The Language of “I Love Research”


Last week was a monthly Research in Health Professions Education (RiHPE) group meeting at Swansea Medical School. The meeting includes Masters and Doctorate students alongside academic staff who have an interest in and/or researching healthcare education. As per previous meetings, it provided an opportunity for two members of the group to present to the group where they were with their research plans. This week it was my turn to present.



Presenting to the group was helpful because for the first time I had to articulate my research idea, methodology and data collection tools. The group offered constructive feedback and signposting of useful articles, research and tools. Being totally honest I did not spend nearly enough time preparing my presentation and it showed.   When I say time- I mean time for someone with dyslexia. The information was all there but the sequencing of ideas and thoughts was confusing.  This has come up a few times when I submit work and more recently during co-authoring a paper.


Supervision Meeting

After the group meeting I had a supervision meeting and things started to go further downhill. It is really hard to describe but I knew what I wanted to say but to get the words out was difficult. At one point during the meeting I just gave up pronouncing the word epistemology because it was evident I was not pronouncing the word correctly. Usually my fall back is to use an alternative word so no one notices I am having difficulty pronouncing said word. However on this occasion I could not think of one.  The meeting continued with arguing the case for using action research and again the words just were not forthcoming.  I got to the end of the meeting feeling deflated.


Learning a New Language

As I drove home the reality of having to learn a new language, the language of research, became clear. Furthermore the implications of not being able to pronounce these new words or the inability to use research language in the correct context at the progression and/ or final viva stages was somewhat overwhelming. I had flashbacks of my Leaving Cert (~A Level) Irish and French oral exam preparations. The good news is that I did well in those exams including the oral and aural parts of the testing. The not so good news is that the time and effort that is needed to learn a language for someone who has dyslexia. On one hand I know from experience with some hard-graft it is achievable.  On the other it makes completing this Doctorate a little harder.


Slow and Steady

Often when speaking to fellow radiographers completing Doctorates, especially Professional Doctorates, they are surprised to learn that my programme of study is at least six years part-time. Last week reminded me that although spending such a long time on one research area can cause challenges when trying to produce a novel piece of work, it is a sensible route for me to take.


I was also reminded what it feels like to be the learner, where your vocabulary and understanding of a subject area are still developing. And then came the realisation- I am a learner and I love being a learner. The learning context may have changed but the coping strategies have not. The path to true love is never straight forward but research and I will get there.


*This blog has been written as part of the DProf. Research in Health Professions Education reflective diary .

Happenista Retreat 2017

WP_20170206_06_07_58_Pro (4).jpgI am currently sat on the 16:37pm train from London Paddington to Newport after a weekend on the first ever Happenista retreat with Executive Coach Jenny Garrett. I booked onto the event months ago however have been somewhat secretive about where I was going. I am not sure why- maybe the thought of 48 hours of me time seemed too indulgent. There is always so much that needs doing on weekends.  From work work, house chores to doctorate work and co-ordinating my son’s social diary.  Or perhaps my friends and family would not understand the purpose of a retreat.  As I sit here the guilt is gone, I feel energised and refreshed.  Here is a taster of what the weekend has been about.



Prior to attending the retreat there was homework to complete. Due to the chaos of life I was still completing this on the train yesterday morning.  It was a luxury to be able to take some time and put into writing everything that I had achieved in the past year.  In a recent 360 review it was noted that I never stop to appreciate (and celebrate) my achievements although I am good at celebrating other people’s accomplishments . This weekend was about this- not bragging or showing-off.  Just being proud.



Yesterday I had a wobble whereby I realised that I had not met the majority of the women on the retreat before. We do connect through social media but many of those who are part of the tribe come from business or are self-employed. Very few work in academia and I have noticed that those who have worked in this field have moved away from this career pathway.  I need not have worried as this weekend I have grown my network.  This has added to the breadth of my connections but this is interwoven with depth.


Thinking outside the box

I take pride in my ability to think laterally. I once sat in an interview and the interviewer commented on my entrepreneurial skills. I remember thinking that this was probably not a fantastic trait in academia as it implied that I might be a rule breaker. I realise now this is quite the opposite. Drawing on this creativity is probably most evident in my proposed Doctorate data collection method which moves from traditional thinking drawing on a non-conventional tool.  Non-conventional to education but readily used in the business world. Through connecting and meeting individuals outside my field I have been able to reframe my thought processes.  At times the solutions to some questions I had were very obvious.  However I was reminded that sometimes the best people to ask the “silly” questions are those that are not close to you.




It was great this weekend to spend time with my creative side and connect with nature. When my husband and I got married in 2007 we booked a holistic venue that is used for group retreats such as yoga, researchers et.. (Note the unconventional trend here and the research link). I still recall my family’s reaction when we said there would be no meat as the venue was vegetarian. (No one in our family is vegetarian). The bar had an “honesty” box after midnight and there were no keys to the bedroom. However the ethos of the venue resonated with both of us. This weekend has not been quiet that extreme, however we have been on a tree walk and also collaging our plans for 2017. I found both therapeutic. The latter, collaging, offered some interesting insights on rediscovering old interests and  also gender in both my personal and professional life.  Both of which I will be exploring in the year ahead.



Our final focus was to set three goals. My goals, both professional and personal, were somewhat predictable as two focused on my Doctorate plans for 2017.  The group considered how these goals might be derailed and how this could be overcome. This may seem like a self-fulfilling prophecy but I found it really helpful in writing down the resources available to me if this happens.  There is only so much information you can keep in your head!

So what next? I will continue to connect with fellow happenistas through our Facebook page and various social media outlets. I have already added my name to the mailing list for the Happenista retreat in 2018. I am excited about reading this blog in a year’s time. I have no doubt the path will have many twists and turns, however I will have a community of likeminded people to turn to for support, advise and guidance. Who could ask for anything more?

University course-work. It’s not the end, just the beginning…..

Last week was spent putting the final touches to a piece which will be available next month in Imaging and Therapy Practice. The article started life as an assignment for one of the taught modules for my Doctorate. In the ethos of working smarter not harder I have made a pact with myself that if I am going to spend my time drafting and redrafting work and someone is going to give it feedback then I need to, where possible, ensure the work is shared with the wider world.

The above revelation is in stark contrast with my MSc. Throughout this period of my life I totalled 50,000 words and not one item was published in a journal. Perhaps my biggest regret is not getting my 20, 000 word dissertation published at the time. For one thing it would have saved a lot of graft for this Doctorate. I have been reflecting on the barriers to publishing then and here is some advice for myself which others may find helpful.

Feedback on the coursework is just the start. I am a strong advocate of this. It is a phrase I use with our undergraduate learners. If you have put the hard-work in and written an exceptional piece of course-work then you need to share it. Feedback in this context is essentially the first step of peer-review. For the above article my supervisor (@NewtonsNeurosci) kindly provided reams of feedback. Most of this was used in further developing the paper prior to submission. As my work was second marked by Dr. Claire Vogan-McCabe, who has working knowledge of the topic, it also offered an introduction to a co-writer.

Reach out. I was conscious when writing the piece that while I have first-hand understanding of the topic I am not an expert. Therefore I used my #SoMe networks and reached out for a third author Fortunately Kerry Pace aka @DiverseLearners was willing and able to contribute. With three of us working on the paper I was further challenged on my thinking in that field. At times this was frustrating as I just wanted to get the article published. However everyone in the group was driving the article forward so there were some much needed gentle reminders with regards completion.

Impact or IMPACT. When I asked at a research group meeting how people decide on where an article should be published the answer was- go with the journal with the highest IMPACT factor. That is all well and good but we needed this article somewhere whereby it would have the greatest impact i.e. be seen by all radiographers working in clinical practice. I&TP may not be peer-reviewed but the manuscript is still checked by an editorial team and the piece was returned with no less than 15 areas for consideration. All of this was constructive and helped with firming up the finished piece.

Be Confident. Perhaps the single one item that has made me consider doing more with this piece was the following at the end of the assignment feedback: “…you should consider getting this published”. This gave me confidence that the work was good enough. Yet it goes beyond simple confidence. It is about drawing on the support and guidance of seasoned researchers and also them reaching out and offering their support. For example I work with at least one undergraduate learner each year to turn their hard work into conference papers, journal articles or poster presentations. I generally have to revert to nagging mummy mode but it seems to do the trick. I am proud to say learners that I have supported have won prizes for the work they have shared with the wider radiography community.


So my last piece of advice- is to take on-board my own advice. There is an assignment that has been ripe for reworking that I wrote earlier in the year and has been given reams of constructive feedback (note the trend here!). So if anyone out there is willing to help- mostly through nagging- then I would welcome any support offered. Twitter “Direct Message” to follow to the lucky person(s).


9 Tips for Dealing With Impostor Syndrome

A Year of Living Academically

I have been thinking a lot about impostor syndrome lately. Mainly because I see my fellow postdocs and assistant profs (and let’s be honest some associate profs) suffering from it. One of my last conversations with a fellow postdoc before I left for the summer was about how hir imposter syndrome kept hir from writing and submitting an article for review. I wanted to shake hir, tell hir s/he’s wonderful and smart (since I had read hir work and seen hir present), but some how I didn’t think that would do the trick.

Others have been thinking about impostor syndrome as well, such as Nate Krueter who defines it as, “the lurking, sinking, throbbing feeling that they will soon be exposed for the intellectual and professional frauds that they sometimes suspect themselves of being.” He suggests asking questions when transitioning into a new job and being honest when dealing with…

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The Pole of Inaccessibility*

In keeping with the final statement on my last blog– “work smarter not harder” I have decided to change the direction of my blog to a space for doctoral studies musings. For academic year 2 @RiHPE Professional Doctorate learners are expected to complete a portfolio. Part of this involves logging “eureka” moments through keeping a diary. So for the next six months this will be my diary and the logs will be placed in appendix in the portfolio.

A Doctoral Diary

It is important that I highlight that this is not an original idea. A Canadian MRT has been doing this for some time and I have been following with much interest. The aptly named “DoctoralBrainDump” is exactly that. No not a dump, but rather a space to explore and refine ideas and thoughts. Amanda Bolderston’s entries often make me laugh- in a good way. For example, Amanda has great pictures on her blog site of writing retreats. I on the other hand am normally in a soft-play area, kids screaming , some fluorescent liquid in front of me, writing thoughts in a battered notebook**. Likewise, Amanda produces these thoughtful pieces on subjects such as methodology. I am not quiet there. I have spent months grappling with whether the Delphi technique is qualitative, quantitative, both or neither. Don’t get me started on which paradigm it sits in. If I had the time I would design my own method of group consensus and submit that for my Doctorate.

Lost at sea

As noted in my previous blog this acadaemic year has been a slow burner. So much so I have even started wrapping Christmas presents rather than crack on with my writing. Someone once described a doctorate as being given equipment to build a raft. Then someone drops you off in the middle of the ocean, expecting you not only to build your raft but to also navigate back to the shore without a compass or a map. In some instances there may not be any equipment in the first place. Or worse still it maybe “faulty”. (Please see last comment on previous paragraph).

For better, For Worse

The @RiHPE programme of study has monthly meetings where a group of Doctorate students, researchers and supervisors get together so it does not feel so lonely. Thursday this week was one of those days. This community of learning and questioning is what I need for motivation- I managed to get a chunk of work completed yesterday. It also makes me accountable that I can show progression to the group each month. However no one in the room is a radiographer and this is where this blog space comes into its own. My blogs will be about sharing learning experiences with those in a similar boat- excuse the pun.

Raft or Cruse Ship

During the summer I saw Richard Evans (Society and College of Radiographers CEO) at a conference. Richard introduced me to a new radiography PhD student. He described the growing on-line community as a “support group” for new researchers. That is exactly what this is about- a community of learning between those established researchers (you know who you are) and those of us new to this whether that is Undergraduate, Masters or Doctorate. I do not know about you, but personally I would prefer to be on a cruise ship with like-minded people heading to our destination. The destination- getting radiographers to embrace research. The more of us talking/ blogging/ tweeting about it, the more it will just become the norm.


*The area of the ocean that is furthest from Land.

**Yes I am one of those mothers, work laid out in the soft-play while my son is running wild. However he is happy, I am happy  so a win-win for all.

If You Do Not Ask….



Over the last few months there have been several narratives exploring how the radiography profession can increase research capacity. Many of the social media conversations have focused on the challenges to achieving this for individuals. Radiographers want to and have the ability carry out research- it is carving out the time to achieve this which is difficult.

As an academic I am very fortunate to have scholarly activity time I can access. However, it become apparent over the summer that if I was to drive my professional doctorate work forward trying to complete it in my own free time was not going to be enough. Therefore, I thought I would use this blog to share some recent lessons learnt.

Look for support. Whether this is time or mentoring start looking. There are opportunities out there. For me it was about applying for internally funded workload to release me from my duties so I could concentrate on my research. If you cannot get support locally, I would urge anyone who wants to do research to visit the Society and College of Radiographers career progression webpages as a starting point.

Make yourself accountable. I had been sitting on the application form for a few months. I realised that if I verbalised out loud to a group of peers that I was going to apply this would make me accountable. Now and again I would get a gentle reminder or offer of support to get the forms completed and submitted. Nothing like a bit of peer pressure to get a task completed.

You are not an imposter. A fortuitous opportunity that has arisen from asking for help is access to our Faculty “research career guidance”. I was taken aback when I was asked to consider this as I do not think of myself as a researcher. Neither had I considered what my career would be like after my Doctorate was completed. I was reminded of Professor Peter Hogg telling a room full of radiographers that a Doctorate is not the end-point rather the beginning of a lifelong research trajectory. (Although a five-year plan is more than sufficient now given my completion year will be 2021).

Unexpected bonus. Even if I had been unsuccessful in this round of applications completing the forms required me to articulate my research plans for the coming years. This also included a mapping exercise of how my scholarly activity time would be used and justification of why additional time was needed above this. Year 2 of my Doctorate involves a 13,000-word portfolio with a progression viva. I have not started as the whole prospect was daunting (apologies if my research supervisor is reading this). By filling in the request forms I now have a clear road map of what I need to achieve.

So, there are my experiences of what happens if you ask. I hope the blog post inspires fellow radiographers new to this thing called research. If nothing else, it counts towards the reflective logs I am keeping as I develop my research question this year. My Doctorate mantra for 2016/2017- work smarter not harder.

The #HASBME16 Conference. My Reflections

Earlier in the academic year I noticed a poster outside the UWE Glenside campus calling BME students to participate in a survey about their experiences at the University. Normally I would have walked past this without a second glance but a phrase at the bottom caught my eye “White other i.e. Polish, Irish”.  At the time I felt annoyed that someone would list Irish in this context.  After all I would never place myself in the BME category.  Those who read my blog will know I already have enough “labels” and do not need any more added to the list!

In the months after this “incident” I started to speak to the Irish students on the diagnostic imaging and radiotherapy programmes about being listed as BME.  Historically Irish students have come to the UK to train as radiographers and most of you reading this blog will know an Irish healthcare professional. There is only one radiography school in the Republic of Ireland, it is fiercely competitive to get into mostly because radiography is a well understood career option across the waters. Hence the steady influx of Irish students onto UK training programmes over the decades.  Through speaking to our learners I had the opportunity to revisit my experiences of moving to the UK in the late 1990s and how I had to adapt.  From moving from a different educational system with a different pedagogical approach, to moving away from having a potatoe with every meal, to slowing my pace of speech.

Last week the UK made a historic decision to leave the EU and for me as an Irish national living and working in the UK this has been an interesting time. I felt vulnerable after this announcement.  Although I do not face the same challenges as someone who is visibly different through skin colour I have had my share of racist remarks over the years.  Someone I lived with at university ordered me to go back to Ireland as her Grandad’s friend had been killed in a terriost attack during the “troubles”.  A patient I once scanned said I should learn to speak properly if I wanted to stay in this country.  In another encounter a patient asked that my colleague scan them as I was not British. Ironic really as I was training the British person how to use the scanner.

Today I attended the Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences BME (#HASBME16) student voice conference and I have to say it was emotional. Students spoke openly about how their accent, clothes they wore, their skin colour and even their names made them stand out from the crowd- for the wrong reasons. They shared with those in attendance the academic challenges they faced and how this may affect their attainment compared to their peers.  They spoke of how they needed role-models to show them that it is possible to succeed BME or not.

As I sat there I took notes and started to join the dots.   When I was younger I wished my parents had given me a beautiful Irish name like Clodagh, Cliona, Siobhan or Aishling.  Over the years I have grown to accept my name. Partly because it is a British name and partly because I see how colleagues struggle to pronounce Irish names.  When the patient was rude about my voice and tone I considered elocution lessons to further soften my Tipperary accent. I have seen the phrase whereby individuals try to “whiten” their CVs or “whiten” themselves.  However how do you whiten yourself when you are already white?

For me the presentation from #HASBME16 that inspired this blog was given by Wendy Irvin, Equality and Diversity Lead at the Royal College of Nursing.  Wendy spoke about doing more than just broadcasting the issues- you need to do something.  Therefore I write this blog to encourage healthcare professionals to look out for each other and to act as mentors for our BME learners. Taking care of everyone in society is even more important in the current climate.  Personally I pledge to work with our Irish learners as they transition to live in the UK. For some they will return to the emerald isle, for others  like myself, and two of my sisters, they will study in the UK, fall in love with the country (or in my case my husband) and never leave.

I wanted to use this blog entry to thank the team who organised and delivered #HASBME16 today for offering me the opportunity to visit the idea of BME and the challenges faced by this group. On the 10th.09.2016 I will have lived in the UK longer than I  lived in Ireland.  Even though this is a significant milestone for me  and I have developed a rather good Welsh accent over the years, I was reminded that it is Irish blood that runs through these veins.