Tag Archives: Research

Intermission

By the end of my intermission I’ll have been absent from my PhD for 5 months. Five months are a long time to be MIA from your PhD. When I return, I’ll have to get acquainted with my research, get my head round all the changes in my department and at the same time start the last year of my PhD. It’s all a bit daunting.

I think what scares me the most though, is that I’ve decided that I don’t want to go into academia any more. Don’t get me wrong, I love research; the intellectual challenge and the reward of finding out something new, especially when it has practical applications for helping other people. I was always one of those people who was 100% confident from the beginning that I wanted to be an academic. At university I found “my people,” made lifelong friends and had some fantastic opportunities along the way.  However, I’ve come to the gradual realisation that my priorities: family, friends, being healthy, having job security and enjoying the small things in life, are just not compatible with the path to success in academia. For me, it would mean post-doc hopping around the world on minimal pay for years while clocking the inevitable 50-hour (or more) work week in a highly competitive industry with the odds firmly stacked against me ever gaining a permanent job. I have a lot of respect for the people working within academia or aspiring to work in academia, and acknowledge that it is possible to make it all work, but I now know that it’s just not the path for me any more. I don’t regret doing a PhD and fully intend to complete mine, but I don’t plan to apply the skills I have learned within this degree in a traditional academic environment any more.   It has taken a little while, but I’m genuinely okay with this realisation.

I’ve been working on the ‘what next’ for a little while now. It’s still terrifying but not as overwhelming. At the moment, I’m toying with the idea of working as a part-time psychologist and part-time consultant, perhaps to some disorder or disability orientated organisation. Ideally, the consultant role would involve some research, perhaps developing and evaluating therapy programs. Alternatively, I’ll work part-time as a psychologist and part-time in another field drawing upon my media, communication and generic research skills. Who knows? That’s what I’ve got to work out now and that too is daunting. Which doors do I close? How? When? Who I can talk to about this? Who can offer me guidance about my options and how to proceed? And the more immediate question, what does “being a PhD student” look like for me now when the path I’ve been prepared for, is not the path I’m taking? IMG_1907

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2013: The year in review

I’m officially on my short but much needed Christmas break (YAHOO)! Hopefully taking some time to recharge my batteries before placement begins in early January will clear away the rest of that little black cloud of research ennui that’s still hanging around. Now that I’ve finally got some time to call my own though, I thought I’d revisit my hopes and dreams for the year to see how they played out.

In terms of the clinical components of my degree, I’d wanted to soak up as much experience and knowledge as I could on my first placement  from my supervisor, clients and fellow trainees to develop my skills and confidence in practice psychology.  I definitely achieved all of the above and consequently feel much more confident about my upcoming second placement than I did with my first.

The outcomes of my coursework aspirations were a bit of a mixed bag though. In many respects, the coursework component of my degee exceeded my expectations. My final topic, which was about health psychology, proved to be my favourite and exposed me to another area of psychology that I might like to work in at some point in my career. As I had hoped, I gained the classes and assignments provided me with a deeper knowledge of psychology and reiterated that I’m more competent than I give myself credit for. However, I had wanted to apply the theory I had learned. Though case conceptualisation and our self-examination of our therapy skills proved useful on placement, I wasn’t able to put my cognitive therapy knowledge into practice as much as I would have liked. Hopefully that will change in the coming year. It still seems surreal to think that next year there won’t be any more coursework. Though I’ll miss the discussions and seeing my classmates each week (we had some great extra-curricular celebrations too 🙂 ), after 19 straight years of formal lessons, I’m more than ready to step out of the classroom!

Similarly, I had mixed outcomes in achieving the goals for the research components of my degree. Some of my aspirations didn’t quite come to fruition as I had planned. For instance, I didn’t manage to write regularly, but I did almost complete the first chapter of my PhD and make a start on the second. Other things can clearly be crossed off my list of goals however, including finding better ways to let potential participants know about my studies, meeting data collection quotas and fostering friendships with fellow students. I can’t recommend using social media enough to promote your research and, I can attest that there’s nothing like exploring a foreign country to really get to know people!  Perhaps my biggest success was in developing my critical analysis skills. Thanks to my work as a research assistant, my own research and a bit of a stats boot camp by another student, I’ve developed my reading muscle, ability to critique and understand studies and I’ve been introduced to new analysis techniques.

But did I achieve my most important goal for 2013, to pull off all the above and not lose myself or my social life in the process? Well, yes and no. Work, placement and classes certainly drove me into hermitude at times. My immune system packed its bags on me several times this last semester as well, to the extent that one of my eyes decided that a conference workshop was the perfect time to begin watering so profusely that it looked like I was crying!! How embarrassing. Despite all that, I did have a lot of fun along the way too, making time to catch-up with family and friends, see Muse in concert and join a dance class. So, I think I’ll give myself a B minus on the achieving balance assignment… Onwards and upwards for next year.

I hope you had successful 2013, and that you have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 🙂

Honourable Mentions

 

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Taking stock: Semester 1, Year 2.

Semester 1, Year 2, 17 months in…

If I could sum up this semester in one word, it would be contradictory. When this semester started I’d  a work-study-life balance but towards the end I found myself working most weekends just to wade through placement, assignment and research related jobs. In between this feast and famine, I discovered I really enjoyed placement, despite having little prior experience working with children and that I’m often more capable than I think, though well aware I’ve a long way to go! I also learned that despite loving what I do, 50 hour weeks are not my thing, at least not over a sustained period. There’s definitely something to be said for having time to recharge your batteries. Finally, from interacting with other researchers and realising how much I’ve learned relative to last year, I’ve begun to appreciate that even though I’m  just a second year PhD student, I do have something to bring to the research table.  I’ve  a feeling that I’m going to look back on this semester in the future, remember all the amazing experiences and lessons learned but wonder how on earth I did all that I’ve done.

Placement related musings

Last year one of our lecturers told us that there shouldn’t be too much of a difference between who we are as a person and who we are as a therapist. The idea is that though your sessions should obviously be evidence-based and professional, they also need to reflect your style, not the style of someone you’ve decided to mimic or a persona you think you need to put on. When I was first introduced to this idea, finding my therapeutic style was the least of my worries, I just wanted to get a handle on the nuts and bolts of therapy! However, having since watched other therapists, gotten a feel for the way I like to conduct therapy and feedback from my supervisor about my approach, I can see what our lecturer meant. We do all have our own styles. I can’t really speak to other professions having only worked in hospitality or community/mental health services previously, but there is a lot of scope for having your own stamp in the profession for psychology. My own brand, from all reports, is practical, task orientated and flexible. I find this pretty funny, task orientated just about sums me up.

Placement was an incredibly positive experience. I learned a lot, about myself, people, how to help and how far I have to go. I don’t feel like I’m playing at being a trainee psychologist now. I am a trainee psychologist. Placement was also a fantastic opportunity to really get to know the other students I was working with. There’s nothing like being stuck in the office long after 5pm writing reports; the nerves of first clients, first assessments, first case presentations etc. and sharing the challenging, rewarding and hilarious (kids say the cutest things!!) to really bond with people.

Next placement I’d like to seek out some experience working with adults using traditional CBT approaches so I’ve got that grounding. I mainly worked with younger children and so the emphasis was more on the behavioural than cognitive aspects of CBT. Given I’ll spend almost all of next year on placement, ideally I’d also like one closer to home and with more of a 9-5 structure rather than the intense schedule I chose to cut-down on travel.

Research related musings

In a funny way, placement also taught me how much I loved research. As much as I loved placement, I still craved the short exchanges about the PhD journey with my fellow placement colleagues and the PhD students I bumped into on campus.  Having a whole day to spend on my thesis was heaven. I think I got through three days worth of work in one on one of my ‘thesis days’, given that was all I had to spend on it between coursework, work and placement some weeks! Some people who do a Clinical PhD want a more clinical/practice than research orientated focus to their careers, some want the reverse and others want a balance. I’m definitely between the latter two categories, I would feel like a big part of me was missing if I was doing clinical work only, but at the same time I’m grateful my research area is clinically orientated.

Now that I’ve finished up my first study of my PhD and my second is finally in the ethics pipeline I’m looking towards other research outputs: getting my head more clearly round stats, presenting a poster at another conference, co-authoring a paper, potentially dipping my toe into writing a paper and chipping away at those 90,000 words.  In the short-term though I’m just trying to get back into a research routine. I’ve gone from overwhelming time pressure to the other extreme!

Miscellaneous news

Someone other than my markers, supervisor, parents, one of my closest friends and two of the people whose measures I used in my study has read my Honours thesis. Yes, really. I was shocked, even more so when the student in question said she wanted to chat about it! I felt like the world was spinning the wrong way round its axis.

~

Who know what the coming semester will bring?

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July 5, 2013 · 12:55 am

Research is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.

After a series of phone calls and emails the date is set. Armed with a name, some background information, a general sense of what is planned and a rendezvous point, you set out to meet them. It occurs to you as you near the popular landmark at which you’re meeting, that despite your phone and email exchanges, you don’t actually know what this person looks like. Potentially problematic. Will they be wearing a red rose? Carrying a silver brief case? No. You are not one half of a blind date or playing the starring role in a spy movie, you are a research participant waiting to meet a researcher.

Waiting

Waiting (Photo credit: Iguanasan)

With experience as both a research participant and a researcher, I can attest that half the fun of participating in research is the ‘surprise’ factor. As a volunteer you’re given background information about the study and what will be required so you have an understanding of what you will be doing. But as best we try, an information letter can’t capture everything about the research experience. We can’t predict that you’ll get a kick out of one of the experiments or learn something about yourself. In some studies the surprises are of a different variety as what appears to be the main aim of the study might not actually be the main aim! I feel honour bound at this point to stress that researchers are not out to trick people and that if we do conceal something it will be because it is absolutely no other way of  studying it, and we’re expected to let you know afterwards and give you the chance to retract your data too if you’re uncomfortable. Let’s just say that Milgram’s experiment would never make it past ethics these days!! 

But what about the surprise factor for the researcher? Surely we couldn’t be surprised by our own research? Of course we can! The day you’re not surprised by your research is the day you stop being a researcher.  We run studies to test out hypotheses but never know for certain what the answer to our questions will be, and if we do, then we’re not doing it right!

At an individual level, research volunteers surprise and teach us too. They might mention something in passing about their experiences that helps us to make sense of that finding that defies explanation and perhaps may inspire future research.  Which is why, as involved and challenging as running a study can be at times, you really can’t beat that on-the-ground understanding of what is and isn’t working and why, and all the little qualitative observations about the participants that bring the numbers to life.

I’ve just passed a bit of a milestone for my research, having finished collecting the data for the first study of my PhD. I’ve spent at least 100 hours collecting data for this project, not to mention the hours entering these data and recruiting over 100 volunteers in between classes, assignments and lately, placement too. Honestly, I still can’t quite believe I’ve finished. Though I’m going to miss interacting with the volunteers, the end of phase one of data collection gives me the reprieve I need to interpret what I’ve found, get my second study up and running and of course to write!

What have I learned from running my first PhD study?

  1. I cannot run three 90-minute study participation time slots back to back and then go straight into a three-hour class expecting my brain to function… I did this once and decided never to do this again!  Well at least not voluntarily! 
  2. It is quite possible that all the things you thought had a very remote chance of occurring in the day to day running of your study will indeed happen and all in the first week. Well, results may vary, but that’s what happened for me! Luckily, I planned how I would handle this in the very unlikely event that it did occur.  
  3. As soon as you finish recruiting, people will ask to participate in your study. Murphy’s Law.
  4. And perhaps most importantly, I learned a new dance. Not the victory dance, the oh-my-goodness-someone-volunteered-for-my-study’ dance. I’m working in an area where a sample of 25 is considered big for one of the two populations I’m studying.  In the end, I managed to recruit almost double this amount of volunteers so it was often all I could do to restrain myself long enough to put the phone down before breaking out into this dance each time I found a volunteer! Picture lots of jumping around and fist pumping. . .
Dancing

Dancing (Photo credit: merlinprincesse)

So the take home message from my first PhD study in the words of Forrest Gump is that research “is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are gonna get.”

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Filed under A day in the life, Clinical Phd, participants, recruitment, Research, running a study

2013 Hopes and dreams

Though the second year of my Clinical PhD is seven weeks away, my second year placement is just around the corner. So, I thought I’d post about the coming year now while I’m not juggling research, coursework and a placement.To put it mildly, 2013 is going to be a big year.

In semester one, I’ll attend classes, complete over 300 hours of placement and continue to conduct my research. By semester two I’ll have completed my first placement, begun a new class and be continuing on with my research. Barring extenuating circumstances, these are the things that will definitely happen, but what might happen? And what would I like to happen?

Sun Drenched

Sun Drenched (Photo credit: Digimist)

My ‘clinical’ hopes and dreams for 2013:

  • I hope that my first placement will be a great opportunity: a chance to put theory into practice; to learn from my supervisor, clients and fellow trainees; to improve and grow in confidence in my clinical skills; to help my clients bring about improvements in their lives; to learn more about where I’d like clinical psychology to take me, essentially to become a better trainee psychologist.
  • In 2013, I hope that my coursework will provide me with a chance to engage: to apply what I’ve learned on placement and first year and vice versa, to learn more about CBT, other therapeutic approaches and presenting problems and the different avenues that psychology may take me, in other words, I want to consume and contribute knowledge.
  • I hope that this year I will continue to foster the friendships I have made with my fellow trainee psychologists.

My ‘research’ hopes and dreams for 2013

  • I’d like to develop my critique and analysis skills: to improve my reading muscle, learn new statistical techniques and become more confident in interpreting and appraising various statistical techniques and study designs.
  • I’d like to write: regularly, the chapter for my first study, my case studies, 30, 000 words of my thesis.
  • I’d like to finish (and in some cases start!): collecting data for my first three studies
  • I’d like to design: a better way to let potential participants know about upcoming research and the overarching study for my PhD.
  • And I hope that I will continue to foster the friendships I have made among my fellow PhD students and the faculty.
Balancing Act

Balancing Act (Photo credit: Digitalnative)

Clearly, I have a big year ahead. So my most important hope for 2013 is balance: to pull it all off and not lose myself or my social life in my to-do list!

It will be interesting to see if my hopes and dreams for 2013 come to fruition. Wish me luck!

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Two weeks into a Clinical P(retty) H(uge) D(eal)

It feels weird to write that it has only been two weeks since I started my Clinical PhD in psychology. Weird, not because this past fortnight has dragged by, it hasn’t, but because it feels like I’ve been a Clinical PhD candidate for longer than just two weeks. I think it’s because the usual ‘start of the year rites of passage’ happened in fast-forward. Thanks to the many perks of having only two seminar rooms and fourteen people in the clinical program, I already know where all my seminars are held and my classmates’ names.

Another unusual experience is being the youngest, at least in the clinical program. There aren’t many school leavers and I’m the only one of us who didn’t take a year off between undergraduate and postgraduate study. I must admit I was surprised when I realised I was ‘the baby’ of the group. I’m almost always the oldest, though I’m really not much more than a year younger than the other school leavers. It’s a great group, everyone has such diverse backgrounds so we all bring something new to the table.

At this point I should probably explain my degree so you’ll know what I mean when I make distinctions between the clinical (‘practical’) program and my research/PhD. I’m undertaking a Clinical PhD in psychology. Simply put it’s a double degree; a Masters in Psychology (the clinical program) and a research PhD. Traditionally, a Masters degree is two years and a ‘straight’ research PhD is three years. My degree is four years altogether. I’ll submit a PhD thesis rather than a Masters thesis (so mine will be quite a bit longer) but unlike a straight PhD I’ll also complete coursework and 1000 hours of placements. I could have tried to do the two degrees separately, one after the other, but I figured it would be good to get it all done at once in a shorter time frame. It’s also nice doing both programs simultaneously. I have variety and, motivation to make the most of the time I spend working on my research. I’m also finding that each part of my degree; the clinical program and the research, is useful for the other.

Books about survey research and survey design.You’ve heard a lot about the clinical program, but what about the PhD side of things? There are roughly ten people in that program and most of us are in the shared office where the first years are traditionally placed. This office has several great nicknames, but so as not to make it blatantly obvious where I hail from, I’m going to come up with one of my own: the Nerve Centre. There are eight of us in the Nerve Centre, though I’ve never seen more than four people in there at once. Most of us work from home from time to time or, at other organisations if we have an external supervisor. We each have our own computer, a desk and some storage space. If you’ve ever been an undergraduate student you’ll appreciate what a luxury this is!

There are several other benefits to being in the Nerve Centre. First, I feel more inclined to persevere when things get difficult because there are other people working away beside me. Second, when I’ve reached saturation point, there’s someone to chat to. This really helps normalise those feelings of uncertainty. Lastly, let’s face it, where else are you going to readily find people who get excited by research and the prospect of unlimited printing?!

At the end of the first fortnight of my clinical PhD I can confidently say I’m loving it! And, I have to agree with a very good friend of mine, doing a Clinical PhD is a Pretty Huge Deal.

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