Snow, research and higher degrees

Red weather warningToday brought the predicted dollop of snow, meaning that yesterday there was no bread to be had in the shops. See this Met Office map of the UK, with its colour-coded weather warnings? See the red blob? That’s where I live, and where I am now.

This has been an interesting, and particularly research-oriented, working week. I spent part of Monday with a group of postgraduates, discussing processes for the review and approval of research and other projects. It has to be said that the opportunities for MSc students to complete small-scale data-generating studies are fewer than they once were, particularly if their plans are to generate data in the NHS. The time needed to secure R&D and research ethics approval can take a serious chunk out of the typical student’s period of candidature. Now, unless studies can be shown to be linked to larger research endeavours there’s also a fair chance that some NHS organisations will want to levy charges for processing R&D applications and for consuming their resources. As I ended up telling this particular MSc group, for NHS governance purposes there are also fine distinctions sometimes to be made between ‘research’ and other activities (like ‘service evaluation’ and ‘audit’) which, on the face of it, can look pretty ‘research-y’.

Monday also brought a meeting with second year, undergraduate, pre-registration mental health nursing students. That was nice, and we got to talk about all manner of things: the history of mental health nursing, developments in local services, experiences of practice.

Tuesday brought a project advisory group meeting chaired by Professor Billie Hunter. Billie’s study is funded by the Royal College of Midwives, and is examining midwives’ resilience. It’s interesting both methodologically and substantively, and one of the things I’m learning about is the generation of research data using social media.

Wednesday was an unusual day, involving a trip to another university to examine a doctoral thesis. People often have lots to say about preparing for vivas from the student point of view, and in every university there will be stories to be heard about students’ (good and bad) doctoral examination experiences. Less is said about the experiences of examiners. In my view the invitation to examine a doctorate is an honour, and the occasion demands careful preparation. After all, we’re talking here about the culmination of years of work, folks. On this week’s and on the few other occasions in which I have examined I have, I hope, combined rigorous enquiry with respectful courtesy. This is certainly how my examiners were on the day of my viva, I’m pleased to say.

Thursday (yesterday) began with a meeting to review a contract, connected to a funded research project I’m involved in which formally commences at the start of next month. I learnt some new stuff along the way, including the distinctions between ‘background’ and ‘foreground’ intellectual property and copyright. Michael Coffey, Aled Jones, Jennifer Egbunike and I met to make practical plans for a segment of another project, led by Alan Simpson. This study is also involving Alison Faulkner (whose website, if she has one, I do not know), Jitka Jancova and (soon) Sally Barlow. All very productive and interesting, and I was pleased to round off the day in the office with an expected conversation with the clinical psychologist, Andrew Vidgen, about his work in early intervention in psychosis, my Connections and consequences paper, and a few other things besides.

January 18th 2013And today the snow came (check out this photo, revealing the red blob’s local snowfall), and as anticipated a large thesis chunk to read and review from my esteemed colleague, Pauline Tang, who is also a research student. Pauline is interested in the use of electronic patient records, and I am again reminded of the discipline and hard work required by part-time doctoral students who have to combine their studies with the day job. The equally esteemed Jane Davies, my longstanding friend and colleague and now a full time (pretty much) PhD student, also sent me some interesting initial reflections relating to her planned study of decision-making in adolescent cancer.

Running looks out of the question this weekend, and, for all I know, the coming week. Today’s deep snow will be tomorrow’s ice, and that stuff’s not to be run on. Long walks look a tantalising possibility, though.

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