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.


The IMPACT of my Doctorate Part 1: Impact on field

At the beginning of my Doctorate I made a promise to myself that I would, where possible, publish my work as I progressed. This has been working well. However there is no appropriate “traditional” place to publish a reflective commentary that was submitted in May 2017. This looked at the impact doing a Doctorate would have on my field, my role as a practitioner and on myself. So here we are in the “non-traditional” publishing place.

The plan is to share the portfolio in four abridged blog posts as I believe they will be of benefit to anyone considering this journey.  The sub-headings have been added for the blog posts and these reflective pieces are very honest so please be kind.



Why not recycle research from other fields?

Snaith, Harris and Harris (2016) acknowledge that the radiography profession is emerging as a research active profession and developing its own research evidence based. While it is reasonable to draw parallels form research from other healthcare professions, as documented by Reeves (1999), DI radiographers tend to spend limited time with patients and are often thought of as “hit and run carers”. This is confounded by the fact that DI radiographers rarely encounter the same patient again and have to manage the technical components of their role during this time (Strudwick, MacKay & Hicks, 2011).

The radiography research vision.

The 2016-2021 Society and College of Radiographers Research Strategy document lays out the research vison for the profession of radiography in the next five years:

“To improve patient care and outcomes by continuing to develop, grow and implement a high quality evidence-base that addresses key patient-focused research priorities”

From a reductionist viewpoint it is easy to quantify the impact on the field of radiography of personally completing doctoral level study. It is the Society and College of Radiographer’s (SCoR) expectation that by 2021 1% of the workforce (n=300) will hold or be working towards a doctoral level award. Currently there are ~120 radiographers’ who hold doctorates (Snaith et al., 2016). Increasing the number of radiographers holding doctorates is seen as an enabler to embed research at all levels of radiography practice through development of skilled and motivated research-active members of the profession (SCoR, 2016).

For those working in academia a recommendation in the national research strategy is for the doctoral award to be the preferred qualification for those seeking to work in radiography education thus expanding the capacity for doctoral supervision and providing pre-registration learners with role-models. This is particularly important in the future as it is estimated that 30% of the radiography teaching population is due to retire in the next 10 years. Over 25% of radiographers who currently hold a doctorate qualification are also due to retire within 10 years. (Knapp et al., InPress).

Direction of travel

In January 2017 “The College of Radiographers Research Priorities for the Radiographic Profession” was published adding a direction to the SCoR research vision and aims (SCoR, 2017). It outlines where the College of Radiographers would like research funding to be focused. Through Delphi rounds, 133 research topics gaining group consensus are listed and these have been collated into five theme areas: accuracy and safety; technological innovation; public and patient experience; service and workforce transformation; education and training. This is the first list of research priorities published by SCoR to identify education as its own category. Of note for this researcher are the following research priorities:

*25: Evaluating the education and workforce requirements to meet future service needs.

*34: What will the imaging service demands be by 2020 and how will we meet them?

*55: Patient involvement, to improve patient experience and guide practice.

As highlighted in the portfolio protocol (section one) there is much discussion on topics 25 and 34 [(Nightingale, 2016) & (Sloane, 2016)].

Plan, Do, Check, ACT

This thesis seeks to address this with regards innovation in pre-registration diagnostic imaging curriculum design. However one notes that the time to complete this doctorate, six years part-time, does add a challenge of another researcher or research group presenting and publishing on this area of practice. Consequently my work may have no impact on the field. To minimise this risk I have included in the project planning Gantt chart key times to publish the research work during the doctoral process. Not only does this ensure dissemination of the process and findings, it also ensures that the novel application of the proposed data collection tool can be traced to myself even if someone else starts researching in this area. To date publishing as the research develops has led to two outputs [(St. John-Matthews, 2016); (St .John-Matthews, Wallace & Robinson, 2017)].



*Welcome to my home-study where I spend most of my free time.  #medradjclub mug a key requirement for all the coffee!


We Are the City Rising Star Award 2017



Monday morning was beginning to turn into a disaster. Despite catching the 05:30 am train for a meeting in London I arrived into Paddington thirty minutes late to learn the Circle line was down and there were crowd control in place for access to the Bakerloo line. My stress levels were rising as I was meant to meet a colleague prior to traveling to the meeting venue.

At this point I decided to stop to assess my options, make some calls and check my emails. And there it was- a notification that I had won a 2017 “We Are the City Top 100 Rising Star”.  I genuinely had to sit down to make sure I had read it correctly. After all, the awards were entered by 1,250 individuals and judged by a panel of 33 independent judges.

It has been four days since I heard the good news and I wanted to blog to share some stand-out moments since I learnt of my nomination.

This Little Light of Mine.

There is a lot of great work  happening out there and it needs recognition. I was shocked to have been nominated for this award- to me everything I do is normal and part of the job. It took articulating this to someone else for this nomination to happen. It also required that person taking time out to put my name forward. Hence I would like to extend a thank you to Jenny Garrett for being that person. (For the radiographers reading this blog there is still time to nominate for the 2017 Society and College of Radiographers Radiography of the Year awards. Let’s get nominating.)

Taking Stock.

After the nomination was confirmed,  there was a requirement to fill in a supplementary information section. I am really good at setting personal goals and breaking these into objectives however taking stock is something I do about once a year for my PDR.  In between I am too busy driving the next project or idea forward. Filling in the information reminded me that it is ok to celebrate the work you are doing. Hence four monthly stock taking is something I plan to do move forwards.

Radiography Rocks.

At the short-listing event I was delighted to be introduced to another radiographer. Emma Seaton-Smith works for a private healthcare company with their PACs/ RIS across a network of 40 hospitals. Emma had been shortlisted in the Technology category. Speaking to Emma reminded me of the many transferable skills training as a radiographer gives you and the diverse career pathways radiographers can take.  As I stood in Bloomberg I was struck with how out of 200 shortlisted individuals there were two radiographers.  I will be sharing this story with student radiographers for years to come.

No River Wide Enough.

I once heard at a conference that women have deep and narrow networks while men have shallow but wide networks. Hence when opportunities arise, men have more people capital to draw upon to make things happen. I am not sure if there is any evidence to this statement however the voting component of these awards has demonstrated to me how wide my networks are- not just in radiography. I owe a lot of this to social media. However this cannot replace face to face contact. Therefore despite having to catch a train at 23:00pm out of London on the night of the shortlisting event it was worth it for the new connections I made.

The Game Changer.

Irrespective of your thoughts on social media, it is a space that can no longer be avoided for professionals. As noted above it has really helped me with networking- something I have blogged about previously. It also played a major part in describing my achievements thus far in the supplementary information section for this award .  I am such a fan of #SoMe, that the data collection tool for my Doctorate  draws on social media- watch this space! 

I would like to thank everyone who took the time to vote for me. The support from friends, family, colleagues and students has been overwhelming. However the biggest thank you goes to Vanessa Valley, We Are the City MD and the founder of these awards, who continues to support and champion the female talent pipeline. A role-model in every sense of the word.


Old Ground: New Insights

I am currently writing up the year 2 portfolio for my professional doctorate and today am focusing on the reflective entry for this assessment. This requires learners to explore what they are planning to research, why they are researching their chosen area and how this will impact on them as practitioners and people. Part of this involves pulling together reflective pieces written throughout the year to inform the narrative within the portfolio.

Having looked over my blogs an interesting pattern has emerged- dyslexia and research- particularly my emerging role as a researcher with dyslexia.   The last few months have heightened my awareness of my dyslexia. I am currently working on a 14,000 word submission and it is proving difficult to get across in writing what is in my head. An unforeseen deadline a couple of weeks ago was difficult to manage despite being super-organised.  To top it of an accepted journal article has taken forever to write up and to get to the standard required for publication.  This is mostly because I have struggled with the sequencing of my ideas. All these are further complicated by trying to juggle the day job and being Mum.

Curious as ever I decided to conduct a quick literature search on this area. I was not prepared for the paucity of literature there appears to be on the topic- particularly the lived experiences of doctorate learners with dyslexia. I sent a tweet on this thought and the replies I had confirmed this. It was comforting to hear from Kerry Pace @diverselearners that she supports doctorate learners with dyslexia.  Other replies indicated that individuals with dyslexia do complete doctorates (phew!).  One person highlighted that the viva was the easy part- the difficult part was the volume of writing.

Of the literature I did find one indicated that a good relationship with supervisors was key (Collins, 2015). This included good communication, willingness to listen and flexibility. It also highlighted the key dilemma for supervisors and learners where the pressures for timely completions of tasks. (See note above on an unexpected deadline).  Above all it acknowledged it is doable but it is a hard road ahead. During my search I also found the PREMIA report (2004) Access to Research: Institutional Issues for Disabled Postgraduate Research Students. Although personally I do not like the use of the word “issues” in the title this is now on my reading list.

So I am sat here wondering if being a researcher with dyslexia is a viable combination. Just like my decisions to avoid subjects in secondary school which involved high volumes of reading and writing and in place focus on practical subjects do individuals with dyslexia venture into research careers?  I was reminded of a previous blog on how as a trainee radiographer and learning I was dyslexic there was a gap in the literature on whether dyslexia and radiography were compatible.   It was another seven years before any published data was available to confirm they were. This was not a novel idea to me- but it made it more “socially acceptable”. Furthermore it helped improve other people’s appreciation of what it is like to be a radiographer with dyslexia.

This blog is not meant to be a BMW session. Alongside referencing this entry I have included parts of this record into the project planning document. The annual DSA grant application rounds are circled in the Gantt chart and managing unforeseen deadlines are in the risk register.  However on a larger scale there is clearly a gap in the literature on this topic particularly the lived experiences of those who work as researchers or at least have completed, or in some cases not completed doctorates. I personally need some role-models and some reassurance that this is doable.  Above all I want to learn how others have navigated this interesting combination.   Surely if Albert Einstein could make it work it is possible.

  • Collins, B (2015) Reflections on doctoral supervision: drawing from the experiences of students with additional learning needs at two universities.  Teaching in Higher Education. 20 (6) pp587-600


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*I saw these daffodils on one of my “thinking time” walks.  I was struck how alike they all were-  but there were a few which were slightly different in colour.   A very apt picture for this blog theme.

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 .