Tag Archives: research topics

Imposter Syndrome by Laura Cassels

A guide to surviving imposter syndrome in science

I sat there, completely intimidated, terrified. I stared at them, zipping through experiments with ease; laughing and arguing fluently in scientific language I wasn’t yet familiar with. Surely he had made a mistake in inviting me to do a PhD? Everyone in the lab had impressive CVs and an incredible knowledge base. The post-docs were extraordinarily experienced, the PhD students seemed like young post-docs, and the PI was (literally) referred to as the rock-star of neuroscience. I was so scared I wouldn’t be good enough to be part of the group. They would surely figure me out eventually and then would come a chase with pitch forks and fire. Or maybe a Bunsen burner and scalpel as we are talking about a 21st century laboratory.

20150604_093946Before joining the lab, after I first received an offer, I had all of these thoughts. Was I good enough to join this group? Or would I just continuously fail, feel awful and drop out? In the end I committed myself and jumped in. What was a PhD anyway if not the chance to challenge myself? I mean, maybe my insecurities were unfounded and with time I would become more confident?

It’s now been 15 months and I still sit in meetings and panic. Actually, despite being shocked by the comments made by Sir Tim Hunt about women in science, I have to shamefully admit that I have (in private) already shed a few tears of frustration in the past year. Why?

Well luckily for me it turns out that a lot of scientists feel the same way. In fact I discovered through several late nights at work that my colleagues who intimidated me originally, it turns out, are intimidated by me too. It’s a well-known phenomenon in academia called the “imposter syndrome”. So at the risk of sounding pedantic, I have learnt a couple of things that can help to battle this wee beastie:Untitled

  1. You are not alone in feeling like a fraud.

Every single academic I’ve met has said they have felt the same, from post docs in Buenos Aires to China, from the PhDs in the US to Italy. It’s a universal epidemic. If everyone feels the same that means even your role model is thinking this from time to time. That means that if you have particularly nice colleagues you can take solace in sharing your woes and giving each other a boost, or by reminding yourself from time to time that even the most smug, know-it-all will have this fear.

  1. Why did I feel intimidated?

Academia, by definition, is a work environment filled with incredibly talented people. No matter what subject you are in the fact is that you are never going to know everything. But the beauty of doing a PhD is the amazing opportunity you have to learn from the worlds brightest. Every day you are learning something new and it’s inspiring. Remind yourself why these people are intimidating to you, and then realise that someone saw the potential in you to at least become one of these people, if you aren’t already.

  1. Why did you start a PhD in the first place?

I guess you’re looking at this because you’re either on, or considering doing a PhD. That means you have some passion to learn about your subject. If you knew everything already then there IMG-20150627-WA0000would be no point in you undertaking a PhD in the first place. It’s a training program for a reason. Accepting that each time you don’t understand or don’t know the answer is an opportunity to learn is tough, but it comes with time.

Being honest, I used to research SO MUCH before a simple catch up meeting with my supervisor. I would freak out and get so anxious. I didn’t want to disappoint him, or to look stupid and that I wasn’t trying hard enough. But one day he said to me “It’s okay, you’re here to learn,” after I had made a particularly embarrassing mistake. Your supervisor and colleagues don’t expect you to know everything, just to try your best and be enthusiastic about your work.

  1. Embrace mistakes.

Make numerous mistakes, not failures. Why? Because 20150625_095658mistakes are valuable lessons. Months of failed experiments (that’s not an over exaggeration) remind me that if my experiments all went smoothly I would probably make an utterly useless post doc. I’d never know how to trouble shoot or tweak experiments. I’d never know how to think outside the box. If everything was going 100% perfect you’re probably doing something wrong without realising it, which is worse if you think about it.

  1. Talk to non-academic or non-scientific loved ones. Seriously. Do it right now.

Two months ago my experiments weren’t going great and I was feeling a little un-enamoured with my research. I was in a funk. I met with an actor friend and when he asked what I was doing my research on, I bashfully shrugged it off as boring compared to his glamorous lifestyle. After his insistence, I explained and his eyes lit up and he shouted “that’s SO cool!”.

You forget how novel the idea oIMG-20150703-WA0002f manipulating DNA in cells is when you’re amongst scientists, but to someone else it’s fantasy from a sci-fi movie involving ugly aliens and Tom cruise. My parents, enthusiastic little dears, hang my past conference posters in the house and from time to time I’ll let them come into the lab. It’s always a massive pick me up to remember why you fell in love with science in the first place and see it through a new pair of eyes.

  1. Look back at past reports.

It sounds ridiculous but if you see some of your past work from your undergraduate years you will see how far you have come in such a short space of time. Cut yourself some slack and remember that in three years time, during your post doc you will look back at your PhD self and feel the same way. It is a learning process that takes time, but you will get there.

 

Laura Cassels, Wellcome Trust PhD Student
(Prof. Yves Barde’s Group)
Cardiff School of Biosciences

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

The Little Engine That Could – Judith Benbow

Hi Everyone,

My name is Judith Benbow  and I am in the School of Healthcare Sciences; based at Ty Dewi Sant. My research is a mixed methods study exploring resilience in front-line nurses in Wales; I am interested in what enables nurses to develop resilience.

Just like in the story “The Little Engine That Could”, many nurses keep chugging up the hill traversing what seems to be impossible challenges in order to get to the top. I am exploring how these nurses negotiate these challenges to achieve the ultimate goal of delivering quality, individualised, compassionate care.

the-little-engine-that-could
If you are not familiar with story of  the little blue engine you may want to click on the link and enjoy some inspiration for your studies.

The Little Engine That Could

Good Luck everyone!
Judith

Hello from Wafa

Hello, I am Wafa from Saudi Arabia; I started my PhD study (full time) this April. My research topic will be about “Assessing the Needs of Breast Cancer Survivors in Saudi Arabia”. I believe that this study has the potential to help breast cancer patients break their silence and improve their quality of life.

WafaMy masters degree (MSc. Nursing Science) was obtained from Trinity College in Dublin. Being abroad for the last two years has helped me to become more mature, independent, self-confident and open-minded; especially in terms of change.

When I first started, my feelings were a mixture of panic and excitement. However, with excellent help from academic and administrative staff in Cardiff University, all the worries faded away and I was able to “collect” myself again.

I really enjoyed joining Mrs. Sarah Fotheringham this week on a visit to Fitzalan High School, where I helped to promote nursing as a career. It was an amazing experience to talk about nursing, in Saudi Arabia and in the world generally, to teenagers who came from various different backgrounds. I am looking forward to our next school visit as I believe that nursing is a truly challenging and exciting career option.

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.

 

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).