Author Archives: cath

Who is better..?

When you are told that you should be contributing to a blog it would than seem that every event, conversation and observation is scrutinised to see if there is anything bloggable in the content! My life it would seem is reasonably unbloggable or so I thought, until a thought provoking conversation at work.

Let me take you back to the sunny week last summer. I had the day previously had all four wisdom teeth removed and therefore was at home drinking ice cream and utilising a minimal vocabulary, not something I am used to doing. The ten year old mentioned in a previous blog had come round with his father to replenish my supplies and finding me minimally interactive he decided to test out my mother with some philosophical debate. There was no warming up with general chit chat he went straight to the crux of the matter “who is better Sponge Bob or Mr. T?” For those of you who don’t know Sponge Bob is a cartoon character who lives in Bikini Bottom with his friend Patrick, a starfish and Mr. T is a member of the A-Team, a soldier of fortune who is on the run for a crime he and the team did not commit- clearly neither are real but to a ten year old they are pivotal members of his imagination.

My mum is sixty two years old and although there are no children in her life currently, she did have a career as a child psychologist, so although this question superficially made no sense to her she decided to play the “best form of defence is attack” card and returned the volley with “well who is happier?” The debate then continued for some time as to what makes people happy and why being on the run may not facilitate mental well being.

I was reminded of this conversation just the other day in work when I was introduced to someone as “this is Cath she used to work here” (the fact I still do seemed to have gone un-noticed, make of that what you will) “she doesn’t anymore as she has gone to the university to better herself”. I politely laughed this statement off but it did get me thinking, is doing a PhD going to make me better?

I would really like to think that I was at my best the day that I was born, I had not had a chance to forget any birthdays, run over any pets or say the wrong thing at a family party; my mother would argue against this she has the scar and weight gain to prove it! So if it is not going to make me a better human being what is it going to make a better!?

I can’t think that having a PhD will make me a better clinical nurse, I am not saying that I am a fabulous nurse by any stretch, but when thinking about some of the excellent nurses I have worked with over the years none of them have had a PhD so that cannot be the answer.

So if during this process of “bettering” myself I am not going to improve as a person or as a clinician what was that statement all about? I am sure some of my previously primitive research skills will have improved as has my ability to use power point and to misfile things on End-Note but I don’t know that any of this is “bettering” myself. So let us return to my mother’s response in her assessment of who is better, who is happier? Taking happier as a proxy measure of better. We are now not comparing Sponge Bob with Mr. T (which quite frankly is fraught with problems as we are not comparing like with like) but me before I started my PhD to me in the middle of my PhD. Am I happier? The simple answer is yes I am happier as I am doing something that I find fulfilling and rewarding, in an entirely different way from clinical practice. It is quite liberating at the age of thirty six to realise that there are different things out there to be doing and that although I have the odd wobble (like not being able to write) you can always learn new things and change direction in life as many times as you like and as long as it makes you happy then it is probably making you better (or at least easier to live with- ask my mother!).

Writers block?

I enter into this dialogue in the hope of some catharsis. I have a problem which, when said out loud, sounds rather banal if not a little ironic; my problem is writing! There, I have said it in a public arena, I cannot write. This seems to most people to be one of the most basic skills learned from a very early age along with reading and arithmetic so why am I finding it so difficult?

I don’t think it is writers block. I do write, my supervisor will provide testament to the fact that thousands of words regularly land in her inbox, I just do not seem to be able to express myself or locate “me” in the narrative. I am stuck between trying to portray my understanding of the story and providing an accurate account of the things that my very kind participants have told me. Am I telling my story or theirs?

Thinking back I have a suspicion that this may be rooted in my clinical background. I am not used to telling stories, more distilling the whole into bullet points; losing all of the nuances that it would seem I should be including in my current work. This I can see is not going to do justice to the stories told to me by volunteers and maybe it is this pressure that is preventing me from being able to just run free with my text.

People volunteered for my project believing that their experiences were going to help inform and hoping that in the future this may assist the experiences of others, no pressure there then!

That said, and rather perversely it would seem I can talk. Those of you who share an office with me would say that talking is one of my well practiced talents, if talking were an Olympic sport I would have the vocal chords to compete with the best! Whilst this talking talent has at times got me into trouble it has also talked me out of trouble and in many respects enabled me to do a good job at interviewing participants; when I remember to stop talking and let them speak! Maybe this could be the answer to my dilemma, I could record my narrative. It would take me until the Rio Olympics to transcribe but at least I would be using an existing talent to overcome a current deficit. So should anyone see me apparently talking to myself this is not the first sign of madness, I will in fact be committing my thoughts and musings to digital recording so that I, and my supervisor, are spared the agony of any further written ruminations.

An Ethnography?

Being a novice researcher and a novice blogger I enter into this dialogue with some trepidation! I have been told to write “whatever I wish” and those of you who know me well will understand that I am fundamentally driven by doing as little as possible, so inevitably this entry will be, by most people’s standards, short.

Having given this whole process some thought and discounted many areas of slightly dubious debate I have decided to regale you with some of the incidence whereby my research topic has unintentionally spilled over into everyday life. As you know my topic is considered by some to be a highly personal and private, not for discussion in polite company. This presented my father with a significant problem when I announced that I had received funding to undertake my PhD. I am the only daughter and the first member of the whole family to commence a PhD. My father has a propensity for gushing pride, but was somewhat foxed on this occasion. After congratulating me his first question was “how will I explain your study to my friends?” He obviously continued to give this some thought over the subsequent days, he then saw fit to confirm with me that he was going to say that I was investigating risk factors for heart disease. We agreed that for the preservation of his pride we would stick with that as an overarching theme!

The irony of my father not wanting to explain that his daughter had a greater than average insight into erectile dysfunction was juxtaposed by a very bright ten year old boy. On walking into town with him and his father we bumped into a colleague of his dad’s. We were introduced and I explained to this middle aged lady that I had never met before that I was a full time student and therefore not really “working” as such. To which the ten year old said “yeah she is doing an ethnography of men who can’t get boners”. My immediate response was to exclaim “IT’S NOT AN ETHNOGRAPHY” and his father’s response was to usher him swiftly on his way. Apparently he had been studying the work of anthropologists at school and had been told by his father that I was studying erectile dysfunction, put these two pieces of information together and come up with an altogether inappropriate piece of research!!!

The problem with studying subjects that are considered “socially inappropriate” is that people find them fascinating, and with the assistance of a few alcoholic beverages are very keen to engage in conversation. This is an excellent way to get messages across and bounce ideas around but it does somewhat make me worry about life after the PhD. Will they still want to talk to me on a night out and what will they talk to me about? Will I be known for evermore as the girl who “has a PhD in erectile dysfunction” or the “blue pill expert”? Will my whole career be based on this one rather specific problem? And more importantly, will I ever get to do an ethnography? Only time will tell, for now the more pressing problem is not whether I will have any friends left at the end of all this, but rather how I am going to manage all of the data I have collected, and so I leave you as an initiated blogger…….. wonders will never cease!