Author Archives: Laura

“Gatecrashing” a conference

It’s not often that I have to explain my presence at a conference. For most postgraduate students conferences are the perfect opportunity to learn about the current research in their field, and to build up useful working contacts. My attendance at this conference, however, was for very different reasons indeed.

Explaining that I came from a Psychology background, and was now based in the School of Nursing and Midwifery studies, I received many a puzzled look from the delegates at the Tyndall Centre “Climate Transitions” Conference. The conference was hosted and organised by members of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and postgraduate students from Cardiff University. I soon realised that I was the only individual attending who was not professionally linked to Climate Change, and this made me somewhat of a novelty. Many of the postgraduates attending the event were extremely interested in my own research, and I spent a lot of time talking to people about maternity care and midwifery (something I had expected to escape from for the week!).

My personal interest in climate change arose from a relatively “green” upbringing. Tips handed out from the government such as turning the tap off whilst brushing your teeth, using hot water bottles instead of the heating, and only filling the kettle with as much water as you need, have always been second nature to me. Showers had to be turned off whilst putting shampoo in, dishwashers and tumble-driers were devilish creations, and there would certainly be no central heating until you had 5 layers of clothes and a hot water bottle strapped to your chest. Being aware of the human impact on our planet became a part of my identity as I grew older; my housemates still suffer persistent nagging regarding correct recycling and minimising food waste. Added to a module on “Environmental Psychology” during my undergraduate years, my “climate curiosity” led me to this widely acclaimed “Climate Transitions” Conference, and they kindly accepted my request to attend despite being professionally unconnected.

The Keynote talk, given by Professor James Scourse, gave the perfect introduction for anyone interested (but not necessarily involved in) climate change research. The talk outlined the evidence for a climate transition over the last 5 years; including findings from research focusing on changes in CO2 emissions, temperature, sea level, and sea ice. The objective stance taken by Professor Scourse was extremely refreshing, and furthered my confidence that the conference would be an extremely interesting and insightful “catch-up” with the climate change evidence.

Throughout the course of the next three days, I was treated to speed talks and presentations regarding research encompassed by the themes “Land and Water”, “Energy and Emissions”, “Cities and Coasts”, and “Governance and Behaviour”. Although the seriousness of the evidence for climate transition remained clear throughout I was able to take a few amusing quotes and “lessons learnt” from many of the presentations. An interesting talk from Sarah Lee (Cardiff University) on the transformation of Cardiff Bay from estuary to lake taught me not to swim in the estuary during summer (due to high levels of phytoplankton relocated here from the bay). Laurence Smith from Cranfield University encouraged me to eat organically to improve energy efficiency (but not apples- organic apples are less energy efficient than regular ones, apparently!). Jonathan Kershaw’s (Coventry University) presentation on low carbon cars expressed claims from participants that “Going green is not sexy!”; a statement which I am inclined to disagree with – Bradd Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Pierce Brosnan included in the “Top 10 ‘Green’ Celebrities”. My personal favourite, however, was probably from William Lamb’s presentation on human development and carbon emissions; providing evidence that Costa Rica is one of the optimum countries for balancing high life expectancy with low carbon emission. Emigrate to Costa Rica, you say? Well…if it helps the environment then how could I say no?

A dinner debate on the role for shale gas in sustainable energy transition proved exciting as well as informative; strong opinions were assertively expressed with encouragement from a few glasses of wine.

One of the most personally interesting parts of the conference was the debate titled “Do climate researchers have a responsibility to live sustainably?” Ideas such as “Carbon shame”, “lock-in”, and “conference hypocrisy” were introduced and debated over amongst panellists and delegates. As always in these types of events each panellist had an extremely valid and persuasive argument, leaving me with more questions than answers concerning this topic.

As well as a wealth of new knowledge about how I can reduce my human impact on climate change, I came away from this conference with a new enthusiasm for inter-disciplinary research. It became obvious fairly early on that quite a lot of the theories and issues in this field of research were actually the same as those I had (and probably WILL) face in my own work. Psychological principles such as stereotyping and habit formation apply to so many aspects of human behaviour and belief systems, and recognising the parallels between research was extremely interesting. I also made a valuable contact through a delegate who had a friend doing very similar research to mine; proving that networking opportunities extend further than the delegates in the room.

All in all, I would strongly recommend that postgraduates attend the conferences that they have personal interests in, as well as those that apply to their work; you never know what you might learn.

Today I forgot my friend

To be perfectly honest, this may not come as a massive shock to a number of my friends. I have been known, on occasions, to be less than organised. Forgetting a real person – an asset to my life- however, is a step further than normal.

My only excuse (if there ever is an excuse for leaving a loved one standing outside your house in the cold while you obliviously type away at a drafted piece of work 5 miles away), was that I am SUPER busy.

The last few days have been a blur of courses, training, and desperately playing catch-up.

Monday started on a bad note. I arrived back in Cardiff at 8am, after a 2 hour train journey I had planned to be taking the previous evening (Rail works had meant that an attempt to return sooner would have cost me an extra 3 and half hours of my life). I was greeted by the pouring rain, and a bitter chill. Nevertheless, I was fairly pleased with myself; I had spent the entire train journey working on the latest piece of writing for my PhD, rather than my more common habit of sleeping. I got out my laptop and was faced with my first problem; without yet being connected to the University’s network, I could not transfer my work from my laptop to my office computer. After a bit of problem solving I popped next door to the ever-helpful Kath, who promptly provided me with a USB pen. PERFECT. I returned to the office to find that my laptop had turned itself off in my absence. On turning it back on I discovered it had decided to commit suicide with no warning, and I was unable to pass a rather sombre looking black screen. Despite many attempts (at least 10, I would guess) – the “turn off and turn back on again” rule had failed me, and I was forced to once again return sheepishly to Kath’s office with a slightly larger favour to ask. After about half an hour Kath returned with the dreaded words…“I think I’m going to re-format it. Have you backed everything up?” I was struck by sheer horror; those two precious hours of sleep that I’d sacrificed in order to work had been wasted. (Luckily, Kath was being modest about her abilities. The laptop was returned the next day good-as-new).

Not allowing myself to be disheartened by the morning’s events, I opened my unread text book and started to apply the concepts learnt in the previous day’s “Rapid Reading” training.
– Recap (what did I already know about this topic?)
– Set my objectives (what did I want to gain from reading this book?)
– Do an Overview (scan the pages)
– Preview the writing (Cross out all irrelevant parts…sorry Billie – I promise it was pencil and will be erased!!)
– Inview (re-read with an aim to make sense of it all)
– Review (make notes from memory)

After about 10 minutes I was in the firm belief that my own methods were best and that all I was doing with this new technique was giving myself a headache. However, remembering the stern instructions given by the facilitator of the course, I powered through. After two pages of notes (admittedly some cheating occurred – not all were from memory!) I decided to review what I had altogether so far. EIGHT pages of notes; EIGHT. To write a 4 page document. Despite the niggling thought in my head that I hadn’t covered half of what I wanted to, I made a firm decision to stop (supported by my colleague Dave, who reassured me I had done more than enough note-taking to cover the piece of writing I’d been asked to complete – thanks Dave!).

After a swift break to make myself another cup of coffee (fourth of the day, by that point!), I attempted to start WRITING; turning notes into beautifully flowing sentences. It was about 15 minutes into this process that I got the phone call from my friend asking me to “let him in” to my house because he was cold. Oh. OOPS!

Needless to say, my friend was not overly impressed that I was nowhere near home, and therefore he would have to turn around and go back to the warm sofa he had only recently dragged himself away from. But luckily my tale of the events of that day somewhat pacified him (I think he felt as though I’d suffered enough with the loss of my laptop) and we re-arranged for that evening.

I find myself ever-busy…and although the pace is sometimes rather frightening and all-consuming, I quite enjoy it. I always have something to DO. I’m always learning…teaching…being a part of something. It’s proving rather difficult to juggle training, conferences, workload, and a social life (and I imagine it will only become more so)…but getting that balance is something that will develop with time. (Or at least I hope so – for the sake of my friends!). Bring on the next 3 years! (And maybe a new laptop?!)

With a little help from my friends…

I find myself sitting at a large desk in an office with a view of the city, staring at a computer screen, and silently panicking.  Surrounding me are people much more experienced and professional than myself, and suddenly I wonder how on earth I managed to blag my way into this position.

Within half an hour I have a pile of journal articles towering beside my keyboard, and abandoned highlighter lids scattered across my desk – long separated from their rapidly drying-out other halves. My hair is in a loose bun (a sign that I’m either concentrating or eating), and a collection of different coloured writing is scrawled in the pages of my notebook. I sit back and absorb the scene – and to my surprise, I grin. For the first time in months I feel happy in a job. The panic has subsided and been replaced with a nervous excitement. I’m doing a PhD. Slowly it’s starting to sink in.

About 6 months ago a PhD was one of the last things on my mind. The final year of my degree (BSc. Applied Psychology, Cardiff University), had been tough – the death of my Nan had left me a non-sleeping, non-eating mess, and I almost hadn’t made it through my exams. Refusing to waste 4 years of hard work, I mustered the determination and dedication to secure myself a First Class Honors, however my passion for academia had been somewhat tainted by my experience. It was then that I decided to get some “real-life” experience. Having loved Cardiff during my undergraduate years, I moved back here from my hometown of Exeter, and began working in a residential school for children with Autistic Spectrum Condition. It was, both physically and emotionally, an extremely challenging job and within a year in the position I began to feel the pull back to academic life. When the search for  research assistant positions within Cardiff University proved more difficult than expected (the University, after all, is far too popular!), I let myself consider the possibility of returning to university to train as a midwife (something I had always had a deep passion for). This led to an interesting combination of keywords in job searches – “midwife, maternity, psychology, assistant, researcher”. Luckily for me, this was the perfect combination of keywords for the journey I am about to embark upon.

My research proposal focuses on the relationship between UK midwives and ethnic minority mothers. In the recent Centre for Maternal and Child Enquiries (CMACE) report (2011) into maternal deaths, ethnic minority women were noted as being over-represented in the population. Efficient emotional support and communication in maternity care is important for a number of reasons including, in the most extreme cases, the prevention of maternal mortality (CMACE, 2011). Relationship, trust and communication problems have been consistently noted to prevent equality in service provision; including language barriers, stereotyping, and a lack of cultural competence. My aim, therefore, is to discover the factors leading to the success/failure of relationships between UK midwives and ethnic minority mothers. Long-term, this work would ideally lead to a reduction in mortality rates.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t experiencing the “secret fears”, so accurately laid out for us this morning by one of my supervisors, Dr Katie Featherstone. I do feel like I don’t belong…I do feel like I’m not good enough….and I am worried that this will be the time that everyone figures out that I’m not as clever as they think I am. (I also worry about being the youngest PhD student in my department – something which makes me feel as though I almost “playing” PhD). Nevertheless, I am also experiencing the “secret satisfactions”; I am going to enjoy my work for at least the next three years…I do have a set of wonderful and inspiring people around me…I have made it this far, despite the hurdles,….and I WILL succeed (with a little help from my friends).