My PhD experience

I had been working as an Infection Control Nurse at Chiang Rai Regional Hospital in Thailand for more than 15 years before I came to Cardiff for the Doctoral degree. I conducted my PhD studies from October 2007 to August 2011. The main objectives of my PhD research were two-fold. The first objective was to explore people’s beliefs about influenza and influenza vaccination, and to investigate factors that affected the vaccination decision of a sample of urban-dwelling Thai adults. To reach this objective, a qualitative research approach was adopted (study 1). The second objective was to test the effect of a Health Action Process Approach (HAPA) based leaflet and action planning intervention on influenza vaccination behaviours among this high-risk group (study 2). A controlled, before and after trial was conducted to evaluate the intervention effects. As the HAPA model was used as a theoretical framework for study two, the model’s predictive utility was, thus, also examined. The results of the first study supported the development of the leaflet used in study 2.

Doing my PhD has been both challenging and rewarding. It’s challenging because a PhD is a very unique programme that focuses on one particular area, and PhD candidates are expected to have a profound knowledge of the subject area. They need to be able to maintain their motivation and interest to stay focused on the research project over a three-year period. Therefore, self-discipline, enthusiasm, and resilience are indeed essential for PhD students. Also, studying for a PhD of this nature can be an isolating and lonely experience. Loneliness is an inevitable part of a PhD candidate’s life. It’s important to spend some time with friends and social activities. Fortunately, in my case, my supervisors were very supportive and approachable. The school of Nursing and Midwifery Studies (SONMS) provides a great, academically motivated environment with training workshops, regular seminars, and research meeting. Library facilities and IT support are also well provided. Additionally, I found that the administrative staff were very friendly and helpful. I had the opportunity to attend a large number of seminar/workshop series organised by the school and the university. I also shared my research experiences, exchanged ideas, and spent some leisure time with friends who studied for a PhD. This helped me to deal with the feeling of loneliness and isolation during my PhD study.

On the other hand, pursuing a PhD is very rewarding. A PhD programme developed both my reading and writing skills. It provided me the freedom to research my topic of interest, to make a research plan, and to develop my own ideas and arguments. Most importantly, it strengthened my analytical skills. Doing a PhD also helped me in building my self-confidence; I have become more self-reliant. Although there were some challenges that I had to face along my PhD journey, the PhD experience is well worth it. I still remember the feeling of excitement when my research paper was accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. In particular, it was an amazing sense of accomplishment when I completed my PhD thesis; there is something to be proud of in such an intellectual achievement!!

Funding opportunities

You must apply for funding opportunities if they arise.

I have recently been granted some funding from the School of Nursing and Midwifery to attend a conference in Paris focusing on teenagers and young adults with cancer.  I am aware that other students have pursued other funding opportunities outside of the School and they too have been successful.

So don’t be afraid, if you don’t ask……..!

 

Jane Davies

Minority Ethnic Community Health Fair, Cardiff, 6th March 2013

I have just attended the Minority Ethnic Community Health Fair at City Hall in Cardiff.  The aim of the health fair is to encourage minority ethnic communities to think about their health needs and engage with the wider community to access health services.   There is the opportunity to have blood pressure, diabetes, and eye and ear checks at the event and students from the School of Nursing and Midwifery had volunteered to carry out these checks.

I had a stand at the event to promote prostate cancer awareness amongst the African and Caribbean community and was very pleased with the response.  I was busy for most of the day with interest from the all Minority Ethnic Communities attending the event.  No-one was aware that African and Caribbean men have a higher risk of prostate cancer and everyone was interested in my research to find out why there is a lack of awareness, and what we can do to raise awareness in this group.

 

I found the exercise very motivating in bringing my research to life.  Sometimes sitting and reading research papers can feel like a million-miles from the aim of a research project and doing an event like this makes it feel real.

Thank you to everyone who showed an interest in my research.

 

 

All piled up!

One of the first things I was advised before commencing my PhD study was to create some study space at home.  Being enthusiastic I was very lucky and able to convert one of my rooms into a study/small lounge area. I was pleased that I had created the space that I needed with my computer in one area, I found a place to store my books, and put some nice cushions on my study settee so that I could be comfortable in those moments of ‘thought’ and when reading. I had my CD player in a corner, in case I needed some light music while I worked….. awe, all those good intentions before I started!

One year on I have transitioned into student life and seemed to have forgotten about my tranquil study area!  It was only recently when I realized the whole house had become my study!

The realization came to fruition a couple of weeks ago, when I was getting in bed one night.  I always try and end my day on a positive note, so informed my husband about the best thing that had happened to me that day.  I then asked ‘what was the best thing about your day?’ and my husband replied ‘I can tell you what was not the best thing about my day…..you have now taken over the dining room with all of your books and papers’

Oops!! I went to sleep and when I awoke the next day, there it was, REALISATION, I had taken over the whole house. There was reading material and papers everywhere.

I had siblings and cystic fibrosis literature in the bedroom

Family centred care and qualitative research in the lounge

Several drafts of my research protocol in the dining room, lounge and bedroom.

A computer in the study, with policies and ethics documents dispersed everywhere. All my neat folders I had organized were just strewn. My laptop was in the lounge and my brain! I am not really sure where that was.

I had become so emersed in my work that I was gradually spreading it all over the place and my justification was …well I know exactly where everything is and forbid anyone to move anything.The comment from my husband was the last straw for him.  I had got the message. I needed to get organized, do some filing, tidy up the books and papers and give back the family home. I needed to retreat to the space I had originally created.

I have now begun to tidy up. The study is looking great, sometimes I am more comfortable in the main lounge and I do get restless when I am in one place.

So the new rules are:

Try and stick to the study space and if I do use another room, I must be organized and tidy everything away afterwards to that the PhD does not take over the house.

It is a good job my husband mentioned this to me when I had got to 12,000 words and not 80,000.

Nurse of the year award 2012

I was delighted to be nominated for the RCN specialist nursing award this year. A colleague asked if she could nominate me because she felt that running my nurse led diagnostic, follow up and counselling clinics and leading the service that Breast care patients receive was wonderful. A friend of both of us had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and had experienced the journey through to diagnosis in my clinic and it was at this point that she realised how nurses with advanced clinical skills can make a real difference. She was also nominating me for doing my PhD at this grand old age and being successful in getting a Florence Nightingale research scholarship this year. My nominator put together a very moving, complimentary summary of my achievements to date and why she felt I should receive the Nurse of the year award.

Following submission to the Royal college of Nursing judges, I was shortlisted for an interview and had to present my work and achievements over the last 20 years but especially the last year to a panel of senior nurses, academics and Welsh Assembly government members. Although it was really strange presenting what I had done in breast care since taking up post in 1991 and I felt like I was showing off, it also brought it home to me how much of my nursing career I have devoted to the speciality and what I have actually achieved. The panel were delighted and I came out feeling really positive. A few days later I had a letter to say I was a finalist at City Hall on the 28th November. That in itself was a great feeling and the fact that somebody had taken the time and effort to write a statement about my work and dedication to nursing was amazing. I didn’t realise that there was a winner and a runner up for each category at the awards and in total there were 9 different categories but when I heard this, I was sure I would be the runner up of my category because there is so much extraordinary work being conducted by all grades of nursing staff across Wales and I was so grateful just to be there.

The evening at City Hall was absolutely fantastic. The food was delicious, the company was excellent and there was a very warm friendly atmosphere. The RCN had really gone the extra mile to make this first Welsh Nurse of the Year a real success. Everybody dressed up in their best frocks and the highlight of the evening was Jason  Mohammad the compare. He was both funny and very pleasant to the eye. That said, I’m probably old enough to be his mum! Nevertheless, I found myself queuing with all the other ladies for a photo with him!! My husband definitely saw a different side to me that night!

The real highlight of the night was when they called out my name as the winner of the specialist award. I was truly delighted and overwhelmed. Sheila Hunt and Ruth Walker Nurse Executive Cardiff and Vale were the first to congratulate me and it was great to have them there to see it. I was on a high for the rest of the week and the week ended with our annual breast ball again at City Hall where all my team congratulated me and gave a public announcement in front of past and present patients. This again was an amazing feeling. I could get quite used to the life of being a celebrity!!

I’m in the mood now for winning and so next year I’m hoping that somebody will nominate me for the research and innovation award because anything’s possible!

 

A day of positives

I’m not sure many people actually enjoy speaking in public. As with many things in life, the more you do it, the better you get. But actually enjoying it?? Seems unlikely. So knowing that my name isn’t on that programme list gives me a nice warm feeling inside. I can just sit back, relax, and listen to what other people have to say. However, listen and understand are two very different things, and if I said I understood every part of every presentation during the 2012 PGR symposium I’d be lying. Some of the ideas were far too complex for my tiny, first year PhD brain to comprehend. At times I felt the look of confusion and bewilderment creep across my face that I see so often when one of my friends or family asks me about my ‘course’. Therefore I would never attempt to relay the information from each presentation in this blog entry (which I “volunteered” to write…and which had nothing to do with any coercion applied by Dominic or Katie!).

However, what struck me was the passion and enthusiasm that these people had for their subject. Each of the PGR students spoke with such pride that they had been able to nurture the smallest nugget of an idea into a substantial and original piece of research, regardless of how near (or far) they were to completion. It’s hard to imagine that these people, these researchers, were in the same position as me not that long ago. While I’m still battling with the dreaded ‘imposter syndrome’ and trying to concentrate on what I’m doing, while out of the corner of my eye looking at the door, waiting for security to escort me out of the building because my supervisors have realised they picked the wrong person, these people are well on their way to being called “Doctor”. The realisation that with a lot of hard work and support I can be in their place one day is incredibly reassuring.

Of course those who were not speaking did not get off the hook completely, as many of the attendees had submitted posters describing their research. While it was clear that everyone had put a great deal of work into their posters, a special mention should be given to Laura Goodwin and Abdulrahman (David) Aldawood (oh, and myself) who were chosen by Professor Gareth Williams as the top three. Our reward? An I.O.U. from Katie for an Amazon voucher…which of course we will only use to buy books and other educational materials!

So by any measure, today was a day of positives. The only negative…realising that sooner or later I’ll be one of those up there speaking!

Introduce your research using Quad of Aims

Yesterday I went to an RCBC Wales away day where we had a talk by Mark Hodder from Academi Wales.  He introduced us to a tool to help simplify the requirements of our research and produce a statement of goals that anyone can understand.

The Quad of Aims is used in business under the heading ‘lean thinking’.  Although this is a buzz word which tends to make me roll my eyes in anticipation of jargon I actually found this session very helpful.  The Quad of Aims is a good way to help focus the mind on why your research is being done and can act as a reference point as the PhD progresses.  It may also help me sound succinct when people ask about my work and what the intended outcomes are.

Here is my Quad of Aims for my research.  The quad is broken into four boxes: Purpose, Impact, Deliverables and Success (we were advised to use the deliverables box to plan our work over three 60-day time periods).

Title:  Perceptions of prostate cancer risk in African and Caribbean men in South Wales: Implications for health policy and supportive care.

THE PURPOSE CITIZEN/IMPACT
To understand group perceptions of prostate cancer risk in black African and Caribbean men in South Wales.The groups under study will be African and Caribbean men and General Practitioners in South Wales. Provide an evidence base of current perceptions of prostate cancer risk in African and Caribbean men in South Wales.Provide an evidence base of current levels of understanding in General Practitioners about risk for prostate cancer in African and Caribbean men, and their knowledge of cultural beliefs in this group.
DELIVERABLES SUCCESS
60 (1)Complete literature review.

60 (2)

Write protocol and make enquiries about publication.

60 (3)

Refine protocol and apply for ethical approval.

Success will be measured by: 

A better understanding of the need for education on prostate cancer risk in the African and Caribbean community

Use the evidence to produce a culturally sensitive education tool to advise African and Caribbean men about their prostate cancer risk.

 

 

 

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?!)

Back to Skool II

I met the new group of students enrolled on the Professional doctorate this week. They are all doing really interesting and clinically valuable projects. Although they have two years of taught modules before their research phase, they already have strong research ideas that come from their clinical practice:


Anne Owen: the introduction of the ‘nursing dashboard’ computer interface. evaluating its impact

Sian Lewis: How to improve compliance with dietary advice amongst patients with head and neck cancers following gastrostomy tube insertion

Janice Waters: Developing a tool to identify and assess children with behavioural problems that have a sexual dimension

Suzanne Harris: Evaluating the impact of discharging patients early following surgery

Claire McCarthy: the implementation of a nurse led minor injury clinic- perceptions of clinical and patient populations

Cath O’Brien: Examining the educational needs of trainee pharmacists

Mark Jones: Ensuring evidence based mental health care

Ricky Hellyar: Why haematology patients choose to participate in clinical trials?

Kate Deacon: How can we assess  patients for delirium in intensive care settings?

They asked for my top tips for surviving a phd…..so here they are…

Start writing now and keep writing- the more you do the better you get
Get it written, don’t get it right- we are not interested in perfection
Keep talking to your supervisors
Don’t think of the whole thesis or even ‘chapters’ (too scary), break it down into bite sized chunks that you can manage- from a thesis, down to 10,000 word chapters and in each chapter there could be 5 sections….so think in 2,000 word sections that are doable
It is all about perseverance, so keep calm and keep going….

Katie

Ever wonder what you might do after your PhD?

Vicky was a PhD student at the School of Nursing and Midwifery nearly two years ago and has kindly written a blog piece for us, telling us a little bit about what her life has been like post – PhD…

Following a BSc and MSc in psychology, I completed my PhD at Cardiff University in the department of Nursing and Midwifery in 2010. My research focused in the area of health psychology and addressed psychosocial predictors of PTSD, anxiety and depression in first admission acute coronary syndrome (ACS) patients. This research involved developing a cardiac specific threat and coping questionnaire and working hands on, in a hospital environment, with acute cardiac patients. I discovered through out this research that the part of the PhD I found particularly rewarding was working within a clinical environment and having face-to-face contact with patients. This confirmed my long-term goal to pursue a career in clinical psychology.

Life can sometimes feel as if it is on hold towards the end of your PhD but I have found that it soon picks up pace after hand in! Following completion of my viva in early 2011, I married my then boyfriend of four years James. We decided to take an extended honeymoon by travelling to New Zealand for a year in order to work and explore. We settled in the Northland of New Zealand and I worked as part of nation wide research team for Otago University. This research was a Multi-level Intervention for Suicide Prevention (MISP) project. I worked as the northland representative looking at the efficacy of a series of intervention upon ED presentations for suicide, suicide ideation and self-harm. 

As this research contract draws to a close, my husband and I are currently in the process of applying for residency in New Zealand so that we have the option to stay a bit longer and I am applying for clinical psychology training both in the UK and in Wellington, NZ. Coming to the end of a PhD was a scary transition in to ‘real life’ but the gap left in my life by the PhD was soon be filled with numerous other opportunities and I look back fondly on my student days.