Monthly Archives: June 2012

Coming to know what I know – moving away from ‘false consciousness’

My PhD study is to research and gain insight into the needs of siblings of cystic fibrosis within the context of their family.  I had not really thought about how or why I had come to this choice of topic area until recently. On reflection, initially, perhaps my idea was just a taken for granted notion.  My choice of topic seemed to be a natural flow in my career journey and in moving towards becoming a researcher and gaining the appropriate training.

If anyone asked my reasons for my idea, I would answer that I had been reading the literature and noticed a gap that was worthy of further research.  I wanted to gain further information on the needs of siblings from their perspective of living with a brother or sister with a specific chronic illness.  My earlier idea was to focus on chronic illness and potentially concentrate on more than one recognised chronic disease.

Being keen to enhance my knowledge, I attended writing a PhD proposal study sessions in the school of nursing and midwifery, gaining support from a mentor and like-minded peers.  My draft proposal was formulated in readiness for consideration for admission on to the PhD study programme. 

It was during this preliminary phase that I was faced with a task of taking on board some challenging reading to enhance my development … and believe me, it was challenging!  I was led into new territory, perhaps what Donald Schon may refer to as ‘swampy lowlands’ – I was subjected to the experience of a new language, new concepts and wider considerations that would lead me to question and challenge my own thought processes.  As suggested by my mentor the reading certainly blew my mind.

It was at this point I had a sudden revelation – you could say this was my transition from ‘false consciousness’, to ‘consciousness’.  I needed to consider ‘self ‘as a researcher, to consider my own influence in that process.  You could say it was a moment of realistic ‘coming to know’ that my research idea may be sub consciously driven from my own personal and professional life experience.

In brief, I suffered from chronic illness as a child until I was 13 my sister was the sibling.  In later life the tables turned and my own sister became ill and unfortunately is no longer with us.  Being ill or being the sibling is something I can honestly say my sister and I never spoke about to each other as a child or as an adult, perhaps this part of our relationship was in the unsaid.  What I can say though is that for me this was a poignant time in my life that provided me with strength, resilience and determination. All of which I am told are necessary skills when doing a PhD.

As I recovered from my illness I took up my career in children’s nursing caring for children and young people and their families in acute and complex settings.  I later specialised in paediatric respiratory health, before moving into my post as a lecturer in children’s nursing.

Once enrolled onto the PhD programme I reconsidered my idea of chronic illness and narrowed my focus to cystic fibrosis, this area was more fitting with my respiratory experience.  I am now 6 months into my part time studies and my ideas are continually developing.

On reflection, I need to acknowledge that sub consciously I do think that my experiences are part of the scaffolding that has underpinned my research idea and my growth to date. Initially I thought this could be considered a weakness because of the personal element, but now having read autobiographical research chapters and auto ethnographic accounts of others I realise I have strengths that can provide me with a deeper level of understanding of influences and challenges in conducting my research with siblings and their families. It is important to have self – awareness within the research process and being reflexive will be an essential element in my work to ensure transparency in my project. 

Taking forward my research is no longer a taken for granted notion, it is part of my existential being!

The oldest swinger in town

When I first told a colleague I was thinking of doing a PhD she replied “you’re too old to do a PhD”!  My first reaction was “How old do you think I am?” and then I thought “I’ll show you who’s too old”.

There was however a part of me who then thought, maybe I am too old and why put myself through the torture and stress of trying to combine a full time job, a family and the pressure of a part time PhD.Thats me all over. I’m not content with a calm, stress free life. I need a challenge and this is the ultimate one. I think as long as you have the motivation to do it and you’re really keen on the research you are about to embark upon, the rest will come with hard grafting and good support. Plus I love the student discount card as does my daughter because we go to see lots more films now. My husband however, thinks I have lost the plot as he is retiring next year and had plans for us to live a life of leisure and luxury. I work in clinical practice for 2 days of the week and my clinics are hectic! I rarely come up for air and may see up to 20 patients in a day, all with complex needs and so the PhD is a great distraction and believe it or not, not as stressful as my clinical work.

Where possible, I race off to all the available study days run by the graduate office (which I thoroughly recommend) and I’m always running late. Good job I am pretty fit and run a lot outside of work life! I grab a seat with all the students who are young enough to be my daughter or son and I listen tentatively. The giveaway is the dated clothing although I am trying to look like a student!! Surprisingly, I grasp what they and the lecturers are talking about.  At my age concentration and attention to detail varies from day to day. I may be embarking on the old hormone replacement therapy (HRT) soon in desperation to improve these!! During the various study days I attend, I take note after note trying to take it all in and come out of the session both inspired and scared. Inspired because it sounds so easy and exciting but scared because I only have 1 day a week to try and get it all done. This means the nights are spent reading and thinking about the research with little else entering my mind. It definitely consumes you and because I’m part time, I feel I have to do extra work. That said, I love it and I look forward to my holidays and time with my family. I think it’s really important to take time out and not lose sight that there are others in your life especially if they can help you! My 8 year old daughter is better on the computer then I am and this is a major advantage. My IT skills are definitely in need of improvement to say the least and part of my learning has been around this. I have only really used a computer for the last few years and struggle with all the various options but I’m on the case and without my PhD colleagues Jess, Cath and Dominic I would never have managed. My naiveness and lack of computer knowledge was highlighted a few weeks ago when I thought Dominic’s foot rest was either a foot massager or the transciber for my interviews. I even thought it was wireless as it didn’t have a lead attached!!

I would recommend meeting up with fellow PhD Students even if you are part time. I usually work on my own, eat on my own, train on my own and I am  so used to sorting things out myself that you miss out on what others can help with and indeed what you can help them with. I have one day a week where I work alongside the other full time students and it’s great not merely because they are great fun but you can check things out and feel reassured that what you are feeling and thinking others are too!

Welcome to our new PhD student

My name is Hama Ngandu. I attended the University of Wolverhampton for my registered nurse training and graduated in 2008. Soon after graduation, I secured employment with The Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust as a registered nurse on a respiratory ward based at Good Hope Hospital in Birmingham. During this period of time, I had the opportunity to nurse patients on non invasive ventilation treatment and other respiratory conditions. I then developed an interest specifically in aged patients with acute respiratory failure who were receiving Non Invasive Treatment. The interest developed as a result of a significant number of patients that I witnessed in practice, who were declining or withdrawing from treatment as compared to those who were completing the course of treatment.

I therefore decided to look for a PhD studentship funding that would give me the chance to investigate the reasons behind the declining or withdrawal from NIV treatment by aged patients with acute respiratory failure. I successfully applied for the RCBC PhD Studentship, allowing me to undertake my studies at Cardiff University on a part-time basis starting in October 2012. My working project title is: ‘The perceptions and experiences of aged acute respiratory patients on Non Invasive Ventilation Treatment’.

The aim of the study is to explore the perceptions and experiences of aged patients with acute respiratory failure regarding NIV treatment. The objectives set for this study are to determine the: Opinions with regard to NIV treatment as experienced by the elderly patient with acute respiratory failure; intrinsic factors influencing declining or withdrawal from NIV treatment and extrinsic factors influencing declining or withdrawal from NIV treatment. The study will employ a qualitative approach with a phenomenological design.

Findings from this proposed research would then help in formulating new procedures, strategies or implementations’ aimed at reducing harm through the best quality of non invasive ventilation treatment possible.

These are some ideas at this early stage which would need to be reviewed in the light of the nature of the findings from the project and their relevance to particular constituencies.

Not alone

Recently we’ve had several potential PhD students coming to see us and a common question that they ask is: have you had enough support during your PhD?  The answer is unreservedly yes, absolutely, I couldn’t have asked for more.  While my family and friends have been brilliant, I thought that I’d focus on the support I’ve received from the University and beyond.  I hope this doesn’t read like an Oscar-acceptance speech, but I think it’s important to give credit where it’s due and reassure potential PhD students that they will not be alone.

The School of Nursing and Midwifery Studies has been a brilliant environment in which to undertake postgraduate research, largely due to a group of motivated, knowledgeable and enthusiastic supervisors. The School has a robust scheme for supervisory support, which encourages regular meetings, documenting the meetings and six monthly reviews.  Within the School are different research groups and regular seminars with external speakers, ensuring that there are links to the wider clinical and academic worlds.  The research administrators and IT staff also ensure that we are well supported.  We’ve also established a great post-grad research student community, aided party by our lovely communal office and encouragement from our Director of Postgraduate Research.  We are a varied group in terms of nursing discipline, clinical/academic experience, research interests and stage of study, age and location, but our different experiences make the support we can offer each other stronger.

All PhD students at Cardiff University are able to make full use of the University Graduate College’s research training programme, which offers a wide range of courses, workshops and conferences, from the use of social media, to statistics and maximise your memory.  We are in an enviable position in Cardiff as not all universities offer such a programme and I’ve made full use of these courses.  These sessions also encourage networking with students from other academic schools, and sometimes other local universities, and hearing the diverse range of subjects that students research is very refreshing.

I don’t have a Masters degree, which I’ve always felt very conscious of.  However, I did have the opportunity to undertake three MSc modules in the School of Social Sciences (qualitative methods, quantitative methods and philosophies of social science research), which were incredibly useful.  I also attended the Ethnography research group in this School, which is facilitated by internationally renowned ethnographers.  This was a brilliant experience and I learned a lot about using this methodology from the group.

I received funding from the Research Capacity Building Collaboration and part of this scheme is research training every other month at one of the six collaborating universities in Wales.  The training we’ve received includes the use of different methodologies, leadership, engaging with the media and the Viva, as well as invaluable peer support. The group includes nurses, midwives, dieticians, physiotherapists and podiatrists, and we learn a lot from each others’ experience.

The University Health Board where I undertook the research also offered research training, which taught me a lot about different methodologies, research ethics and policy governing research.  The consultant who granted access to the patient population and nurses who supported me with recruitment and staying safe during data collection made the project possible.

I hope that I’ve demonstrated that the PhD does not have to be lonely, isolated process.  When I’ve needed support I have found it and also made many new friends in different disciplines.  It’s been a fantastic roller-coaster journey, but one that I have not had to do alone.