A Pause…But Not a Full Stop

20180309_060430On Monday I had to make one of the toughest decisions of my life- to request a suspension on my Doctorate studies for six months.  What made this such a hard call was that those who know me understand what this Doctorate means to me and how passionate I am about my chosen area of research.  I have learnt so much this week since verbalising to friends and colleagues this decision and wanted to share with those who follow my endeavours.

This is normal. The amount of people who have shared with me their stories of taking a break has been astounding.  I wish people had shared this with me before so I would not have had to feel so isolated making the call.  Better still nearly all the people who shared their stories have gone back to their research and completed. Many shared stories of how changes in circumstances informed their decisions such as family sickness, maternity, promotions etc.  When I reflected on how far I had come I realised that the last time I studied for three years nonstop was my degree.  My Masters I completed the diploma in 14 months and took a break to concentrate on a promotion.  Eventually I completed in four years in 2010.  In there was two promotions, a change of employer, a house move, travel and a wedding. For my Doctorate I had risk assessed life getting in the way because of this experience (a very Janice thing to do), but it is not on the Gantt chart. Nobody has a crystal ball.


Radiography Doctorates. As an educator I am passionate about enabling radiographers to make this one happen.  I actively champion the Society and College of Radiographers research strategy for 1% of Doctorates by 2021- #300radiographydoctorates.  However there is a narrative behind these figures. Most Doctorates are undertaken by those in an education setting, a few by those in clinical posts. Many of us are further along in our careers and trying to juggle work, finances and life.  There are “role-models” however they are so few and far between in our profession I personally feel like these people are superhuman. There is of course a growing on-line community of friendly radiography learners informally supporting each other.  I know this has helped me and will continue to help me moving forwards. However sometimes in social media spaces it is all about showcasing the good stuff and not so much the hard parts. This blog should in part address that balance.

Sometimes stillness is the best option.  A very wise AHP offered this viewpoint. In the crazy mad world we live in, where you have to continue to drive forward in everything you do, we often forget to stop, stand still and take in the bigger picture. This goes for life and leadership roles. It is easy in these situations to just keep going, pushing through but stillness offers just as much value as crazy busy.  I have never had any issues with discipline and driving projects forward but I have pleasantly surprised myself with how I have developed the skill of “stillness” as I get older.

I am not sure how this blog will be received.  I have had a small minority of people say I told you so (for a variety of reasons) which frankly has not really been helpful. Maybe they are right. Personally I am proud to have had the self-awareness to stop.  All I have ever wanted to do with this Doctorate journey was to be authentic, to show the ups and downs of the journey ensuring others understood that this is all normal.  This definitely is a pause but by no means a full stop.

 

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Note to Self: Managing a Doctorate Pause

Digbie

Then there was quiet

I have now received official confirmation of my Doctorate suspension. In a short space of time I have gone from a flurry of activity of a progression viva and an agreed suspension to……..…nothing. As I am learning, grounds for suspension means that you must not work on your doctorate, you cannot attend your monthly research group meetings, you no longer have monthly supervisor meetings.  I still have access to my University email account however even the emails coming through have tapered off. Nobody prepares you for this especially after three years of working at full steam.

Seeking evidence

In true academic style I decided to google “Doctorate break next steps”. This returned pages and pages of different University rules and regulations of intermitting.  The first literature hit was from the journal “Nature” which discussed in depth how taking time out would damage your career. Just what I needed from such a highly resected journal.  However there were some success stories shared and I particularly liked the one whereby an individual was able to look at their research through a new lens based on a new hobby they had undertaken. In an attempt of not making myself feel any worse for the decision that had now been formalised I stopped googling.

The early days

My first task was to catch-up with three years of decluttering which I found therapeutic. I also decided it was time to tackle the bigger house maintenance tasks that had been on hold.  Our ensuite is falling apart and I now close my eyes when entering the house as the driveway needs a blast with the jet wash. So what better time to get some house improvements booked in? However a few days into this flurry of activity I realised there were not enough “jobs” and this rekindled cleaning passion was not going to last six month. These tasks are short-lived and at this point I have twenty two weeks to go.  I am the type of person who likes to keep busy, but busy in a stimulating way.  Washing the windows for the fourth time was not going to cut it.

Learning form elite sport

Bizarrely, while trying to figure out next steps, I reflected on sport auto-biographies of which I am an avid reader- no sport is off limits. I am drawn by the discipline individuals have to achieve their goals, the highs and lows of being a competitive elite sports person and also the support networks that are in place to make these goals a reality. The irony of course is that I am no sportsperson but there is something in these narratives that I can draw parallels with- albeit as an average person trying to navigate my way through academia.  In these books are accounts of “career breaks”, falling out of love of your sport, not being selected, drug bans and/or injury.  Intertwined are themes of taking up different sports, re-establishing family and friendship circles and using times like this to reflect.  Often athletes reported returning stronger. At last a good news story.

Doing it the “Janice” way

Drawing on the above I have decided to continue the habit of writing through blogging and hopefully co-authoring an article (or two) on topics outside of my Doctorate. I plan to meet for a cup of tea with some of the individuals who are influencing my work. As an Academic Director there are plenty of activities to keep me busy at work and some short projects I can now take on which lend themselves to my skills set. As luck would have it, one is related to Social Media. I have taken up gardening albeit my husband is the gardener and I am capitalising on his great work over the years by watering the plants and doing some weeding.  I want to reconnect with being Mum so we as a family have bought “Digbie” the camper van to enjoy more of the weekends together creating memories.

 

So the plan…….. to read, reflect, reenergise, reconnect and keep blogging 🙂

 

 

Experts with Expert Experience (EEE)

393956_10150685793176521_1969948957_nOver six years ago when my son was one day old he was diagnosed with Development Dysplasia of the left hip (DDH). This was the start of a one year relationship of regular appointments and imaging within the NHS. At six days old my husband and I were taught how to fit a Pavlik harness and for four months little man wore this for 23 hours a day. To this day my most vivid memory is at three o’clock in the morning being so tired trying to change an explosive “korma” nappy without having to take off the whole harness. After numerous hospital appointments with harness checks and imaging across two different hospital sites at fourteen months our little man was given the all clear.

Nine months ago our little family of three started a second phase of our relationship with the NHS. At this point it is worth noting that nothing that is happening is life threatening and we are almost out the other side. Moreover as this is my son’s story it is not for me to share so I will stop short of the details. However we are now in the “system” and this experience is making me think really hard on the direction of my Doctorate and the language I have been using.

Somewhere in my career I had moved from the term “patient” to “service user” when discussing those who are part of the “system”. If I was to pinpoint this change I would say this happened as I transitioned away from clinical work into academia. Through recent reading of a book titled “Engaging Communities and Service Users” by Oliver & Pitt (2013) for my Doctorate work my wording had changed to “expert by experience”. Within the pages of this book the history and connotations of the wording professionals have used over time is presented. However with this current lived experience even this phrase does not feel right.  For me the term needs to be “Experts with Expert Experience”.

You see when my husband and I interact with the NHS we are parents, parents with a very good understanding of our son’s medical history. Yet we bring a lot more to the table. I of course have healthcare knowledge. My husband has twenty years’ experience in healthcare IT.   I have been really struck about how “Experts with expert experience” get to share their knowledge in all parts on the healthcare system.  In our example beyond the clinical remit as healthcare is not just about the clinical aspects.

While all this has been unfolding in my personal life I have been pondering how these untapped skills can be truly harnessed. Locally I have been working with an individual who is part of the Department of Allied Health Professions team.  Yes they speak to students about their “cancer story” as well as interviewing potential allied health students.  However they also have over 30 years of experience with a Business consultancy background.  We have worked together to find opportunities to employ this expertise and applied this unique combination of expert (business consultancy) and expert (expert by experience) to projects such as our AHP recruitment process and our public involvement and patient engagement activity. This individual positively confronts all our perceptions with an “unconventional” lens on the challenges we as healthcare educators are faced with.

My requested return date for my Doctorate is December 2018 and already I have a renewed energy and drive in what I would like my work to focus on and ultimately achieve. In a really strange way our new family healthcare experiences over the last nine months have been nothing short of an epiphany for me. For the first time I can clearly see what the real nub of my work is.

In the interim my request to those reading this blog is that next time you image, treat or care for someone please do not forget that people are complex and multi-faceted. They come with experiences outside of their healthcare needs.  They are business consultants, teachers’, managers, carers, copywriters, cleaners, chefs, full times parents etc., etc.  Through channelling these skills layered by their healthcare lived experiences there are opportunities to truly innovate in every part of the complex matrix that is healthcare.

 

 

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?*

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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.

UWE_Women_Empowerment_Event

  • 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”

https://my.rcn.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/613317/1.2.1-Pace.pdf.  Like many roles there is much more than meets the eye for those who support people like me to realise their full potential.

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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”

 

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