon, powered by the Synergetic Air Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE).

SABRE will thrust Skylon into the upper reaches of space and reach speeds in excess of Mach 5. Its ability to launch from a conventional runway, reach space orbit and be used to either deliver or pick up satellites and even deliver stores to the International Space Station at a fraction of the cost of a Space Shuttle has drawn a lot of interest from around the globe, civil space travel and of course the ever present military capability will be SABRE’s future.

At the moment I am with a team preparing our company for its first Certification to ISO 9001:2015 standard; the plan is that in the future the company will be required to attain AS 9100:2016 certification. And where else would I go for this but Cranfield!

I also had the fortune to return to Cranfield in July this year to deliver a talk on the Reaction Engines SABRE project to an audience of 16 to 18 year old GCSE and A level students taking part in the Schools Aerospace Challenge. Reaction Engines Ltd were just one of many companies that support this excellent initiative and I was very impressed at the attitude, enthusiasm and knowledge of the group.

It was a great opportunity for me to return to Cranfield and let my tutors know how Cranfield impacted my career. One minute I was in the pharmaceutical industry; the next I was in a company headed for the stars and beyond!

Learn about our MSc in Quality Management in Scientific Research and Development

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