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).