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!

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