Values and a Personal Prompt to Action

When I started out on my Doctorate I did not realise how much my values as a person would shine through. Two recent examples really encapsulate this which I wanted to share in this blog.

The first happened during voting rounds for a school Governor vacancy at my son’s primary school. Each candidate was asked to write a small biography.  To be honest- many of the biographies made me feel slightly inadequate. The applicants were exemplary, were highly qualified and had CVs I was rather envious of. However something else struck me- these biographies did not reflect the whole community the school serves as the school is located within an area of social housing.

As someone who grew up on a council estate I started to consider this through my own lived experiences. Could it be individuals did not have the confidence to be involved or they did not have the time? Or maybe the traditional forum being used was not the best way to reach out to this community and to get this community involved in the running of THEIR local school. Whatever the reasons, my thoughts were that if the governing body was missing the voice of part of the community would its aims and policies be truly representative of the learners it served?*


The second example happened at a strategic NHS meeting. Prior to the meeting, I started chatting to a radiographer who was an expert in their area of practice and who I believed had a fantastic working knowledge of the evidence base related to their field. However during the meeting- which largely had medical doctors in attendance- the radiographer did not participate in the conversation. Nor were they invited at any point to give their expert opinion. In fact, I spent most of the meeting thinking of ways I could draw said person in as I believed they had so much to offer the conversation. It makes me sad to report this is not the first time I have witnessed this.

I am currently revisiting a text called “Engaging Communities and Service Users” by Billie Oliver and Bob Pitt. There is a section which addresses participation space and the impact of who owns or lays claim to space. An example of work by Shier et al. (2012) is given whereby the researchers reached out and engaged participants through accessing participant’s space rather than expecting participants to come into a space convenient to the researchers. A small change in thinking creating a big difference on outcomes.

Although my Doctorate is about health professions education (radiography) and curriculum design processes the strand that weaves throughout is my personal value of inclusivity. In particular, the space in which health curriculum is designed. These recent real world lived examples reminded me of this. While those of us who develop healthcare curriculum will have public patient involvement for professional body validation, is what we currently do truly inclusive? Or is it just another paper exercise to complete as part of curriculum redevelopment procedures i.e. a tick box exercise and/ or token gesture.

When we seek patient public engagement do we really listen……. and do we act on what we hear? How do we ensure that the voices of those with situated knowledge (the knowledge of the insider) is heard alongside those with expert knowledge (the knowledge of the outsider/ practitioner)? For me inclusivity in health professions curriculum design starts before the  listening and hearing.  The beginning point is the space in which we engage our service users. Rethinking and redesigning traditional curriculum design space  is creating a lot of work my end- much more than I realised. However if anything my reflections have highlighted- it will be worth the effort.







*Of note is that this was a list of those applying for a governor position that had arisen on an established governor board. I have set myself a task to find out who sits on the school Board of governors as it could be that there is a diverse range of individuals. I hope so!


Women in Leadership: More Action AND More Talking

A fortnight ago I was fortunate to be an invited speaker at the UWE student law society “The Empowered Women”, an event hosted by the diversity sub-committee. Given the other two speakers, Professor Sue Durbin and Professor Hazel Conley, are esteemed researchers in the field of women empowerment I wasn’t quite sure how I, Mrs. Janice St. John-Matthews, had gained an invite.  However speaking to the students they asked to hear my story over the last five years- since my little man arrived on the scene.

It was a bit surreal being at the event as that morning I had interviewed for the Academic Director role in the allied health professions department. If I got the job it would be the first time in almost six years that I would be a full-time worker. Furthermore it was a reminder of how far I had come since my first fixed term contract in academia ended and our little person arrived.  Since returning to academia four years ago I was applying for a second promotion, had won a national We Are the City rising star award and was one third of the way through a Doctorate.

During the event I mentioned a tweet that had been sent out by a female radiography Senior Lecturer from another institute also undertaking a part-time Doctorate. The tweet noted how someone had advised said tweeter that she may as well forget her career if she was to have a family.  As you can imagine a deluge of very successful women, many radiography role-models, tweeted back reassuring messages how this was not the case.  However I wanted to respond differently and talk about that advice I wish I had had, something that 140 characters does not lend itself to.

I wanted to advise said person to get reading books such as “Lean In”; “Rocking you Role” and “Heals of Steel”. I wanted them to think about what life with a family and a career would look like.  How are their support networks? How could these be strengthened? What were they willing to let slide and what is not negotiable either at home or at work?  I also wanted to celebrate how being a Mum had made me more efficient with my time, even more organised and how I have mellowed, a bit.  How my ability to find creative solutions in situations has developed further. For example, when stuck with childcare issues, my little person and I get big sheets of A3 and felt tip pens and “together” mind-map work documents and even Doctorate work.  How my outlook these days include “done is better than perfect” and my Doctorate philosophy is “if you need 50% to pass then get 51%”- a really hard view for a perfectionist like myself in an environment where the grade achieved is still a badge of honour.

I wanted to tell them that the guilt of not being Mum all the time is hard. Take today as I write this blog in a soft-play venue full of screaming children. I am the only parent with a laptop working on a Sunday. There are hundreds of other examples over the last six years. However when I looked up the guilt slightly faded when I saw little person had made two new friends and had such a big smile on his face.  Clearly there are no issues with their social/ networking skills- something that will serve them well in later life.  Furthermore they managed to negotiate some Jaffa cakes from Mummy before lunch.  This child will go far.

I would like to commend the UWE law  students (Haley Lewis, Mohammed Motara, Callum Tucker, Lindsay Walker, Holly Garland, Momin Mohamed) who hosted this event for their peer group. It was a forward thinking event for individuals at the beginning of their career journeys. It was another great example of young women and men highlighting the issues and exploring what can be done to make a difference. I realised the importance of women and men talking openly about the challenges of all the types of carer activities in forums such as this.  As an academic I cannot argue against the importance of evidence but in this case I also believe that sharing the lived experience is just as important.  Thank you to the UWE law society for inviting me to be that person.


  • Sanberg, S (2013) Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. Penguin Random House: UK
  • Garrett, J (2012) Rocking your Role: The How to Guide for Female Breadwinners. Ecademy Press: UK
  • Vanessa Valley (2013) Surviving & Thriving In the Corporate World. Panoma Press: UK



What Are Reasonable “Reasonable Adjustments”?

Although this week was dyslexia awareness week I had not planned to write a blog on the topic. However like all good blog topics the theme of this one started by a remark made by a colleague.  During a group discussion a colleague highlighted that they thought individuals with support tutors for Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs) had an unfair advantage to learners who did not. After all the support tutor was writing the essay for them.  On hearing this comment my outward reaction was to acknowledge that this was not my experience but I could not speak for all tutor/ tutee relationships. Inwardly I was rather taken back.  Did this mean my colleagues’ thought that I was perhaps getting an unfair benefit as someone with dyslexia currently undertaking a higher degree?

Revisiting my Personal SpLD Experience

I decided to look at my personal journey to see if there may be a link. I have spent ten years of my adult life in some form of further or higher education environment attaining various qualifications.  In that time I have accessed tutor support for a total of three academic years.  During those particular times I have achieved mostly grades between the 75% and 95% mark. This compares with times I have not accessed support and have achieved in the 65% range.

For the two years of my Doctorate I have not accessed tutor support (10 hours in total per academic year). All 120 credits have been pass or fail, all of which I have passed. So I looked at the feedback on those assignments and some themes emerged. Sequencing of ideas, spelling, and grammar and sentence structure. I then looked at rejected articles for journals.  In this case there is no tutor support. Again the themes previously listed were highlighted.

From here I pulled out my educational psychologist report and it clearly states that the themes listed above are in keeping with dyslexia. Furthermore I have a working memory weakness so transferring information from short to long term memory takes time. Hence reasonable adjustments of extra exam time, altering submission dates and tutor hours are recommended. The report also acknowledges that without these I would still be ok averaging 60% in course work however I would not be achieving my full potential which, through various testing, has been highlighted as being much higher than this.

My Ramp Looks Different

It seems odd to me that if I had a physical disability, i.e. was in a wheel chair, it would not be an expectation for me to get up the stairs without an adjustment. I would be offered a ramp or a lift.  However with an invisible disability, in this case SpLD, offering a reasonable adjustment such as a tutor is not seen as “fair”.  I suppose it goes back to the medical view of disability- you are the problem and tough luck if society is not set-up to deal with it.  This is in contrast with the social model of disability whereby society is not setup to deal with the disability hence this needs to be adapted to support the individual.  I know which definition I prefer.

Leveling the Playing Field

To pick up the issue with blind peer reviewing. I work for an organisation that has the two ticks mark. Hence I can declare my disability and as long as I meet the essential criteria will be offered a job interview.  I have not come across a system like this for writing for journals. I am not suggesting  that an SpLD should give me an advantage, but it may encourage reviewers to look at the bigger picture of the work, the ideas being discussed rather than sentence structure or spelling.  It may just level the playing field.  I only get tutoring support while I am on a course of study, an article is completed with no support. Academia is tough…..not having a reasonable adjustment in place makes it much tougher for individuals with a SpLD.

More than Writing Essays

Finally for anyone who thinks having a tutor is an “advantage” then please take a look at this article by @diverselearners Kerry Pace and colleagues, “Dyslexia Tutors: We Do Not Write Essays For Them”  Like many roles there is much more than meets the eye for those who support people like me to realise their full potential.



UWE RADSearching Community of Learning

A quick blog entry tonight.  For those who follow this blog but do not have access to the monthly Society and College of Radiographers Synergy News here is some news on a project my colleagues and I are working on here at UWE, Bristol:

A team of three radiography academics at the University of the West of England, Bristol have been successful in a faculty wide ‘Learning and Teaching Innovations’ project competition. The bid entitled “RADSearching: Creating a Radiography Research Community of Learning” seeks to engage learners at all academic levels to be involved in various aspects of local research activities.   The successful bid team consists of two radiography doctoral candidates- Simon King, Programme Leader for MSc. Nuclear Medicine and Janice St. John-Matthews, Associate Head of Department (AHP). Supporting them in this project is Dr. Julie Woodley, Senior Lecturer in Diagnostic Imaging and Faculty Chair of Ethics.

“The RADSearching bid is inspired by the Society and College of Radiographers Research Strategy 2015-2021. The aim of the project is to foster a research culture across the five radiography programmes delivered at the University. This can be challenging given we have a mixture of full and part-time students across the radiography programmes who also have responsibilities within clinical practice and clinical placements throughout the year. As a result the project will draw upon the unique opportunities offered by Social Media in engaging learners across the programmes” says Janice St. John-Matthews.

Simon King continues by noting, “Radiography learners graduate with good intentions and fledgling research skills. However when they join the world of work their role in the research process may not be seen as a priority as they consolidate the skills and knowledge gained during their degree programme. We want to use this project to support learners at all levels- foundation degree up to doctoral candidates- and highlight how they can be the enablers in practice to make research happen.

Dr. Julie Woodley continues , “We want learners to understand that not everyone needs to be a researcher but we all have a role to play whether that be enabling, delivering or disseminating research in our organisations. Our success in this faculty competition will allow us to map the good practice already happening and to develop this by affording the project team time and space for joined up thinking on this important area of radiography practice. We have activities such as monthly “Shut Up and Write” sessions; journal clubs and a research buddying scheme planned. A new blog and twitter account is due to launch in the coming months- watch this space”








The IMPACT of my Doctorte Part 3b: On Self

Here is the final installment on this blog series. In the last blog entry I realised that the greatest impact of this Doctorate on me personally did not feature in the year 2 marked portfolio.  My instinct is it is probably too personal and there were no references that would support my thoughts and feelings.  So I have included it here at the end as it is my “lived reality”.


Learning- it never ends

As identified in a reflective blog entry written after a frustrating group meeting where I used the word “philosophy” in the wrong context I need to expand my research discourse so as to competently argue a case and challenge assumptions. Scott et al (2004) describe this as an enrichment of skills and knowledge to perform at a higher level. It is difficult to ascertain if pursuing this level of study has impacted on the way I listen, speak and write. The reason for this according to Burgess and Wellington (2010) is this personal development could be linked to professional development within my promoted role as Associate Head of Department for Allied Health Professions. Hence it can be argued both are intertwined rather than being separate. Nonetheless in preparation for the final viva this requires further development.

Viewed by colleagues

This is difficult to measure. Participants interviewed by Burgess and Welligton (2010) describe this as being asked for opinions on pedagogy, submitting bids for funding and evaluating proposals made by others. Also listed is participation in cross-faculty discussion groups and discussions. The challenge for my area of research is it does not align with my employer’s research vison at a Departmental, Faculty or University level.  Nevertheless, undertaking doctoral level studies and undertaking a skills analysis as part of the portfolio has acted as a benchmark of the level of skills I already possess and this has acted as a confidence boost.  Subsequently for the 2017/2018 academic year I have put myself forward to supervise master’s level thesis within the allied health professions department at UWE.  Furthermore I have accepted an invitation from a colleague working in another field to contribute to a regional workshop being held in the autumn which is seeking to develop a framework to support “Digital health technology evaluation”.

I am also learning how to bid for research time so as to balance (almost) full-time working and part time study. The Gantt chart provided in the project planning document includes key funding calls made by UWE and also the Society and College of Radiographers up until the end of the doctorate. For year two of the programme (2016/2017) I secured two weeks protected study time to concentrate on research via an annual internally funded bid process run by my employer. With this experience I applied through the 2017/2018 bidding cycle and have secured 5 weeks of research time.  The bid was reviewed by a committee who deemed the proposal worthy of research time despite the research topic not directly aligning to the UWE University, faculty or departmental research strategy 2020.

Managing an SpLD

This has been an unforeseen impact on self and the last eighteen months have required me to revisit the challenges having a specific learning difficulty pose and my relationship with having dyslexia. Unlike research in the field of undergraduate healthcare learners with dyslexia, there is a notable lack of literature on the lived experiences of doctorate learners with dyslexia. Of the literature that does exist emphasis is placed on the importance of the supervisor and supervisee working relationship (Collins, 2015).  There is a consensus that there needs to be regular communication, a willingness to listen and flexibility in the system. Likewise there is a need for myself as a learner to be proactive in identifying personal learning needs and to articulate these clearly (St. John-Matthews, Pace and Vogan-McCabe, 2016).


What is the COST of this Doctorate?

Although I self-fund my Doctorate fees, this is not about monetary cost. Both my husband and I lost our Mums in their early forty’s. Our experiences of this type of loss are so very different yet common ground is how important family is to both of us.  This has been heightened since our little man arrived in 2012.  The hardest decision for me in pursuing a Doctorate is not whether I was bright enough, I could afford it or had the drive to do this but the compromises on family time.  If anything happened to me or my husband would my son’s memories be of me locked away in a study stressed out trying to juggle work and study?  Likewise would I miss out on key milestones and events?  This might sound a bit dramatic but with a target date of 2021 I will be 41 when I complete. Both Mums did not make it to 45. Hence when deciding to do this Doctorate it was a family decision and we have all made compromises to make this work.  (Although my husband treated himself to a new motorbike as part of the agreement- not sure how that one worked!)

I work a 0.9 full time equivalent so Thursday can be “mummy school drop off and pick up” day. I am on a six year doctorate programme so this is somewhat manageable. (Just in case I get asked again why I am taking so long). I have chosen a study route that suits me personally- a practice focused professional doctorate. (No this is not a second rate Doctorate qualification- it is just different). After two years of thinking my protocol is in place and I am really excited about my subject area and the positive impact my work will make on my field, my practice and my family.

*From my study I can see a path over a river. So for perspective four I have taken a picture of what people who walk along this path see of my office. Interesting to note that I can see the path but my office window at ground level is not visible.




The IMPACT of my Doctorate Part 3a: On Self

In keeping with all great final movie instalments i.e Lord of the Rings, the Hunger Games, Harry Potter, this part of the portfolio will be broken into two separate blog entries.

Looking back at this piece I realised that a large chunk of the word count in the reflective portfolio was on the impact a Doctorate would have on self.  Interestingly the main personal impact was not mentioned in the original reflective piece so I will include this in the next entry.



Why am I putting myself through this

When I was considering pursuing a doctorate my main motivation was to enhance my professional career and to gain promotion. This is in keeping with findings by Burgess and Wellington (2010) who through analysing student narratives explored the impact on the professional development of students undertaking a professional doctorate. Here interviewees described how studying for a professional doctorate initiated opportunities and made them more promotion worthy. I am already realizing the link between doctoral level studies described in the literature at a personal level having achieved a promotion in February 2016, six months after starting my studies. For this promotion holding or working towards a doctorate was listed as desirable criteria. The ability to demonstrate progress towards completion further supported the application.

The impetus for starting this level of study happened following attendance at the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education (LFHE) Aurora leadership programme (LFHE, 2017) in September 2013.   The Aurora programme was developed in response to research which highlights that women are under-represented in senior higher education Institute leadership positions internationally. The report also identifies actions that could be taken to change this (Morley, 2013). While attending Aurora, I started to consider a higher education leadership career route. I acknowledged that although doctorates are lacking in the field of radiography (Snaith et al., 2016), I now operate in an academic setting whereby the minimum education standard for many academic disciplines is a doctorate and holding one is a prerequisite for further career progression. Fells et al., (2011) states that the traditional PhD is often said to be training for a career in research or academia. This is in contrast to the Professional Doctorate (DProf) which is concerned with developing professional practice and identity. As my long term goal is to be in senior education/ policy leadership rather than research the Professional Doctorate fulfils my aspirations.

Shifting motivations

Yet as I move through my studies I find my reasons for studying are shifting. The concept of fluctuating motivations is described by Wellington and Sikes (2006) who highlight that the same person can have several reasons and motivations at different times of the process. They note the importance of having to draw upon these reasons. This is something I have had to consider when in November 2016 I realised that while my research area would remain the same my planned method and methodology required revisiting. I conceded that if my main motivator was promotion then this was not a strong enough reason for me to continue given the financial and time commitment to completing this level of study. It was at this point I referred to a blog entry which highlighted that I wanted to make a difference to healthcare education.  While the initial trigger for studying at this level was career advancement it is not the main motivators

Educator as student

This is the third occasion whereby I have simultaneously been both educator and student. As previously highlighted the first was while completing masters in medical imaging (2006-2010) and the second while completing a postgraduate certificate in teaching and learning in higher education (2013-2014). Again this dual-role is providing an opportunity to critically evaluate the lived experiences of the modern day university student. This is further enhanced as Swansea University where I study has a different ethos, vision and mission statement to my current employer at the University of the West of England, Bristol where I work. Moreover in Wales the development and implementation of education and healthcare policy is devolved to the Welsh government so differs to those in England which are set by Westminster (Welsh Government, 2017).

Subsequently studying at a Welsh institution provides further context to the wider regional and national higher education agendas and systems. The reason for focusing this thesis on innovation in curriculum design is partly due to the introduction of fees for healthcare learners and the degree apprenticeship agenda in England (Nightingale, 2016). Neither of these education policies is being considered by the Welsh Government. Again this difference of viewpoints by two countries on the same topic is challenging my territorialized as a higher education educator in the field of DI radiography and the lens which I am viewing my research area.


So that is it for now. The final reflective blog entry will look at how one is viewed by colleagues and the  development of  thought processes. On a personal level it will also consider managing dyslexia and doctoral level  study. However the most important impact on self and the one not discussed in the marked portfolio is the trade-off of sacrificing family time given my husband and I have both lost parents who were in their early 40s.  (I will be 41 completing my Doctorate).



*Another lens to look at my study from. This is the view from the garden looking up towards the study. Garden shed painted this way pre-Doctorate and small child.




The IMPACT of my Doctorate Part 2: As a Practitioner


This is the second instalment from my Year 2 reflective portfolio. Again it is abridged version and very honest.  When I first said I was going to do a Doctorate at a University that does not teach radiography and would not have supervisors who worked in the field there were a few raised eyebrows. However I find this works really well.  It challenges my belief system and is another opportunity to showcase the wonderful world of radiography 🙂


Trans-professional education

Socialization and identity development processes are important aspects of the professional doctorate journey (Fulton 2013). I currently have three professional roles: DI radiographer; healthcare educator and higher education leader. All of these areas have a sense of professional distinctiveness including: belief in public service; sense of calling to a field; concern for work and an attitude of commitment [(Hall, 1968); (Sniezk, 1972)]. Choosing to study at Swansea medical school has afforded the opportunity to focus on education practice specific to healthcare and to study alongside a mixed group of practitioners.  I have become aware that while professional identities differs amongst group members, norms, values and beliefs are shared.

Biggs (2001) describes this type of education as trans-professional. They are keen to highlight that this is different to inter-professional learning and working. While inter-professional working involves the blurring of professional boundaries and joint working practices, this type of education forces the practitioner to look at their work-place with a “fresh lens”.  As written by Fulton et al., (2012) this contrasts isolating doctoral level studies to specific professions which may reinforce boundaries and professional socialization.

I am finding that regular one to one supervision meetings with my doctorate supervisors and monthly research group meetings with individuals outside radiography ensure viewpoints I present are constructively challenged. The common thread is healthcare education, but the group experiences are varied. This does at times lead to a sense of discomfort (St. John- Matthews, 2017a) but aligns with Dewey’s (1910) observation that learning is a process not a product. Studying with a cohort, from different healthcare professional background at a university that does not teach radiography has transformed my thinking.

Hierarchy of evidence

Within the profession of radiography I have been developing a reputation as someone with an interest in social media. This is specifically linked to the use of social media platforms to raise the profile of the profession, to share radiography research to the wider community and as a continuous professional development tool. In recognition of this work I was part of a team of experts to write the first national radiography professional guidelines on the professional use of social media (SCoR, 2015). I have presented at regional and national conferences and written for an international journal on this are of interest [(St. John-Matthews, 2016c); (St. John-Matthews, 2015a). I have also self-published through my blogging space. As a practitioner I am conscious that my work to date is low on the hierarchy of evidence as it mostly uses a case-study approach (Guyatt et al., 2000) and although it promotes the conversation of social media it does not add to the evidence base of this tool. It is envisaged this research will address this. Moreover, my experiences in this field means that I have experience and confidence in the use of the proposed data collection tool.

Authentic Leadership

A professional doctorate holder is expected to be a leader in their area of practice not only for their own profession but the wider context in which their field of research encompasses. To be an authentic leader there is a need to understand oneself and to realise the impact the researcher’s values and actions on others. There is also a requirement to be self-aware of individual strengths and the role one’s emotions play in decision making. To achieve this level of awareness, continuous reflection over time is needed so as to explore opposing viewpoints linking this to previous experience and related evidence and/or literature (Fells, Flint & Haines, 2011).

For this portfolio and year 2 of the professional doctorate programme, reflective practice has been conducted as it is part of a graded piece of course work so there has been an impetus to complete the task. Moving forwards, although the reflective component will not be graded, researcher reflexivity is equally important so as to demonstrate the trustworthiness of findings presented by the research. This is because the proposed  action research methodology is in keeping with the grounds that knowledge is subjective and can be viewed from many points (Anderson and Herr, 2014). Furthermore due to the researcher’s involvement in the new curriculum design they cannot be separated from the process. This is also the case for developing and maintaining the data collection tool which involves emersion in the data collected by the researcher.


*With my qualitative hat on this is a different perspective of the view from my home study window. A work in progress- like my Doctorate.