Monthly Archives: April 2012

And I thought Avatar was just a film with blue people

This week I have been incredibly lucky to attend the Royal College of Nursing’s 2012 International Nursing Research Conference, in the heart of London.  This had always been an aim of mine and I thrilled when my abstract for an oral presentation, explaining my project and findings, was accepted.

In the weeks leading up to the event I carefully planned, changed and tweaked my presentation, with my ever supportive officemates Catherine and Dominic kindly listening to my presentation (in Cath’s case this was more than once – thank you).  Equipped with my new iPad (I am in fact sat in the exhibition hall of the conference writing this while my memories and enthusiasm are still fresh) and the odd new outfit, I arrived in a soggy central London on the morning of the conference raring to go.  Set in the Grand Connaught Rooms in Holborn, right next next door to the imposing central Masonic Hall, this made an impressive setting.  The grandeur of the venue was almost overwhelming, with sweeping staircases and high ceilinged rooms, opulent chandeliers hanging boldly.

I presented in the conference’s only renal theme group on the first day and the session went very well.  The first presentation considered an intervention aiming to promote patients’ quality of life when receiving haemodialysis, followed by my session considering living at home with peritoneal dialysis, with the final session exploring experiences of kidney transplant failure.  The three sessions complimented each other well and there were transferable themes throughout the presentations.  The subsequent questions I was asked were challenging and encouraged me to think differently about my data and project overall.

During the rest of the conference, and with a huge sigh of relief that my presentation was now over, the range of sessions has been incredible.  The conference is truly international and interestingly the challenges faced by our respective health organisations are in many ways similar, for example staffing issues and budget cuts.  I have attended sessions very relevant to my research, exploring reflexivity and decision-making in qualitative research, long-term conditions and end of life care, as well as workshops on publishing and the viva.  Other sessions have also been relevant to my clinical practice, particularly the theme considering stroke care as I work regularly these days in neurosurgery and stroke rehabilitation.  Networking is, as many of you know, vital at conferences and I have met many experienced nursing researchers and academics, who have been welcoming and supportive.

However, one of the sessions that I found the most revealing considered the use of internet based research, in particular the use of virtual worlds. The researcher explained interviewing people in the virtual world about health information, showing us the virtual space where she conducted interviews (a cosy 3D room complete with rug, armchairs and plants) and her ‘avatar’.  Now, I thought that Avatar was a film with blue people – that I’ve actually never seen – but in fact an avatar in the online person that the user creates and that they use to interact with others.  While this could theoretically take any form, apparently people tend to create a slightly more attractive version of themselves.  Using virtual worlds enables researchers to recruit and interview people from across the world, allowing this to take part through verbal or written interviews.  Although this method and space has complex ethical issues, it opens up a new and exciting world to researchers.  I felt both very old, never having heard of virtual worlds, and that my research was a touch old-fashioned!  Perhaps I need to begin thinking about the virtual world, after all, I do now have twitter – although I’m yet to tweet – and of course blog…

So overall, this has been an interesting, diverse and relevant conference, beneficial both to my research and clinical practice, and I am looking forward to next year already.

Imposter Syndrome


Shema’s recent blog discussed the seven secrets for successful research, the seventh of which is thinking “I can do it”.  In her blog, Shema reported feeling like an imposter, a feeling that is not uncommon to me, but it is only as I rapidly approach the end of my PhD that I feel confident to talk about this insecurity.  Throughout my PhD I have felt like an imposter, fearing that at some point somebody would find out that I do not belong here, I am not good enough and throw me out.  In fact, whenever people eventually get out of me what I actually “do” (see earlier blog for my ramblings on this difficulty) and they ask me what I will “get” or “be” at the end of my PhD, I answer “well IF I am successful at my Viva I will be Dr, but it is a very big if”.

This insecurity is nothing to do with my academic school, who have been welcoming and supportive, nor my academic supervisors who have been wonderful and encouraging.  I felt so lucky to be awarded funding to undertake my PhD in a topic that I feel strongly about and I threw myself into the opportunity.  Within the school, my confidence and sense of security has been very slowly increasing since my first year, when I finally admitted to my supervisor that I felt like I was an imposter and was not good enough to be a PhD student.  Her reassurances that I was good enough helped, as did passing my end of year review.  Gaining approval from NHS ethics also bolstered my confidence – other people believed in my study and deemed me suitable to undertake it.

Undertaking postgraduate research at Cardiff University afforded me the opportunity to attend research training for the Graduate School and attend I did – 23 sessions so far and counting!  Having chosen ethnographic research methods, which the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff is renowned for, I joined their Ethnography group and attended regularly, barely saying a word.  They were again friendly and the sessions were fascinating, but I worried that my clinical background and being a novice researcher did not make me qualified to comment on the incredible research they were undertaking.  I also had the opportunity to attend three modules on the MSc in Social Science Research methods – qualitative methods, quantitative methods and philosophies of social science research – and again I worried that the other students were much more worthy of postgraduate study than me.

However, I have had a breakthrough.  I submitted an abstract for an oral presentation to the Spotlight on Social Sciences conference, an event for postgraduate researchers.  The abstract was accepted and I gave my presentation to a group of interdisciplinary research students last Friday.  As the Twitter feed on this page announced, I was very fortunate to be awarded a prize (third) for my presentation.  I am rather bashful re-announcing this, but I have to say I was thrilled.  This gave me a boost that, as a nurse adopting social science research methods, my work sounded legitimate to social scientists.

I have been recently encouraged to discover that in fact friends of mine who are undertaking PhDs (in engineering, the social sciences and indeed within our post-graduate office) also feel like imposters – so why have we not discussed this before?  Perhaps we feared that articulating these fears would lead to our rapid expulsion?  I think that not being over-confident is important, as well as seeing the PhD as a learning opportunity – we may well not get it right straight away.  However, maybe we should be more open about “imposter syndrome” and try to reassure each other a little?  Having said that, a friend of mine who recently completed his Professional Doctorate has admitted feeling like an imposter now he is working in industry – maybe this insecurity never really leaves us.

PhD Study & Success:Can I do it?

I attended the conference of Spotlight on Social Sciences 2012 on Friday 30th March at the Graduate Centre. The programme started with registration, which was followed by an introduction to the event, and then a very interesting presentation with the title of ‘’Studying violence and self-harm in forensic and clinical settings’’, by Professor Robert Snowden from the School of Psychology. There were also talks and poster presentations throughout the day. I attended talks such as health psychology, family and health, as well as family and gender. Although all the presentations were interesting, the presentation ‘Research as a Rollercoaster’ was the one that best explored my experiences with my research study.

PhD studies require dedication and commitment to succeed. Therefore, I asked myself what was I feeling when I started my PhD programme?  I was so happy and I have really enjoyed the last year in my life, although I faced a series of opportunities and pressures as a 1st year PhD student. I understood that many students have gone through it before, so I took the opportunity to learn from their experiences and listen to their advice in order to manage the process of my project and improve my own success.

The content of this presentation also reminded me of the workshop “The Seven Secrets of highly successful researcher students” in 2011. The seven secrets (Kearns and Gardiner, 2008) include:

1) Care and maintenance of my supervisor.  I have to regularly meet them to discuss and negotiate my progress. I have to understand that I cannot produce a thesis without them!

2) Write and show as you go: this is show and tell, not hide and seek! Because, writing and showing my work forces me to stay on track and refine my thinking. I have to remember writing is essential and a thesis is writing work. Thus, set deadlines for my writing and for handing in.

3)  Be realistic: it’s not a Nobel Prize. Always remember, when I am writing a thesis, I am also learning how to do research. Original work means one step in advancing existing knowledge. I have to stay focused and accept I can do only do my best and that is good enough. I think it is better to write even when I think what I write is not good enough.

4) Say no to distractions: even the fun ones and the ones I think I must do. It’s fine to do other kinds of work while doing my thesis. However, I have to set priorities and be realistic about what I can do. Consult my diary or an objective person before saying yes to new opportunities.

5) It is a job: that means working nine to five, but I can have holidays. Although I do not have work nine to five, I definitely need regular hours and a proper work place.  I have to set deadlines and stick to them in order to get free time in the evenings and weekends and take holidays.

6) Get help when stuck: Because I am not owner-operator single person business! I have to ask my supervisor about sources of assistance and get help from statistics, methodologists, and academics in my department or at other departments, as well as peers.

7)  I can do it: A thesis is 10% intelligence and 90% persistence and I have the 10% already. If I feel like an impostor, I have to be assure myself that most people writing a thesis feel this way. However, the other 90% comes from my habits, like meeting regularly with my supervisors, doing effective plans, sticking my plans and treating my research like a job. I have to accept my own limitations and believe that I can do it, so just keep going!

Finally, when I reflected on the effectiveness of my progress during the first year, it was like ‘Rollercoaster’’, up and down.  I understood that I have to maintain a work/life balance and build a strong supportive network that will give me more resources to draw on when my work or personal life is challenging.  To improve my writing, I learned that there is one useful strategy, just get into the habit of writing one page per day. Even my writing is poor quality and I am not sure how this fits into my thesis. Just write one page per day. In a few months I may have enough stuff to put together a very rough draft. Although I may have to throw away a lot of those pages, I may end up using some of them too. Moreover, this one page per day habit may benefit my psychologically. I will feel that, at least, I am doing something every day. I think it gives me feeling of some kind of progress.

A message from Palestine

I am a full-time PhD student fully funded from Annajah National University, Nablus City in occupied Palestine. I have been a registered Staff Nurse in governmental and non-governmental hospitals for 11 years, working across a wide range of specialisms. In addition I worked as a lecturer within the School of Nursing at Annajah National University. I have taught many theory and clinical courses at Undergraduate and Master’s level, including clinical instructor for the MSc in the Community Mental Health Nursing Program and clinical instructor of nursing students (BSc) at undergraduate level.

My PhD research topic is ‘The Resiliency of Palestinian community mental health nurses in occupied Palestinian territories’. The objective of the study is to discover the sources of resiliency among nurses who have worked in very difficult conditions under occupation. The findings will be used to focus on and develop interventions to support nurses.

I have embraced life and study in Cardiff University. I found an excellent learning environment, warmth, support and a wonderful welcome from the Postgraduate department and colleagues. From the first day I recognized how much I have to learn from the excellence of this country in most aspects of lifestyle. I was learning new things continuously, always asking “why?” about unfamiliar things! Trying to get answers and understand the surrounding culture. Therefore, the first year may be the most exciting one in my life.

My willingness to learn and to develop myself always pushes me forward in spite of many challenges. Now I return home to collect my data and I am preparing for research ethics committee approval before I start collecting data. My positive experiences during the past year in lovely Cardiff inspire me to produce high quality data and achieve my goals. There will be other kinds of challenges during the second phase of the PhD project. I hope everything will go well and I will return back to the UK with my family to discover new things.

According to the Palestinian culture there is a saying: “Any one teaches me something, I will be his servant!” thank you for the Cardiff people who teach me many things. Deep thanks for PhD department at nursing school that are role model for others…..they grasp my hand from the first day; they are important source of resiliency for me. I hope one day I will do something positive to show my deep appreciations.

Many people came to my house to say welcome back as a part of our culture. All of them ask the same questions: “How is Cardiff and the UK? Tell us about the life in UK?” My background is lecturer, so it was my chance to teach and talk about invaluable Welsh culture!

I visited Annajah National University and discussed with my colleagues how to develop some aspects at Annajah. We started to compare between Cardiff and Annajah University, exchange ideas and think how to develop networks in the future. Annajah is the biggest University at Occupied Palestinian territories and able to survive and thrive in spite of much challenges. Annajah is considered role model of Sumud (close to resilience and steadfastness on the land), the story of Annajah development is shining example creating success inside surrounding challenges. All of my colleagues express the importance of studying the resilience of Palestinians and how it’s embedded in their Sumud culture. I hope my study will make difference to humanity and my experience in Cardiff city will make a difference to the Palestinians as well.