What do you do then?

People regularly ask me the same question: “what do you do?”  A simple enough question perhaps, but one that I struggle to adequately answer.  Sometimes I say “a staff nurse”, but this leads on to further questions about where I work and if I enjoy my work and I am forced to admit that actually I work as a “bank nurse”, working on whichever ward is offered to me.  Additionally, saying that I am a staff nurse does not really describe what I do on a day-to-day basis – my clinical work on the ward is limited to two Saturdays per month.  Therefore, I sometimes say that I am a “researcher”, but this seems a little overzealous as in fact the research study I am conducting is my first and realistically I am a researcher-in-training.  Replying that I am “a student” generally conjures up a reply about what am I studying or a quip about attending only four hours’ lectures per week (when in fact I do not attend lectures at all).  Occasionally I tell the truth about what I do.

I am a PhD student, now entering my final year.  A nurse by background, I was awarded funding to undertake a full-time PhD back in 2009, and I am investigating how adults and their families live with home dialysis in Wales.  The fact that I am a nurse and a PhD student appears to perturb people.  My colleagues in the hospital wonder why I wanted to return to university full-time and thus work seldom hours clinically.  Sometimes, people seem to take offence that I no longer work full-time as a staff nurse, asking whether I do not like being a nurse.  A common response from people outside the academic or nursing world is “how can a nurse do a PhD?  I thought nursing was a practical job”.  This question forces me to take a breath and explain that as I have a bachelors degree I too am able to undertake a PhD, the evidence-base behind nursing practice is vital, and I am (hopefully) helping to generate the evidence.  Therefore, I often skirt around the issue of what I do.

However, I am intensely proud that I am undertaking my PhD.  I love it.  It has been an enormous challenge, but one that I have enjoyed at every step of the way.  Undertaking this challenge has enabled me to interact with other PhD students from many different disciplines, giving me insight into the rich and diverse research that is taking place.  I have learned about philosophy and sociology, as well as learning the principles of clinical research and health economics.  Collecting data, which involved me visiting individuals undertaking dialysis at home, has been the most fascinating aspect of the study, and I felt so lucky that families welcomed me into their homes and shared their experiences with me.  Although I started planning this project nearly three years ago, I continue to be enthralled by the topic and moved by the stories told to me by participants.  I feel incredibly fortunate that I was given the opportunity to embark upon my PhD and the process has thus far been rewarding and interesting.

Therefore, I need to find a new way to answer the question of what I ‘do’, which conveys how interesting my work is and my passion for it.  Failing that, perhaps I should make up a fantasy career?  I do like baking cakes…

Leave a Reply