Tag Archives: organised

Multitasking academic life with personal events – by Lowri Stevenson

This year has proved to be quite an eventful year for my family – my husband and two children – and me! Not only have I been undertaking the second year of a full-time PhD at the School of Healthcare Sciences, but within the space of seven short months, we have moved westwards as LS2a family, to enable us to enjoy a more rural lifestyle, as well as moved the children’s schooling and got married to boot!

I am unsure whether I would particularly recommend this chaotic way of living (albeit short-term), however, now that the house move and summer wedding are all just lovely memories, I am left with a very happy feeling in my bones that it has all worked out for the best for us as a family. We are a very happy and settled little unit. Thankfully, my PhD continues…

When I returned to studying in October 2013, from working on busy hospital wards as a midwife, I felt that everything should be put on hold whilst I undertook the next three years of study. I initially found it difficult to achieve the right work-life balance and put all other things aside to the studies. I found it quite stressful when anything unexpected cropped up. I remember during the early days of my studies, my supervisors reminding me several times that the PhD journey is a marathon and not a sprint! However, the changes in our lives since last December LS1have shown me, that with military-style organisation, dedication and some busy times, anything can be achieved; particularly if you are fully committed to what you are trying to accomplish. The undo ‘able can be done!

I must say, I did find myself delving my nose into my diary probably more than any other book I own, and utilising the skills of our brilliant family, as well as delegating some tasks out to wonderful friends; particularly with regards to weddingy issues. There were many times when everything else HAD to take a back seat to my studies, and that this had to be my priority at certain times along the way, particularly when there were submission deadlines or organised events. In the main, though, I found that living this double-sided existence became almost enjoyable: PhD student by day, and bride-to-be and full-time mother by night!

I guess the message I am trying to convey, by using my personal experiences, is that when life events occur whilst undertaking a huge professional commitment such as a PhD (which in the majority they will, LS3especially over a three-year period), there are certain attributes which may really help. For me, these were things such as being organised, good time-management, being flexible, not panicking, placing things into perspective and having a fantastic support network of supervisors, colleagues, family and friends to lean on.

Good luck to you all with your studies! Lowri x

Sometimes you won’t feel like talking about “IT” and it’s OK – by Carolyn Graham

As a PhD student, one of the things you will find out quickly is that you repeatedly have to tell people what you are doing, what you are “looking” at. In formal and informal gatherings, at workshops, seminars, conferences and other types of training, university and non-university encounters; either as part of the introduction or in conversations over coffee, a pint or at dinner. It doesn’t matter if you are one day or 4 years into the programme, the FAQs of a PhD student’s life remain the same: What are you looking at? How is it going? What is your topic? What is your theoretical framework? How are you going to collect data? When are you going to be finished? etc., etc. Some think it’s glamourous. “Oh the student life!” they exclaim. “You get to sleep late and work when you want.” If only they knew! IT will become your identity.SNV30975

Your response to these questions invariably begins with, “I am looking at…”

It is beneficial to speak about one’s research. Verbalization is good for formulating thoughts, to try out your ideas on others, to find persons of similar interest, to discover if you are making progress with your understanding of what you are doing, to get assistance, to get assurance, to practice for the times when you cannot avoid talking about IT and many more. Talking about your work is also good training for public speaking, in being concise, in breaking down complex ideas and for the Viva!

A tactic that I have found useful is to ask myself these same questions and write short responses to them or think up responses on the spot. I also practice varying my responses so that I don’t bore myself with my own replay. Recall that different persons are asking you so it will sound fresh and new to them, but not to you. I would recommend attending the 3-minute thesis competition, or even entering, if you are so inclined as it will allow you to develop the skill of being succinct yet thorough, while learning to put your work in a language that non-experts may understand.

Don’t forget however, depending on the situation, you can politely ask for a reprieve from talking about IT, and it is OK. The PhD life is like new parents whom everyone asks about the baby and forgets the parents, sometimes to their dismay. “What about me?” Is the silent lamentation. “I need some attention too!” At some point you feel like screaming. “Hey, I’m not my PhD, I have a life, an identity outside of my PhD. I am multi-dimensional!” Particularly if you are at a frustrating phase, just had a not-so-good supervision and you just want to forget the PhD, even for the two hours you are in a pub gathering some strength to get back to IT. You don’t always have the resolve to speak about IT. The first stages, when there is only a chaos of literature and ideas and you are struggling to put the pieces together yourself, can be a particularly dubious time. The imposter syndrome sets in and it is not made any better when asked “so, what are you looking at?” The writing up phase as well seem to be another daunting time. I am not there yet, but I have heard the tales of woe from others.

Sometimes when asked “what are you looking at?” it’s like a bombshell. The moment immediately becomes surreal, you hear the question but you are not sure what it means. When you, in slow motion, grasp the notion, your brain takes a scramble to put together something coherent and interesting. Of course, all this takes less than 10 sec11759033_958990500818475_1651712378_nonds, but for you it’s an eternity. I don’t know the full psychology, but added to the imposter syndrome is fear of sounding stupid, of not sounding intelligent enough, that your research sounds lame relative to others (all of us think everybody else’s research is more interesting) and even fear of public speaking, or speaking to strangers.

There are also those of us who, having passed through the valley of chaos and began to make sense of our work, have repeated the response so often that it becomes dreary. We have to then think of more creative, and interesting ways to answer the same question, which is itself a challenge. This is where practice helps. We also realize that, depending on who asks, we have to approach the response from different angles, and sometimes we are not sure at what level to pitch the response, ensuring the person understands but we are not patronizing.

Responding to questions about your work is a balancing act and it depends on who, when and where the question is asked. One can politely say, “wow, my brain is a bit tired now I just want to relax.” I have done that. Alternatively, you can beat the question to the punch and ask first. If you realize you are speaking to someone who likes talking about their work (and there are those who do), you continue asking them questions and this should save you. Sensitivity is important here however, people may be in a similar position to you and may really not wish to speak. In that case, it is OK to suggest a different line of conversation, such as “both of us seems to be tired of talking about our PhDs, so where are you from?”, or something similar.

10259561_723480654369462_1859309068_nThe bottom line is, like many other experiences, each person’s experience of the PhD, although there are broad similarities, is different. Personality, support, whether one is an international or local student, culture, language, and so on, all come together to influence the experience. Be reflective, know your strengths and weaknesses, and don’t be afraid to take a step back if your mind and body ask for reprieve. It is ok if at times you do not wish to speak about your PhD and it is also ok to say so; but you shouldn’t make a habit of it – discussion will benefit your ideas in the long run.

Carolyn Graham

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 –
http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/support-us/find-an-event/2015-butetown-mile

An Introduction to Marybeth Smith

Hello,

It’s often the case when you work in a large company or institution that you find yourself contacting people whom you’ve never actually met … sometimes even asking them for work! Although I’ve been covering Research administrative duties since the end of November 2013, and I’ve been in post officially since February 2014, it’s still not been possible to meet everyone in PGR. So if I haven’t met you yet, please accept my apologies and allow me to introduce myself …M Smith_pic_PhDays

 

Research Support Officer
My job is Research Support Officer, providing administrative support (or professional services) to the Research and PGR section. The Research support team is still coming together and there is work to be done on clarifying responsibilities and procedures. But in practice, I can assist with:
• Admissions queries
• SIMS queries
• Academic regulations pertaining to PGR degree studies
• Enrolment and Induction information
• Monitoring reviews process – forms, deadlines, required work, organisation of meetings
• Thesis submission and Viva
• Staff-student query organisation
• Finance and equipment queries – as a first point of contact, refer to other departments
• Liaison with UGC, Grad Centre about training and funding opportunities and events
• Letters (of reference, permission to travel, confirmation of registration, etc.)

I’ve actually worked for the School for 18 months, having joined the School of Nursing and Midwifery Studies (SONMS) in November 2012 as an Admissions Assistant (Undergraduate and PGT). Prior to that, from 2005-2010, I worked in the Schools of European Studies, Architecture, and Physics & Astronomy, primarily in Postgraduate.
Quite a lot has changed over that time — virtual learning and working environments, increased collaboration, paperless processes, etc.–and processes and procedures can vary considerably even across Schools within the University.

But much remains the same – especially in the structure of PGR degrees and in the particular nature of working relationships amongst students and members of staff (academic and administrative). And much has also improved. I’ve seen how facilities, resources and opportunities (both academic and social) have expanded for research students over the past decade. Right now we’re looking forward to the expansion in Eastgate House, which will include new and dedicated facilities and space for PGR/Research.

One thing which cannot be emphasised enough is that students need to take charge of their degrees and take advantage of the resources available in the School and throughout the University. In the coming months, we hope that the PGR community will grow and become even more active and engaged in shaping the PGR experience within the School.

Autobiography:

  • Resident in UK since 2004
  • Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA)
  • First trip abroad – to Ireland, six weeks in July/ August (high school trip) – my first lesson in understanding that the British Isles don’t really have a ‘summer’
  • First trip to the UK — study abroad semester at the School of English and American Studies, University of East Anglia, Norfolk 1993 (when Britpop was sweeping the nation)
  • First degree – BA English and history (concentrations in English language/linguistics and medieval literature/history) from Temple University in Philadelphia (a city campus, like Cardiff). Studied Old English and Latin (also know a bit of German and Spanish). Worked in a bakery, a coffee shop, a department store, catering company, and a book store.
  • Further studies — I’ve since done some Postgraduate studies (not yet completed) at Cardiff University in Medieval British Studies. Main interests – early medieval (Anglo-Saxon and Celt) period literature, archaeology, church history.
  • First real job — corporate communications assistant (General Accident Insurance); since then, I’ve been employed in editorial and marketing for an academic publisher (Harcourt); content management for a software start-up (Kenexa); editing, production and project management for a proposal production group (KPMG Consulting ); and as a freelance writing/editing.
  • Taught English to employees of SanofiPharma in Montpellier, France for a semester internship.
  • Own a bass guitar, guitar and a metal detector – not yet proficient in any of them!
  • Hobbies, interests and side projects– writing; genealogy/genetics and social history research; archaeology; travel; live music (Globe, Cardiff Students Union), performances (WNO, Cardiff Philharmonic, RWCMD, etc.) and theatre; books and film;hill walking;visiting heritage sites; lectures and workshops (Cardiff Lifelong Learning does some great ones, but there are history and civic societies as well as national heritage sites that also deliver worthwhile talks); photography.
  • Pets – currently, one tortoiseshell cat named Olwen whom I found living in the garden of my first home in Cardiff 10 years ago
  • Current challenges – growing veg, learning to drive, cycling

Hope to see you soon.

Marybeth Smith

Stress; Prevent rather than Cure!

by Shema Ammer

I am currently working on an analysis of both quantitative and qualitative data (mixed methods). Although a mixed method design is challenging due to its inherent complexity, I believe that this method enables me to gather a wide variety of data to measure and compare the outcomes of the intervention. To analyse the quantitative data I used the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS 18). To analyse the qualitative data I decided to use Thematic Analysis. The process of data analysis is challenging and takes time, so to motivate myself I attended several workshops. These included:

  • PhD Comics – ‘ The Power of Procrastination’ (a talk by Jorge Cham)
  • Stress Management
  • Fearless

The things I learnt from all of these workshops are helping me to cope with the stress that I experience from data analysis and my PhD studies in general. The presenters of each helped me to learn how to manage and control my stress in order to feel more happy and productive as a PhD student.

The main thing I learnt through these workshops was that we should prevent, rather than cure, stress by:

  • developing resistance
  • improving productivity by realistic planning and time management
  • setting realistic targets and expectations
  • analysing or recognising ourselves (self-awareness is knowledge, and knowledge is power).

I believe that attendance at these kind of workshops improves self-awareness, particularly regarding the challenges being presented by PhD study.

Sarah Worley-James, who gave the talk on “stress management” taught me that the stress and anxiety produced by undertaking a PhD is unique due to the following factors:

  • Isolation and limited support
  • Pressure from self (perfectionism)
  • international students
  • Pressure of Viva
  • The Imposter Syndrome

I learnt that when we are facing a problem or challenge, one of the key questions we need to ask ourselves is: “Okay. So what do I plan to do differently so I can have a chance at a different outcome?”

If we can succeed in doing this, managing our stress and anxiety effectively will equip us with the ability to:

  • solve problems effectively
  • identify difficult situations
  • think calmly under pressure
  • believe in ourselves and  improve self-confidence
  • cope with deadlines
  • plan our time effectively
  • communicate well with others
  • feel positive
  • avoid procrastination and perfectionism!!

 

The TOP TIPS I learnt from these workshops:

  1. Take 1 minute at the end of each day to write 3 things that you have achieved. (This should help to build your self-confidence and self-esteem.)
  2. Focus on the evidence for positive outcomes of your efforts
  3. Reduce mental stress by identifying and challenging fearful thoughts, as well as relaxing through imagination and mediation.
  4. Reduce physical stress using muscular relaxation, deep breathing, exercise and a healthy diet and environment.

I hope that these tips will help us to progress along our chosen career path; minimising the risk of stress overload and burn out.

 

Some websites I would recommend:
www.robertsoncooper.com/iresilience
www.nhs.uk/moodzone
http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk
http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/counselling

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.

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?!)

“So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye. I leave and heave a sigh and say goodbye”

I was always warned that my three years of PhD funding would fly by and while I did not doubt it, I am still amazed at the pace with which it has disappeared.  The exciting news is that I will soon be starting as a Research Assistant in the School of Medicine at Cardiff University, but that means that it is time to say goodbye to theSchool of Nursing and Midwifery Studies.

I know that I’ve said it a lot, but the last three years really have been a brilliant experience.  Not only have I learned how to plan and undertake qualitative research, I’ve also learned all about other research designs and approaches.  I’ve had the boundaries of my knowledge and understanding well and truly pushed, although my partner is fed up of me interpreting everything according to a social constructionist perspective!

I’ve also had the chance to take part in such a variety of other activities and projects.  During the last three years I’ve regularly taught clinical skills, which has been a fantastic opportunity.  I discovered that I love teaching students, particularly when they are at the beginning of their journey to becoming a nurse and you can teach the importance of fundamental care, skills and attitudes.  It’s also been a privilege to teach students nearing the end of their nursing journeys research, seeing their enthusiasm for the profession and their interest in learning how to move the evidence-base forward.

My organisational skills have progressed during my PhD to the point of obsessive, which I made great use of when helping to organise two conferences in the University.  Having attended conferences for several years, helping to plan two was a great and unique experience.  In particular, it was very interesting to work with an inter-disciplinary team to organise the Spotlight on Social Sciences conference, highlighting to me the differences between our research projects and perspectives in general of research.

However, it is the people in the School of Nursing and Midwifery Studies and beyond that have made this PhD such a wonderful experience.  I’ve been lucky to share an office with a brilliant group of people, who I will miss terribly when I can no longer fill them in on the banalities of my everyday life.  I couldn’t have asked for better supervisors, while the support from administrators and IT has been fantastic.  I’ve learned such a lot from the research and teaching staff in the school, who welcomed and supported me throughout.

To conclude, I’ve also learned something very important about myself (that I will have to try and change when I leave): that I write best in my jogging bottoms and no make-up, listening to soft opera, preferably in Italian (so I can’t try and sing along), in the morning.

Thanks everybody and I will see you in the evenings and weekends (maybe) when I return to the PhD office to finish the small task of my thesis…