Author Archives: Laura Goodwin

When the Going Gets Tough – the Tough Get Muddy!

When I first told people that I was training outdoors (bootcamp/circuit style) 5-6 days a week, a lot of them thought I was mad. When I then told them that I was training for “Tough Mudder”; a 12 mile obstacle course designed by the Special Forces, nearly ALL of them thought I was mad.

I had 5 months to ready myself for ice baths, 10,000 volt electric shocks, 12ft Berlin walls, muddy underground trenches, incline monkey bars, and a back crawl through a cage full of water… alongside writing my research proposal and submitting it for an ethics review.

Amazingly, after a few weeks of manic rushing around to fit in training, work, and some sort of social life, my schedule started to come together nicely. Intense exercise was a good way to re-energise and de-stress after a long day of sitting at a computer worrying about funding interpreters in my research…and sitting at a computer was a rather nice break from all of that exercise!

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I started to get up for early-morning pre-breakfast runs (my mother has probably just had a heart-attack reading this…not only was I always rather difficult to drag out of bed in the morning, but the word “run” had never previously entered my vocabulary – especially not when used in the same sentence as “morning”!) I found that getting up and exercising before a shower and breakfast was the perfect way to get me up and ready to work. I felt more awake, more energised, and it prevented the otherwise inevitable repeated pressing of the “snooze” alarm on my phone.

About three months before the event I got rushed to hospital with Glandular Fever, and a temperature of 39.8*C (my mum later expressed that she “thought 40*C meant you were dead”). I took 2 weeks off work and 3 weeks off training. Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed with either. Despite my temperature dropping and the aches and pains easing, I had a distinct lack of energy.  Walking downstairs for water felt like an hour of outdoor circuits, and half an hour’s work in bed felt like a full day in the office. Most people I knew came to believe at least one of two things would happen:

1)      I would have to back out of Tough Mudder

2)      I would have to take an interruption of study from my PhD

Luckily, the ridiculous level of resilience passed down through my Nan shone through – and neither of these had to occur. Both training and work re-commenced, and although slightly bitter about being behind in both, I powered on. A month later my housemates and I moved into a flat which can only be described as inhabitable, and appallingly managed. Six weeks of confrontation and angry letters commenced; almost resulting in a legal battle between ourselves and the letting agents (those who shall not be named!).

So how did it all end, you’re wondering? (…or not, if you know me at all; for some reason I always manage to get myself into ridiculous situations, and somehow come through it all laughing). I completed Tough Mudder in 3hrs 30mins (the electric shocks were way worse than I could have imagined!) and I have just finished my Research Proposal, ready to be submitted to ethics. I have escaped the “Flat of Mould”, and have managed to avoid homelessness (so far!). I have had an extremely positive and exciting 12 month review, and I am ready to take on the world again.1276422_10152233171007501_509790592_o

It would be a massive cliché to turn the Tough Mudder course into a metaphor for my PhD journey, but I’m going to do it anyway. I genuinely think it fits perfectly – and it helps calm me down when the workload looms over me like a 12ft Berlin Wall (sorry – couldn’t resist!). “Obstacles” will shock you; trip you; cover you in mud. They’ll come in all shapes and sizes, and you’ll be deceived by their appearance – under or over-estimating the ease in which you will overcome them. But your PhD, just like the slogan of Tough Mudder, is a challenge, not a race (which could almost be a direct quote from Dr Featherstone herself!). Don’t measure yourself by the speed/ability of others, and don’t be afraid to ask for help; some of the fittest, warrior-looking men at Tough Mudder couldn’t complete all of the obstacles without a leg-up from their mates. As long as you eventually overcome the obstacles, whether it be Ethical approval, funding, personal issues or the dreaded “writer’s block”, you will get round that course. You may have a few bruises and scratches to show for it (my legs were purple for a good few weeks after Tough Mudder), but you will also have an overwhelming sense of achievement and pride.

HOO-rah!

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Stress; Prevent rather than Cure!

by Shema Ammer

I am currently working on an analysis of both quantitative and qualitative data (mixed methods). Although a mixed method design is challenging due to its inherent complexity, I believe that this method enables me to gather a wide variety of data to measure and compare the outcomes of the intervention. To analyse the quantitative data I used the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS 18). To analyse the qualitative data I decided to use Thematic Analysis. The process of data analysis is challenging and takes time, so to motivate myself I attended several workshops. These included:

  • PhD Comics – ‘ The Power of Procrastination’ (a talk by Jorge Cham)
  • Stress Management
  • Fearless

The things I learnt from all of these workshops are helping me to cope with the stress that I experience from data analysis and my PhD studies in general. The presenters of each helped me to learn how to manage and control my stress in order to feel more happy and productive as a PhD student.

The main thing I learnt through these workshops was that we should prevent, rather than cure, stress by:

  • developing resistance
  • improving productivity by realistic planning and time management
  • setting realistic targets and expectations
  • analysing or recognising ourselves (self-awareness is knowledge, and knowledge is power).

I believe that attendance at these kind of workshops improves self-awareness, particularly regarding the challenges being presented by PhD study.

Sarah Worley-James, who gave the talk on “stress management” taught me that the stress and anxiety produced by undertaking a PhD is unique due to the following factors:

  • Isolation and limited support
  • Pressure from self (perfectionism)
  • international students
  • Pressure of Viva
  • The Imposter Syndrome

I learnt that when we are facing a problem or challenge, one of the key questions we need to ask ourselves is: “Okay. So what do I plan to do differently so I can have a chance at a different outcome?”

If we can succeed in doing this, managing our stress and anxiety effectively will equip us with the ability to:

  • solve problems effectively
  • identify difficult situations
  • think calmly under pressure
  • believe in ourselves and  improve self-confidence
  • cope with deadlines
  • plan our time effectively
  • communicate well with others
  • feel positive
  • avoid procrastination and perfectionism!!

 

The TOP TIPS I learnt from these workshops:

  1. Take 1 minute at the end of each day to write 3 things that you have achieved. (This should help to build your self-confidence and self-esteem.)
  2. Focus on the evidence for positive outcomes of your efforts
  3. Reduce mental stress by identifying and challenging fearful thoughts, as well as relaxing through imagination and mediation.
  4. Reduce physical stress using muscular relaxation, deep breathing, exercise and a healthy diet and environment.

I hope that these tips will help us to progress along our chosen career path; minimising the risk of stress overload and burn out.

 

Some websites I would recommend:
www.robertsoncooper.com/iresilience
www.nhs.uk/moodzone
http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk
http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/counselling

Hello from Wafa

Hello, I am Wafa from Saudi Arabia; I started my PhD study (full time) this April. My research topic will be about “Assessing the Needs of Breast Cancer Survivors in Saudi Arabia”. I believe that this study has the potential to help breast cancer patients break their silence and improve their quality of life.

WafaMy masters degree (MSc. Nursing Science) was obtained from Trinity College in Dublin. Being abroad for the last two years has helped me to become more mature, independent, self-confident and open-minded; especially in terms of change.

When I first started, my feelings were a mixture of panic and excitement. However, with excellent help from academic and administrative staff in Cardiff University, all the worries faded away and I was able to “collect” myself again.

I really enjoyed joining Mrs. Sarah Fotheringham this week on a visit to Fitzalan High School, where I helped to promote nursing as a career. It was an amazing experience to talk about nursing, in Saudi Arabia and in the world generally, to teenagers who came from various different backgrounds. I am looking forward to our next school visit as I believe that nursing is a truly challenging and exciting career option.