Category Archives: conferences

Recent conference reflections (FIAPAC/QUART)

I’ve attended a couple of conferences recently, very different from each other but both giving me plenty of food for thought.

First up was FIAPAC in Edinburgh, where it was arranged for me to be a volunteer (which mostly meant dealing with the scrum for delegate packs on the first morning), but where I also got to see plenty of plenary and workshop sessions. My PhD looked at sexual and reproductive health, and I am hopeful that I can do further research in that area in future, so this was a good chance for me to have some exposure to current debates in abortion practice and care. Most of the delegates were practitioners and activists, so as a qualitative researcher I felt a bit ‘on the edge’ of things, but it was great to step back and look at what is going on in abortion care and services and hear some very inspiring (and some very depressing) accounts. Highlights for me were meeting again one of my PhD research respondents and hearing about the situation in central and eastern Europe/former Soviet Union both in plenary and workshop sessions; and also the plenary talk on the first day by Ann Furedi, Chief Executive of BPAS, the UK’s largest single abortion provider. Her talk about staking a moral claim and reclaiming the moral high ground very much resonated with the findings from my PhD, where I suggest that health services positing themselves as values-free and morally neutral is counterproductive and does not necessarily engage with the moral concerns of society – both opposition and potential service users. I was also really impressed with the questions she asked in some of the other sessions; she wasn’t afraid to challenge people she’s in agreement with generally and I thought that she came across as warm, open and very very impressive.

Then yesterday I attended a one-day conference in Sheffield around qualitative research as part of clinical trials. My current research project is exactly that, qualitative work with people participating in a randomised controlled trial (RCT), and I must admit that working in this context has been quite a culture shock! In one sense I’ve felt a bit like qualitative research is considered a bit of a ‘poor relation’ and is largely undervalued, and on the other I have felt like I’m a bit of a rarity to be working in this context. It was a really pleasant surprise therefore to find the room packed out with researchers involved in qualitative work with trials and to talk not only about each others’ work but also to start really getting to grips with those knotty questions of the relationship between the two and more theoretical and methodological issues. They presented the findings of the QUART study (including a systematic review of qualitative trial-based studies and interviews with qualitative researchers working alongside trials) which was fascinating and gave lots of food for thought.

In my feedback one of the things I suggested was to do a similar day but include the clinicians who are working on the trials which have qualitative components. In a sense the day was ‘preaching to the converted’, but the reality is that some triallists are more committed to and convinced by the qualitative work than others. I think that for triallists to see this ‘critical mass’ of diverse qualitative trial work would be a really helpful way of bridging the gap somewhat.

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Catching up with myself

My poor neglected blog! I have done a number of things in the last month, including attending and presenting at the Health in Transition conference in Bucharest, and spending a week down south observing a course in preparation for the interview stage of my current research (which I start next week).

Casa Presei Liber (House of the Free Press) from Herastrau Park, Bucharest

Being back in Romania was wonderful. I was delighted that my language skills were still up to the job, I reacquainted myself with my favourite Bucharest restaurant and – probably for the first time – felt relaxed and ‘at home’ in Bucharest (previously I have lived and worked in other towns and cities there, and whenever I was going to Bucharest I would be regaled with tales of muggers, thieves and ne’er-do-wells, so I was always on edge whenever I went). The conference was great, quite small but that meant that delegates had the chance to listen to all the other papers and do lots of networking. There is a lot of fascinating research going on in central/eastern Europe, and some really interesting debates (such as around the validity/utility (or not) of the terms post-socialist and neoliberalism) which have been going on for ever but it was good to still hear some new and refreshing takes. There is also a lot of research going on with various vulnerable groups – as you might expect in a conference focusing on health – much of which was very moving.

My own paper (on morality and its role in sexual/reproductive health in Romania and Moldova) went well, I think – I was nervous as when I had practiced the night before it had gone way over time and I’d had to chop quite a bit out of the talk, so I was worried about it not making sense, but I got some great questions and people seemed interested in what I had to say. I now need to think about turning it into a journal article – my challenge is finding somewhere where it will best ‘fit’. That is one of the good things, but also one of the disadvantages, of research in area studies: there are lots of journals, either area studies-specific (Central/East European Studies, CEES) or discipline/methodology-specific where the research could be disseminated, not least because a lot of area studies work is cross-disciplinary, but the best ‘fit’ journal might not necessarily be such a great idea if I am looking for a position in a department which is not an area studies department. I have a couple of journals in mind, but will need to think (for the non-area studies ones) how to explain the contextual background for non-CEES specialists, background which is much more familiar to those working within the CEES field. It’s a good dilemma to have though, I do like writing so once I know where I am aiming I will enjoy writing this paper.

My week down south also went well – although observation isn’t strictly part of my research, intensively observing one course generated lots of insights which have now informed my interview topic guide. I am really looking forward to the interviews next week and getting into a new project. It is in an area I’m not so familiar with, but as a colleague pointed out yesterday, that’s not necessarily a bad thing – hopefully it will mean that I will let the participants talk more rather than interrupting them with all my vast knowledge!

It will almost feel odd this time that I am doing the interviews in English, with English-speakers. I spoke briefly at a Doctoral Training School event co-hosted by my former department on language issues in research this week (although sadly I had to leave after I had said my bit, as I was not well; up to then the debate had been really interesting and I may well come back to revisit the issue here as well as possibly in another journal article). I think most of us who were either conducting or writing up our research in languages that were not our first language had found language a ‘magnifier’ for our reflexivity and for noticing things which may otherwise have been taken for granted, so it will be really interesting to see if I experience any differences interviewing in my first language this time round.

I think that’s me caught up now, after a month of not blogging. The #acwri targets fell by the wayside slightly due to travel, but I have plans to get myself back on track so am still bearing the at least 100 words a day in mind and will hopefully get back to that with a vengeance in the next couple of weeks.

Health in Transition conference and preparing for a new start

I’m delighted to have the opportunity to participate in this year’s Health in Transition conference, being held in Bucharest, Romania in June. As well as presenting my own paper in panel 3, I am also down to be both chair and discussant for panel 6. The entire conference looks fascinating, I’m really looking forward to it – plus as well as the conference, I am looking forward very much to being back in Romania, a place very dear to me. Hopefully my language skills won’t be too rusty and forgotten! I have really enjoyed getting back into my PhD thesis as I prepare my paper for the conference. There is still a lot there I want to get ‘out there’ and known more widely, so this conference is a great opportunity.

By the time I get there I will have been in my new post just over a month and immersed in the new research project; I start my new job next week. I am really excited about starting, although I am also a little nervous and hope that this ‘imposter syndrome’ feeling doesn’t last too long! I am going to have to hit the ground running, and after the conference in Bucharest I will be starting the ‘fieldwork’ aspect of the new research almost straight away. Actually I think doing interviews in English is going to be quite a novelty! 🙂