Monthly Archives: December 2011

In limbo

One of the things I have appreciated about being on twitter (username @JackieKirkham) is that I have enjoyed and appreciated coming across people in a similar position with whom I can share experiences and (hopefully) pass on a bit of wisdom gained along the way, via the #phdchat hashtag in particular. I am especially appreciating that I am not the only person post-PhD and pre-first postdoc/lectureship/other academic post who is experiencing this ‘in-between’, limbo period as a rather odd one. It is really easy, from the beginning of the PhD, to feel quite isolated – you are the only one looking at your precise topic, so even if you are fortunate enough to have colleagues in a similar position or be part of a larger research group, your particular bit of the research jigsaw is entirely down to you. Having said that, one of the things I particularly appreciated when doing my PhD was the wisdom and tall tales of colleagues in my department who were a year or two before me – their tales of rescuing triumph from the jaws of fieldwork disaster gave me a lot of hope as I prepared for fieldwork myself, and I have enjoyed sharing my own shaggy dog stories from fieldwork with colleagues a year or so after me.

Ailsa Craig, in the Firth of Forth. A rock *and* a hard place.

The post-PhD period seems to be an extension of this isolation, which is why I am delighted to have discovered a number of useful resources and people which are currently acting in a similar way to my more experienced PhD colleagues a few years ago. Dr Anna Tarrant wrote about this very topic of the post-PhD identity a couple of weeks ago, as has the very helpful Early Career Researcher blog at Warwick University in this post by Hannah Andrews (I particularly appreciated the Venn Diagram, which summed up the between-rock-and-hard-place experience perfectly!). As a result of conversations on twitter with Anna (@dratarrant) and Dr Sarah-Louise Quinnell (@sarahthesheepu) of Kings College London, we* have developed a wiki precisely to serve those of us in a similar position. It can be found here and will hopefully become a useful forum for sharing advice, support, and encouragement. We are also using the hashtag #phdpostdoc on twitter, and hope that it will become as supportive and wellused as #phdchat has done.

On the wiki I have listed my goals for 2012. These are quite ambitious (although as I note there, they are still more realistic than my perennial losing weight goals), but I hope still achievable. As noted in my ‘About me’ page, I am hopeful that soon I will be able to substantially reduce my clinical practice hours so that I can concentrate firstly on my Open University teaching but also free up a lot of time to write. So my aims are to have written at least four journal articles in 2012, secure a permanent academic position, present an academic conference paper and look into applying for funding for future research. Some of these are more certain than others – reducing the clinical practice should give me a good 2 days a week to focus on writing, and I have already submitted a paper proposal for a conference in the summer (I will hear in February whether it has been accepted; whether or not it is I have the outline of the paper and for turning it into a more substantial journal article). The other two are of course less certain; however as they say ‘you have to be in it to win it’, so I will continue to apply for jobs and funding and learn and gain from the experience and hopefully reach those goals too ultimately. I had an interview recently and whilst not appointed to the job got very positive feedback and the opportunity for some possible further contact with the department, and am aware that this is significant progress from interviews I had a year ago, so I am hopeful and more confident that I will continue to make positive progress in 2012.

So here is to a successful 2012 for all of us, and the hope that we are all able to find a way along that bridge from PhD to postdoc.

* credit where it is due, Sarah did the techy bits and had the original idea. I just made the appropriately encouraging noises.

All about my thesis

My thesis

My thesis

I realise I haven’t said much here about the biggest bit of research I have done to date, namely my PhD thesis. It is a qualitative study of sexual and reproductive health in Romania and the Republic of Moldova, looking primarily at the contexts in which sexual and reproductive health services are provided and the barriers and opportunities identified by people working in this area in a number of sectors (state medical, voluntary sector, international donor, etc). The thesis also incorporated a review of media coverage in the two countries around sexuality, reproduction and sexual and reproductive health. I chose to work in Romania and Moldova for initially quite practical reasons (I speak the language, and had previous contacts and experience in both countries), with the focus on health reflecting my professional background in nursing. The end result is very different from my original research proposal, which was much more rooted in social policy, mainly as a result of the eventual decision to focus more specifically on sexual and reproductive health. This led me down a number of fascinating roads, relating to gender, nationalism, sexuality, religion and morality alongside the original health/policy focus, and caused me to reflect towards the end of the process that the thesis chose me as much as the other way round – I don’t think I could have got as passionate and committed to my originally proposed research as I did to the thesis as it ended up.

The thesis itself can be found in the University of Glasgow thesis repository – this link is to the thesis abstract and the thesis is accessible from there (pdf format). I chose not to place the thesis under embargo, as I have decided that although I do think there is an academic book in me somewhere I feel that practically it would make more sense to concentrate on writing shorter journal articles for now. I am planning on reducing my clinical hours in the new year so I can spend some time writing a number of articles drawn from this thesis, in order both to try to make my list of publications more attractive to potential employers, and to give me the opportunity to write in depth about a number of quite random and disparate issues which although of considerable interest could only be touched upon briefly in the thesis itself. One of the advantages of my thesis and its findings is that it is applicable in a number of academic fields – sociology, public health, development studies, area studies, social policy, gender studies, media studies/discourse analysis as well as qualitative research methodology and other academic sub-areas (sociology of health and illness being a particularly obvious one) – which means that I have a number of articles on several different topics just waiting to be written. One of the disadvantages of that is that I could write for journals which are important and high-impact in one discipline but which for other disciplines are much less relevant and impactful, so over the next couple of months I am going to sit down and plan a strategy for prioritising my writing. As for that book – well, I have ideas for a future research project which I think would ultimately lend itself much more easily to an academic monograph. The other priority for next year is to investigate possible funding for that future research, something else which having more publications under my belt will help, of course.

Yesterday via the #phdchat discussion on Twitter I came across a blog post where the author summarised his work in 100 words. That is a challenge I might think about for a future post, as I know one of my writing problems is not using 1 word when 10 will do!

Should nurses get political?

Me at the STUC march in Glasgow #N30

This (it has to be said not terribly flattering!) picture is of me earlier this week at the STUC march in Glasgow. Along with many public sector workers throughout the UK I was on strike on 30th November; this was not a decision I took lightly as amongst nurses in particular, as well as health workers more generally I think, the prospect of going on strike is one which arouses a lot of strong feelings as it is not just us who are affected but also our clients/patients. Certainly at my workplace we had a lot of discussions and were by no means unanimous in our decisions on the day. However in this case it felt good to be part of a much wider movement calling for change and for fairness, and that for me is very much at the heart of what nursing should be all about.

[Incidentally, the placard I am holding in the photo is not the one I eventually marched with, as whilst I agree with the placard sentiments entirely and am horrified at the damage that the UK government is doing to the NHS in England and Wales in particular, the combination of the size of the placard and the wind on the day meant that I was worried about bopping my fellow marchers on the head!]

It also reminded me of a rant I had before the UK election last year after reading an article in the Nursing Times on one of David Cameron’s campaign trail pronouncements about nurse training. This pronouncement came hot on the heels of another one about Tory proposed changes to access to teacher training (this is a press release from university think-tank million+ about it) where Cameron had stated that graduates from ‘elite’ universities would take precedence over those from more ‘lowly’ universities in entering the teaching profession, implying that in the field of education, academic elitism was to be favoured over the more practical and vocational. In contrast, for nursing Cameron was saying that academic elitism was a bad thing and the more practical and vocational was to be favoured. This is the substance of my previous rant:

Now, I have a number of problems with this. A disclaimer here: I realise that I am on the more academic side of things, and I responded well to much of the academic side of nurse training, whereas many absolutely brilliant nurses aren’t so into the academic side of things but are still fantastic at what they do and shouldn’t be discriminated against by a lack of academic aptitude (having said that I do think that a GCSE/O’level C grade in maths is essential for pretty obvious reasons – I don’t want any doses of drugs being calculated by people who can’t multiply or divide – but I digress).

My concerns are severalfold. Cameron’s statement that there was “too much over-academicised training and not enough hands on training, not relevant to what they were doing on the ward” is far too simplistic. The issue of academic versus hands-on has been going on for ages, certainly while I was training in the mid-1990s it was a huge issue with “old hands” moaning that newly-qualified nurses didn’t have the practical skills to do the job whilst many nurses really appreciated the chance to expand their knowledge and – and this is the important bit – apply it to how they practised nursing. What really bothers me about this statement though is in many ways much more basic. Firstly, I and many many hundreds of other nurses haven’t worked on a ward for years. What is relevant to ward nurses is much less relevant to community and general practice nurses, who work in different ways and often are looking at health, illness and wellbeing in a totally different light (complementary I might add to the hospital system, not in opposition to it).

My biggest concern is that, when I look back at my nurse training, the biggest discovery for me and the thing that really sparked my interest in working in communities, looking at health inequalities and trying to work towards improving health at a community as well as individual level was sociology – in particular looking at the Black Report of 1980 which showed how social class affected health outcomes (the report was commissioned by the Labour government of the 1970s but published in August 1980, just after the Conservative government of Mrs Thatcher took power. It was published on a Bank Holiday with only a few hundred copies, and was basically hushed up, as the findings were so compelling that inequalities in health were inextricably linked to social class inequalities). And this is, I think, precisely the sort of “academic training” that Cameron has in mind when he talks about over-academic training. He’s not going to slash lecturing posts in anatomy and physiology, it’s the more political stuff he wants to get rid of, like sociology. It’s all very well having nurses with amazing practical hands-on skills – indeed it is vital, of course it is. But if we have a generation of nurses who are only trained to do practical things with individual patients, what is lost is the focus on inequality and injustice. I just think it would be awfully convenient for the Tories to have a nursing profession that is so focussed on being professionally and practically brilliant at what they do that they have so much less time or knowledge or understanding to challenge the real issues of inequality and exclusion on a wider level.

Yes, I was marching about pensions on November 30th. Despite what is being said in the media, on my current salary the last thing I am expecting my pension to be is ‘gold-plated’. But I was also marching to say that absolutely, nurses need to stay political not just for our own benefit but precisely for the people we work for, our patients, clients and students.