Tag Archives: health psychology

Running Up Hill – by Sarah Fry

Three years ago, when I was working as a full time prostate cancer Research Nurse, I asked myself why there didn’t seem to be any, or very few, black men in the prostate cancer clinics. Having an enquiring mind I conducted a review of the literature on ethnicity and prostate cancer and was surprised to find that men of African and African Caribbean origin have twice the risk for prostate cancer than white men. I quickly realised that this was something I wanted to research, and applied for PhD funding from RCBC Wales to explore what was known by men in the African and African Caribbean community in South Wales about their risk for prostate cancer. From the very beginning I was faced with a number of obstacles. My initial application for funding for this PhD topic was declined; the panel’s main concern being that I would “not be able to get a black man to talk to me about his prostate”. By my second round of funding they could see that I was not going to let this stand in my way and I secured the funding on the basis that I would find novel ways to recruit to my study.

I started my PhD on a part-time basis, keeping my toe in clinical waters, and decided to conduct a qualitative study using interviews and field work to find out how men living in black and white populated areas construct their beliefs about risks for prostate cancer. The aim of this being to find similarities and differences between these men to devise ways of targeting those most at risk in a meaningful and effective way.

The area in which I’m conducting my research is a suburb which is densely populated by people of African and African Caribbean origin. Of course the majority are now second generation but they have worked hard to hold onto their roots and this meant some were suspicious of ‘outsiders’ Butetown Mile committeeand at times just rude. Knowing I had to earn the trust of people in this community, doing something with not to them and not solely for myself, I learnt about a historic 1-mile running event which used to take place along a stretch of road going through their community. Most people spoke about it with fond memories; talking about the crowds it brought to their area, and expressing sadness at how they now feel they are isolated and separated from the city by new developments. So, why not re-launch this event? I saw this as a great opportunity to work with the community and soon set-up a small committee of myself and two key men who had been involved with the run in the past; one of Caribbean origin and one of Somali origin. The local council was thrilled. They had been trying to work with this community for years and so agreed to close the roads for free.

We decided, for the first year, to do the run for a large charity that I have connections with to help with administration. This seemed simple enough. The course is a straight line which generated interest in the past, and it now quickly became popular with club runners who started making noises about entry. Here we had two distinct social groups coming together. As a keen runner myself I am safe in the knowledge that most club runners are white professionals largely worried about how fast they run. The community I was working with, and particularly the men on the committee, were not used to the demands of the running group and bringing the two communities together has been almost impossible. The charity taking responsibility for administration has also seemed inflexible on accommodating to the cultural pace of the local community and I have started to see why the community might feel left behind. It is a matter of cultural competence; a concept which has become an extremely important thread in my PhD.

Last year, after months of stress and two weeks of sleepless nights, our first event was a success. The outcome was worth it; we had 65 runners pounding the streets on what turned out to be a great event. The club runners won and kept themselves separate from the local Butetown Mile flyer 2015community but I feel sure that integration will come with time. Integration does not happen with one event. The fastest child was from the local community and had never run before – so I feel we have something to build on. This year we have sponsorship and more engagement promises from the community, although I have learnt about pace and try not to get frustrated.

You may ask what this has this told me about the men in the community and how they think about their risk for prostate cancer. Firstly, it has allowed me access to this community and a depth of knowledge that will be invaluable, but it has also opened my eyes to what is important to these men. Surprisingly – it’s not what we as healthcare professionals think it should be.

Enter the Butetown Mile at –

“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.

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.