Tag: doctoral study

Early careers

A discussion unfolding at the Mental Health Nurse Academics UK meeting held on March 12th 2021 was how best to support colleagues making the transition from clinical practice into higher education. Given the very limited success within nursing in growing clinical academic careers, through which people might sustainably combine roles in practice with roles in education and/or research, this transition is a very real one. It is also, as Jan Hunter and Mark Hayter observe, relatively neglected.

The rhythms and demands of clinical practice are very different from those in universities. Most nursing, midwifery and allied health professional academics come to work in higher education without having had prior opportunities to hone their research skills through doctoral-level study. Many need to grow their skills and experiences in teaching, too, but it is on developing early career researchers that I wish to focus in this post. Along the way I draw on experiences of my own to illustrate some wider points.

I was helped to write two doctoral fellowship applications, the second after the first was unsuccessful. In this, I proposed using a set of design and methods crafted in an existing study of recovery from stroke to examine work and roles in the trajectories of people using mental health services in the community. With part-funding from a competitively secured fellowship and then employer support I was on my way. I therefore benefited from a very sensible, strategic, approach to research capacity-building which combined mentorship, help with funding applications, ongoing institutional support, and supervision. Very importantly, I was also encouraged to think programmatically, and to link my research to existing lines of enquiry with the aim of adding to a concentration of substantive, theoretical and methodological expertise.

Sharing my thesis findings through publishing was an absolute given, informed by the view that a study is not completed until it is shared. Beyond this, having concluded my PhD I both wanted, and was encouraged, to develop further the body of research commenced in my thesis. I moved swiftly from doctoral studies to a part-time post-doctoral fellowship, in which I again examined service user trajectories, work and roles but this time in the context of mental health crisis services. I was grateful for the support I received for this project from the Research Capacity Building Collaboration Wales. I also reflect, now, that our collective efforts to grow a doctorally qualified nursing, midwifery and allied health profession academic workforce have not been matched by equal efforts to enable holders of new PhDs to grow their research programmes into the post-doctoral period. It is deeply frustrating to see the holders of new doctorates devoured by teaching and related activities, their research expertise and aspirations risking extinction barely as soon as they have emerged. Mentorship to develop ongoing research plans, space for dissemination and grant-writing, and strategies for networking are so very important in the immediate post-doctoral period.

My view is also that institutional and external support for a PhD brings with it the obligation, in time, to become a PhD supervisor. Debra Jackson, Tamara Power and Kim Usher have recently published findings from a study of doctoral supervision within nursing, accurately pointing to the labour involved in this work and the degree to which it needs to be recognised by employers. Without supervision there can be no doctoral study, and without doctoral study no future research leaders.

Finally, my impressions are that, historically, research careers have tended to begin many years after initial registration and periods in practice. I would like to see more encouragement to newly registered nurses to consider research (and a career in academia) as an option, beginning with early registration for PhD study. Quite possibly this takes me back to where I started in this post, which is to observe that, despite many years of talking and trying, we haven’t yet managed to create coherent career pathways for clinical academics in nursing.

Fees, theses and project updates

Last week brought the news that, in England, people beginning nursing degrees from the 2017-18 academic year will need to take out student loans to cover the cost of their tuition fees. The cap on student numbers will also be removed. The Council of Deans of Health broadly supports this move, having previously argued for change. One of the things it points out is that current funding for students (via the agreement of the benchmark price) does not cover the real costs of educating new nurses. The Royal College of Nursing, on the other hand, is concerned that last week’s announcement prepares to break the connection between the NHS and financial support for student nurses, and simultaneously risks making nursing a less attractive career option. This concern particularly relates to mature students and those contemplating a second degree, for some of whom the prospect of additional debt may be exceptionally unappealing. As a nurse academic in Wales I wait with interest to see what policy on fees will emerge from the Welsh Government.

In other news, I find myself engaged in a prolonged period of doctoral student activity. I’ve examined a number of theses in and out of Cardiff in recent months, and have sat with students during their vivas as either supervisor or independent chair. This term has been particularly packed. Plenty of writing has also been taking place: papers and reports are being written from COCAPP, RiSC and Plan4Recovery, and from completed theses I have helped to supervise. Data generation in COCAPP-A has almost concluded, and new research ideas are taking shape. Exciting times, if a little frenetic. 

Studying for a PhD in the School of Healthcare Sciences

PhD2Here in the School of Healthcare Sciences at Cardiff University we’ve continued to think about how best to appeal to potential PhD students, and to simultaneously develop research capacity across nursing, midwifery and the allied health professions. A change which we’ve recently made is to invite applicants for postgraduate research study to make clear how their developing plans fit with the research already going on in at least one of the School’s research themes. To help in this process we’re now advertising areas for future PhD study, closely aligned to the substantive and methodological expertise already found in the School. This makes lots of sense, and will help us to grow research in programmatic fashion and ensure students are appropriately supervised.

The place to go for the current list of topics/areas is here, where under the Workforce, Innovation and Improvement theme you’ll find this:

The use of in-depth qualitative methods to examine mental health systems. Specifically, projects investigating aspects of policy; service organisation and delivery; work, roles and values and user and carer experiences.

That’s the kind of PhD I’m primarily interested in supervising. For an example of what a completed one looks like, then follow this link to the full text of Dr Mohammad Marie’s freshly minted thesis titled, Resilience of Nurses who work in Community Mental Health Workplaces in West Bank-Palestine.

Supporting doctoral students in mental health nursing

Over on the Mental Health Nurse Academics UK blog, Julia Terry from Swansea University has written a post introducing the new Mental Health Nurse Doctoral Students’ Network which she has worked so hard to convene. The group met, for the first time, as part of an NPNR conference fringe at Warwick University last month.

Here’s what Julia has to say:

Welcome to the first official blog post for the:

paperchain people

 Mental Health Nurse Doctoral Students’ Network

At the NPNR in Warwick this year 10 Mental Health Nurse Doctoral Students came forward and agreed that a network was a good idea.

This network can work in a number of ways:

  • Meeting up for occasional face to face discussions
  • Using an email group to contact like-minded people
  • And using this blog

You may have questions, tips to share, events and books to recommend, the possibilities are wide.

As you’re reading this we’ve now increased the network to 24 interested doctoral students already, so the interest seems to be there. Thanks for your support.

Top tip:

2 great books I read from start to finish and keep going back to –

Petre, M., Rugg, G. (2010) The unwritten rules of PhD research. 2nd ed. Berkshire: Open University Press

Phillips, E., Pugh, D. (2010) How to get a PhD: a handbook for students and their supervisors.  Berkshire: Open University Press

I found them very easy to read, and good to dip in and out of. Tips about writing, planning your time, supervision, etc..Well worth a read.

Bw, Julia Terry

Great work, Julia: I hope people get involved.

Whilst I’m on the topic of postgraduate research, I note that the European Academy of Nursing Science (of which I am a Fellow) runs a doctoral student summer school for nurse researchers. There’s also the Academy of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting Research with its mentorship scheme.

Teaching preparation and bursaries

The formal academic year for students of the health professions (and therefore for their teachers, too) tends to be on the long side. Whilst many UK university students will have ended their studies until the autumn there are plenty of nurses, midwives and others with work to do before they can knock off for the summer. In September I’ll be working with pre-registration, second year, students of mental health nursing in a module assessed through the critiquing of published research. Before then I have a short, intensive, module to lead which is part of the taught component within the School’s professional doctorate.

This doctoral level module is all about ‘complexity’ and ‘systems’ and starts next month, and today I’ve been putting the finishing touches to some of the materials I’ll be using. As befits the student group and their thesis-producing aspirations I have opted to draw heavily on colleagues’ and my research experiences as far as is possible. I’m also hoping to foster a spirit of studying and learning together, and want to avoid being didactic.

Elsewhere today, in addition to research project-related work, I have had the opportunity to be part of a panel considering applications for RCN Foundation bursaries. There were some strong candidates, and well done to all who are about to get letters confirming their success. Others will be invited to interview (which I personally am unable to take part in). My commiserations, too, to those dropping out at this stage. I know how it feels to apply for support and not to get it, but there are always other opportunities. As I once heard someone, somewhere, say: if you’re not getting funding bids rejected you’re not applying enough!