Friday, 20 February 2015

Make a poster.. These were my instructions... How hard can it be?

I've been reliably informed that creating an academic poster was a great way of getting your research 'out there' with the point being to communicate a summary of a  research project attractively and concisely.  Before starting this course I had never really considered the concept of an academic poster and to be honest, I've never really clocked them at conferences before but it's funny how once you are made aware of them, you see them all over the show! I envisioned a therapeutic, calming, gentle exercise.. I would find some pictures, throw in a few words, mabe even a flow chart if I was feeling flashy... Oh how naive I was.... 
I've looked at a few posters and some of them have the capacity to convert the most devout insomniac whilst others are really eye catching and interesting leaving me saying words like... where's the person that made that bit of research sound/look interesting... That's super clever.... I wonder is this person got their teenage child to help?


Molly did give me permission to use this picture....Honest....

The best ones I've seen have been colourful, not too wordy and have some pictures that either make you cringe (what midwife doesn't like a bit of gore?) or are pretty. I'm aware that I'm a simple creature when it comes down to choosing what I want to read or look at and am coming to the conclusion that most of the people attending conferences are just the same, some are just better at looking interested than others. 

So I decided to go for it, my abstract for the post graduate research conference at the university was accepted and I had a few weeks to work on it... then, oh dear, a blank realisation that I had absolutely no idea where to start..  I have Microsoft publisher installed on my uni laptop alongside draw, word and a whole range of other bits of software I haven't even looked at, but how to I create a poster?? Turns out that the best way to do it is to use PowerPoint, who would have guessed that? Not me obviously, just goes to prove you don't have to be particularly clever to do a PhD, just be willing to slog away at it.   Luckily I have some fabulous PhD colleagues who were happy to share their previously displayed posters (thank you Wendy and Dana) so I had a template to work with.
Thank my lucky stars for the study day entitled "how to create an academic poster, presented by Dr Julia Taylor, this was perfect timing and really helpful. It was a good day with some clear ideas about how to put a poster together, here were just a few of the points for consideration:
  • What is your key message?
  • is there a logical sequence for the information that you want to display?
  • Who is your audience?
  • Will it be legible from 2 metres away?
  • Simplicity is the key - is it too busy?
  • Let graphics and images tell the story
Then the really practical stuff like:

  • Making sure you name the right people on your poster (In my case, my supervisors, Bournemouth University and Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust) and attach the correct logos.
  • How big it should be and what format it should be presented in (841mm x 594mm PDF).
  • Being careful about copyrighted images.

Another really interesting thing that I learned was about how we have a particular pattern to the way we read.  It's called 'reader gravity'.  If we organise our posters in a way that defy reader gravity it will confuse viewers.  There have been eye tracking studies that have analysed the way we read and have identified the areas that gain the most attention on a webpage or on a poster.  You may notice that when you look at a webpage your eyes move in a Z shape... This explains the concept a little....

This image is thanks to this website, take a look If you want to know more:
I find myself looking at layouts now in an effort to understand how I am being manipulated, similar to placing products at eye-level in a shop. 

Now to figure out how to actually use the programme properly, at this point, I had plans to draw my resident teenager out of her bedroom to enlighten me, with rolling eyes, many tuts and bribery I was able to make a start.  I was feeling decadent as this was done over the Christmas break so made my bed the office for the day with the excuse that the new onesie I got from santa is ridiculously comfortable and needed breaking in.  Fuelled with mince pies, chocolate coins, coffee and turkey sandwiches that inevitably left crumbs in all sorts of places I created my masterpiece!

I didn't need to steal any images, that pregnant belly is all my own work... (sorry I had to edit this point once my husband read it as he highlighted that he had helped!).

So the actual conference arrived, I was nervously wondering how it would be received but the subject of maternal obesity is quite topical and also currently in the news:
so in that sense I was aware that it should generate some interest. I eventually found my poster tucked away in a corner, not the best spot but someone was actually reading it and this was the whole point so did a little happy dance when no-one was watching.  I won no prizes and received no great accolades but hopefully this is my first of many and it will evolve, for now I am just pleased I had something to show for all of the crumbs in my bed....


Saturday, 22 November 2014

Time for the method... Now where do I get the pesky ingredients?

I've been reading about research methods for some time now in an attempt to be a diligent PhD student and to be honest I have been somewhat confused to say the least.  Research methodology seems so intimidating, it's full of new language and some very long words (I still sound ridiculous when I say interpretive phenomenological analysis).  With this in mind I knew I would need some help and develop an awareness of different methods available so that I can defend my choice when it comes to my viva.  My fabulous friend and fellow PhD student Wendy recommended a week long course in Oxford that had helped her enormously,  It was rather nattily named 'Introduction to Qualitative Research Methods' and looked promising, so bags packed I set off for a week with complete strangers.  

I wasn't disappointed, the course was run by competent and experienced researchers and the people taking the course were all so diverse in their backgrounds with differing areas of research to talk about so was immediately interesting and engaging. Research subjects ranged from TB screening, medicines compliance, Fear of birth, Obesity, end of life care, psychology within the military and education to name but a few. Discussions and lectures were delivered alongside practical sessions to help contextualise and make sense of the masses of data we would be gathering from our interviews, focus groups and observations.  We were encouraged to try and consider fully the implications of using particular ways of gathering data to start with especially with regard to our own project.  The follow up to this was then to analyse the data in a structured way to add rigor to the research design.  One of the sessions was OSOP (One Sheet Of Paper), here is mine based upon my week away.......

The idea behind the OSOP is similar to a mind mapping process... I like all the pretty colours as it's simple things like this that keep me engaged! This is a process that enables the researcher to help develop themes within a transcript and I feel I have clearly identified that 'making new friends' was one of my favourite themes that I may be a little biased towards! 

I really wasn't expecting to get on so well with so many people but was surprised to feel so much warmth, especially on my birthday.  The lovely Nikki baked the most beautiful chocolate cake complete with candle when I was expecting to feel sad away from family and friends...

It was lush, the only annoying factor is that Nikki appears to be one of those women who can just knock up the most amazing cake at the drop of a hat! I did get the chance to FaceTime family in the evening and open cards and presents from home, to be honest my brain was filled up and buzzing with so much stuff I was glad to be in bed by 8:30 with some reading.... Oh how my life has changed! 

So back to work - The most challenging aspect for me so far is the understanding of my philosophical assumptions, basically the consideration of how I think (epistemology) and interact (ontology) with the world around me.  This is important because I have to consider how my assumptions and knowledge will impact the way I interprete my research findings... This is where qualitative research in my opinion has the potential to get messy! If I look even deeper with my philosophical lens I can try and place my epistemological position within a category that basically says that I could come from a positivist position (where my thoughts are more influenced by observation, social facts and general laws) -This is a great standpoint for a qualitative researcher... or interpretivism (where my thought are more influenced by knowledge based upon interpreting meaning in social action) very qualitative... I believe I sit somewhere in the middle.  

The importance of these at times mind blowing thoughts were illustrated when I undertook a practical interview session with the subject heading "what factors influence what people eat?" I thought I had prepared well, I planned to have the opening question that would elicit a narrative response and had simply heaps of questions that would help me find out how my interviewee was influenced by many factors when choosing what to nibble on.  This I thought was right up my street, if anyone can figure out the inner workings of someone's diet then I was the woman to do it! Oh how wrong could I be..... I got the fabulous Adam, who didn't really care about where he got his food from, never cooks for himself as he has an amazing partner who takes care of that and he managed to thrive on bread and jam when he was growing up..... Typical, nothing seemed to influence his food intake except for whatever was put in front of him... I wasn't expecting that but I was very glad that this rather lovely summertime spritz was placed in front of us later that evening....

So where am I now? Well I've settled on conducting focus groups and semi-structured interviews as a means of collecting my data with a grounded theory approach to interpreting an analysing the data. This is a method by where I will look at the transcripts of each interaction then look at themes and give them a category or code.  From this point I will look for themes that I was expecting then also adapt my line of questioning during the process to take any new themes into account.  My method with be looking at reaching a saturation point (when the women who I speak to aren't revealing any new themes) and at this point my theory will be grounded... I can't wait! 

Friday, 11 July 2014

The alternative festival......

Festival to many mean tents, entertainment, drinking, socialising and general merry making, this was definitely a festival with a difference.  The Holiday Inn for a start, with my room buddy and fellow PhD student Dana to keep me company we thoroughly enjoyed the facilities and opportunity to just spend time rather selfishly reading, swimming without the apron strings being constantly tugged at...bliss! We did enjoy the odd glass of wine with dinner and networked over lunches.  As for the entertainment I did manage to enjoy a few of the presentations but overall I was disappointed with the lack of imagination and creativity when individuals were disseminating findings and experience... death by powerpoint was definitely a feature but Both myself and Dana made the most of our time in Oxford and took our own useful learning points away.

Oxford is amazing! This is my first time in the centre of Oxford and being within a university campus I feel like I've walked onto the set of a Harry potter movie... Hats and gowns, culture, gargoyles, beautiful buildings. The whole place just oozes learning and all round cleverness and affluence.  This is definitely the place to be if you want to expand your thinking however on the first day I found it all quite overwhelming and didn't feel like I belonged at all.  I've been wrestling with an internal struggle since first gaining a place on this PhD programme.  How could I, Carol Richardson with the speckled childhood on a rough council estate with lived early experiences that should by all accounts led me to either further poverty, prison or addiction, be here surrounded by all these inspirational individuals that seem so comfortable in this setting, that speak so eloquently and are so academically competent.  Don't get me wrong, I don't want to be labeled a victim but I am continuously trying to understand my own identity in order to make me a more reflexive researcher and the process isn't always a comfortable one.  To be honest, I'm quite bored of hearing and telling my own sorry stories and don't think I am entirely deserving of the label; the girl that dragged herself up by her bootlaces and is now doing well... In the words of Tim Minchin; it's all luck... And if you haven't listened to this man before, please please watch this clip... It all makes beautiful sense!

So, will I ever escape this image? should I even bother trying? During this festival I've heard speakers that have allowed me to settle with the idea that the more you understand how you are perceived by others, the greater your understanding of the way they will communicate with you.  An imprint of your own personal ideals, morals and influences will always be present within qualitative research, the trick is to be aware of it and make the effort to remain impartial and truly honest with yourself. One particular speaker highlighted how she had been demonised in the media and will be forevermore associated with under age sex and was even labeled a paedophile as her research was on the sensitive subject of male teachers lived experiences of accusations from students claiming that they had been abused. The cases that she had covered included some interesting methodology (this is after all what the festival was all about!) where she blended all the stories then fabricated a new one that encompassed all the stories through the eyes of one fictional family. This allowed the participants to remain truly anonymous and is referred to as a composite fiction approach. The other advantage was that even though all of the individuals involved had been exonerated within a court of law of course she could not make a cast iron guarantee that they were in fact innocent. She had to make sure that she did not provide an opportunity for these individuals to create a new victim identity that they could use for personal gain. This researcher and distinguished professor, Pat Sikes revealed that she had in fact had a relationship with her teacher at school and had later married him.  This personal lived experience had given her a real personal insight into the traumas that extended to family, friends and colleagues and could have been a real advantage when undertaking this research.  Her discussion about the ethical process was very insightful especially an astonishing comment from an ethics committee that stated at one point that "teenagers never lie about sexual abuse", this challenged the ethics process and allowed me to be aware once again of my own morals, personal knowledge  and life experience.

This concept was cemented when listening to another account and study headed up by a researcher once again looking at an emotive, sensitive subject.. Her name is Dr Denise Turner from the University of Sussex and she had put together her presentation in order to try and help researchers tackle difficult or challenging subjects.  I figured that asking a woman about her personal weight issues would definitely fit into this category so went along with the hope of gathering some tips.  The lecture focussed on the research that Denise had undertaken on parents and families experiences after the unexpected death of a child, looking at issues such as how they were treated by police, social workers and other professionals.  She used a method of data analysis called Biographic Narrative Interpretative Method. Now I know that sounds rather posh but essentially it looks at a clear way of deriving meaning from a series of personal rich stories. In order to add credibility and strength to her interpretation for her thesis she engaged a panel of professional and lay members to look through and discuss the transcripts with some interesting feedback that gave her a very different point of view from the one that she had originally held. He reasoning behind this was that she had experienced the death of her own 9 year old boy and by opening out her interpretation she could minimise the risk of her work being misconstrued as some sort of victim art or confessional.... It was a very powerful stuff and really did leave a lasting impression on how important it is to understand where oneself sits in any research.

Linking this back to my work, I am now learning to accept that I will be the obese midwife researcher for quite some time...I've noticed that people comment more on the food I eat, the exercise I take and my own lifestyle. I'm often asked for dietary advice and about my own personal weight loss/gain/yo yo journey. In undertaking this study I am developing a new personal identity just as myself and my colleagues did when we became midwives... We have become accustomed to a strangers full obstetric history when we reveal our profession,with all the juicy details of their birth experiences, no holds barred. It's a good job we can listen to anything over lunch, not even a nasty placenta tale can put us off a good spaghetti bolognase.  And for those of you who were wondering what I ate, here are a few of the beautiful meals I tucked into!

Thank goodness the hotel had a gym.....

Thursday, 19 June 2014

First review.... Done!!!!

I've been away for a while, now I could say that I've hidden myself in the office and have completely buried myself in the PhD.... but that would be lying. I have discovered that this aspect of the PhD journey is all about how to manage the distractions and develop discipline. I really need to work on that! However, my winter distractions have been rewarding and I have convinced myself that some of the active procrastination will in fact be beneficial to my learning.I know...clutching at straws maybe?! At the beginning of this journey it was expected that I would use the Researcher Development Framework (RDF) as a guide for my exploration of the skills required to become a good researcher....

With this in mind here are a few of my excuses for taking what seemed like an eternity to crack on with my first review:

London Marathon Training - Perfect, I could tell myself that this schedule is in itself encouraging me to express discipline, self motivation, perseverance, integrity and preparation.

Fundraising for the Iolanthe Midwifery Trust - Public engagement skills have been developed alongside strategy and project planning (essential when you mix midwives with cakes).

Maid of honour role - Once again, project planning, public engagement, ethics (tested to the max at the hen do), Income and funding generation (care of the kitty), People management, problem solving and argument construction (essential when the best man and the groom fell out a week before the wedding). Analysing skills were exercised when choosing what tone of nail varnish would be required for the big day.

Time spend on social media - Skills acquired included, information seeking, analysing, communication methods, society and culture, global citizenship.

Surfing - develops responsiveness to change, work/life balance and self confidence and language skills (surfing in Welsh is syrffio)

Midwife On call duties for friends - Maintenance of clinical skills, love, compassion and pure unadulterated joy for the work that I am so passionate about (not on the RDF planner but I think I may just add a new slice)

Just a few of the essential training sessions that I needed before completing that first review.  I can happily announce that I have passed through this important milestone with good feedback and positive constructive advice.... must have been all of that training!

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Off to the RCM Conference

At every other conference that I've attended in the past as a delegate, I've flitted from plenary to poster and presentation with no real agenda in mind.  It's been a bit of a luxury where I have indulged my midwifery practice whims. I've always come away from conference however feeling invigorated and revitalized with lots of ideas and new contacts but to my shame have neglected to follow up the contacts and allowed them to collect fluff in the bottom of my Eco friendly conference bag with all the new ideas subsequently floating away... It was going to be different this time! I didn't want to come away with the usual post conference inactivity and had a much clearer set of tasks; (I do love a good list).

  1.  Make valuable contacts who I can seriously collaborate for the duration of the project and actually email them and stay in touch afterwards.
  2. Support the fabulous work of my colleagues who were presenting at the conference on behalf of Portsmouth Hospitals and Bournemouth University. It's about time we celebrated their achievements!
  3. Identify currently up and running care pathways for pregnant obese women and explore possibility of implementing them for the benefit of local women.
  4. Evaluate the quality of poster presentations and figure out if my early stages of research could be incorporated into a poster for future conferences.
  5. Consider my supervisory PREP requirements and attend supervision sessions that may be useful for feeding back to my supervisory team.
  6. Collect as many pens as possible.

One of the first and most enlightening plenary sessions that I attended was one by Dr Cate bell Discussing her research about women's experience of excellence in midwifery care and what makes an excellent midwife;  a status that I'm sure many aspire to. She was able to summarise her research using a visual representation of the midwife's moral compass, within it was highlighted some of the qualities identified by women that elevated the standard of care to excellent. Those qualities included:

  •     Making women feel individual and special, care isn't just about the doing elements but the being elements
  •     Listening skills and the importance of active listening
  •     Excellent midwives are clearly adaptable to the type of care required and can individualize their care with ease.
  •     A strong desire to do your best.

Some of the stronger moral qualities appeared to hold more influence of women's experience of excellence and these qualities discussed the moral being and living midwifery that embodied some midwives.  The character and personality was likened to a star quality that was specific to a midwife and deeply rooted. These characteristics were thought to be skills that were hard to teach but could be learned such as:

  • Belief in the specialness of birth
  • An honest appreciation uniqueness of birth and maintenance of enthusiasm for each and every woman.
  • Respect trust and value when sharing information and supporting decision making.
  • A deep personal motivation and love of the Job.

Overall this session was the kind that left me feeling quite warm and fuzzy and a desire to get back to work!

So after that it was back down to earth with a bump, it was time for the politicians.... Funnily enough I had a deep rooted desire to reach for a remote control in an effort to switch them off but I am painfully aware that I have to develop political awareness in order to be able to get stuck into influencing guidelines and policy.  I therefore grudgengly paid attention and listened to questions from the audience with the replies from the politicians delivered in a predictable evasive style... Not quite so fuzzy now... I think they could have learned a few lessons from Cate....

In between attending sessions, I had also embarked on my mission of picking up as many pens and freebies as possible (as I am a student!) and it was during this time that I stumbled upon an amazing contact... I was lucky dipping in the bounty pack bin and the lovely lady attending the display just happened to be involved in care pathways for obese pregnant women.  I discovered this when she handed me a booklet regarding pregnancy nutrician.  I noted her details and followed this up by contacting her via the ongoing #rcmconf13 twitter feed.  This also proved to be a great resource and the first time I had engaged in proper grown up twitter involvement/activity.  People were commenting during plenary sessions from the audience and using this platform as an opportunity to express their opinions, fascinating and almost as liberating as heckling with some degree of anonymity.
My twitter feed can be found here for anyone interested:

Lots of other interesting things to look at too in the exhibition hall, like this rather impressive collection of knitted boobs.....

As a direct link to the research in my field I clearly planned to attend sessions that would consider maternal obesity. During the course of the conference I soon realised that sometimes ideas emerge from the most unexpected of places. A talk from the NSPCC discussing a mental health paper highlighted that the leading cause of maternal death according to the CMACE report is suicide.  I had read a paper last week about the link between depression and obesity and I had a little lightbulb moment. I feel it is vital to include this link as part of my proposal development and certainly as a consideration to background information as part of my thesis.

A particularly interesting session was led by 2 midwives from Doncaster, Carolyn Garland and Alison Williams who discussed a project that they started and set up in their local trust. A great deal of consideration had been given to planning the service with a great deal of success. I listened, took details and have actually emailed and followed up this contact in preparation for a study day that they will be holding next year on the 3rd April. The study day will look at how to set up a similar service in your own area. It would appear that Doncaster also has a higher than national average obesity rate much like Portsmouth.  I came away with lots of ideas and a few clues about how to avoid some of the pitfalls. Simple things like calling the midwives 'healthy lifestyle midwives' rather than obesity midwives (that could be tricky!) Or the idea of calling the clinic the Monday clinic rather than a label that could put people off and let's face it, all the best diets start on a Monday! 

In the posters section of the conference I found a piece of work that I could take back to to my supervisors looking at the latent phase of labour and the use of oramorph. Therein was good evidence to show the real benefits to women when managing their pain at home at this difficult time and definately a consideration for our team of supervisors.  

Overall I was very proud to be a Portsmouth Midwife and a Bournemouth University student, we showcased just a little bit of the fabulous work that we do but I think we could be much better at showing off! I think we are clearly far too modest! 

So, that's my list done.  I found my time at the conference truly inspiring and the evenings at the guest house amusing as I was sharing one room with 3 other midwives to keep the costs down (was like a school dorm!) The icing on the cake had to be winning the 'who can collect the most pens competition'.....

That should keep me going for the next 4 years :-) 

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Getting on the roller coaster

I'm two months into my PhD studies and I feel like I've opened 50 cans of worms.  In order to complete, I have to simultaneously put the lids back on in 4 years time with not too many bits sticking out the tops. I'm strangely enjoying this sensation though, I'm feeling uneasy, unsettled and for most of the time not quite sure where I am going but I'm still excited! 

For the first time in my life my task is all a bit blurry, I'm a busy labour ward midwife and mum, I pride myself in being a whizzy person and getting a job done. I've run 4 marathons and can set myself to a task but it helps when you have a tick list or training plan to follow..... My PhD training plan seems to look a bit like this:

Chat to supervisors
Write.... A lot
Chat to scary people in 4 years time

I confided to a uni lecturer a few weeks ago about 'thinking time', I'm doing heaps of reading  and trying to make sense of the scrambled egg status of my brain. She stated that I needed time.... That's doable I thought... Where do I sign up to the thinking time class? Not sure I know how to do that, I'm more of an action girl type. Her wise words were; "you need to read a couple of articles then spend the afternoon in a coffee shop just thinking about them".......... WHAT???? Sitting on my derrière, and just contemplating where that information should be stored in my head? Surely that's an utter indulgence? Or skiving?

So this is my first real PhD challenge. Changing my entire mindset from go go go to pause and reflect.  Can't be too difficult? 

On that note, I'm off for a run!