Tag: postgraduate study

May review

2019-05-20 18.41.32.jpgEarlier this month I joined colleagues at the main meeting of the #MHNR2019 scientific committee, held (as the conference itself will be) at the RCN in London. We had a good number of abstracts to work through, submitted by people from the UK, the US, Australia and elsewhere. The programme is being worked on now, and people will not have long to wait before learning the outcomes of the panel’s deliberations. As an aside, whilst the conference committee always welcomes proposals for workshops as well as for concurrent sessions, posters and symposia we were reminded, when we met, of the importance of workshops promising to make delegates work. This is doubly important given that a workshop typically occupies the same amount of time on the conference programme as do three concurrent talks: so they have to sound engaging, and interactive, and not read like a plan for a 90 minute lecture.

For me this month also included a trip to St Angela’s College in Sligo for a stint of external examining for the College’s Postgraduate Diploma in Community Mental Health Nursing. It’s a good course, attracting applicants from all around Ireland, in which students learn about recovery-focused practice, therapeutic relationships, formal therapies, the context for care and care coordination, and more besides. It’s complex work being a registered nurse, and that’s why in all parts of the world the profession is (or is becoming) a graduate one for new registrants, with specialist courses like this one in Sligo being offered at post-registration level. I mention this as, tediously, nurses (and their friends) are once again having to defend the value of an education which involves time in practice but also, crucially, study for a degree.

Finally, this is my 16th unbroken annual trip to the Hay Festival. When I was first here the event was a relatively small-scale affair, held in the town’s primary school. It’s a much bigger enterprise now, located on a site some half a mile out of town to which many thousands of visitors arrive each day. This year I’ve listened to talks and round table discussions on the interminable horror that is Brexit, the making of (and the intentions behind) Our Planet, the invasions first of the Vikings and then on D-Day, and more.


RCN in Wales award, public engagement and research student symposium

Lots of interesting things to relate in this post. November 13th saw Nicola Evans and me join Hayley Reed, Ed Janes, fellow-researchers Rhiannon Evans, Nina Jacob, Rhys Bevan-Jones and (most importantly) members of the mightily impressive ALPHA group at an ESRC Festival of Social Science-funded public engagement event focusing on young people and mental health. Organised with the help of SciSCREEN, the evening was hosted at Cardiff University’s Hadyn Ellis Building and began with a viewing of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Post-film and post-food saw groups of young people, ALPHA members and researchers disappearing into interactive workshops. Nicola and I facilitated a discussion on supporting young people returning to school following a period of care in mental health hospital. This is a theme very much arising from our RiSC study, and in our session ideas and energy were in abundance. Interested readers wanting more on the work of ALPHA can see their video here:

November 17th was the School of Healthcare Sciences’ annual postgraduate research student symposium. This was, as usual, an excellent showcase for the PhDs and Professional Doctorates ongoing in the School. Follow this link for information on individual students and their projects.

I’ll write more about this in a separate post, but on Thursday November 19th, in Cardiff City Hall I was pleased to receive the Research in Nursing Award for 2015 at the Royal College of Nursing in Wales Nurse of the Year event. I appreciated very much the kind messages from esteemed friends and colleagues received via Twitter, text and email. I am particularly happy to have won this award as a mental health nurse, again being reminded of the need for investment in both mental health services and in research to find out what helps.

Research in the School of Healthcare Sciences

In February 2015, in the School of Healthcare Sciences at Cardiff University we launched our new research strategy. The School’s main research webpage can be found here, and for the nuts-and-bolts of our four research themes the links to follow are these:

Meanwhile, in the very near future the School (including its researchers) will be occupying additional floors at our base in Eastgate House. This, for those who know Cardiff, is a building situated at the junction of Newport and City Roads. My office, I think, will move: giving me fine views over the city and beyond.

Here are some photos of the 12th floor, as previously shared via a Tweet:

It is very welcome that we will soon have these new facilities available to us, with the rooms in the photos being used mainly by PhD and Professional Doctorate students.

Which brings me neatly to…

Other interesting developments in the School on the postgraduate research student front are plans to recruit very pro-actively. Research theme members have been busy generating topics for doctoral study, which reflect existing areas of substantive and methodological expertise and where capacity to supervise is known to exist. We’ll be advertising these soon, and inviting potential students to tell us how their plans align. The aim, obviously, is that we grow research in programmatic style by building on established and emerging lines of enquiry. For anyone interested, I’m looking to supervise people who want to use in-depth qualitative methods to examine mental health systems (no surprises there, then!). Specifically, this means projects investigating aspects of: policy; service organisation and delivery; work, roles and values; and user and carer experiences.

Other postdoctoral news includes Mohammad Marie‘s (that’s Dr Mohammad Marie’s) successful defence of his thesis at viva last month. Well done! Mohammad has been supervised by Aled Jones and me, and the title of his thesis is Resilience of nurses who work in community mental health workplaces in West Bank, Palestine. Next up for him are papers for publication: and jolly interesting they’ll be, too.

Activity based funding and student research in the NHS

Yesterday I spent time with a group of MSc students, talking about research review processes. I’ve written on this blog in the past about my experiences of seeking approvals for my PhD, and in Monday’s session I urged people to be exceptionally cautious about planning NHS-related research in pursuit of their Master’s degrees.

Preparing for and securing NHS research ethics committee and R&D office approvals takes time. In this part of the world at least, some healthcare organisations are also likely to ask researchers to cover the costs to the NHS of supporting studies which are not portfolio adopted. Here I’m thinking of, for example, the costs arising when staff leave the workplace to participate in interviews or join focus groups, or suchlike.

The relatively new practice of directly seeking payment from research teams for the costs of studies which are not eligible for portfolio registration has appeared with the shift to activity-based funding. Here in Wales, the National Institute for Social Care and Health Research (NISCHR) has published criteria for entry to its portfolio, which are summarised here and are elaborated on here. It is from this second document that I have snipped the following:

A research study is a structured activity which is intended to provide new knowledge which is generalisable (ie of value to others in a similar situation) and intended for wider dissemination.

Studies eligible for the NISCHR portfolio should involve face to face contact with NHS patients, social care service users or people involved with their care. Studies must be led from and/or recruiting participants from Wales. All studies must already have research funding before they can be included in the Portfolio.  Research Costs cannot be provided by NISCHR CRC.

The following types of study are not eligible for inclusion in the NISCHR Portfolio:

  • audit,
  • needs assessments,
  • quality improvement projects,
  • directly commissioned studies,
  • secondary research such as systematic reviews,
  • purely laboratory based studies,
  • routine biobanking of samples would not be eligible but a hypothesis based sample collection would be if appropriately peer reviewed and funded,
  • own account funded studies,
  • studies closed to recruitment.

MSc projects invariably do not meet these criteria, meaning that numbers of taught postgraduate students get to cut their dissertation teeth on non-NHS research studies or (where academic regulations allow) on other types of project altogether. Examples are service or quality improvements, service evaluations and systematic reviews. And, in my view, these are sufficiently testing options for students working at MSc level, with some (like local quality improvements) having the added advantage of immediately and obviously benefiting the NHS and those who use its services.

However, a problem arises in the case of postgraduate research degrees. In some disciplines, including nursing, these are often undertaken part-time and are carried out with limited or no external grant income. Opportunities for studentships are relatively rare, and where they are available may be financially unattractive to practitioners who have already built careers in the health service. As with MSc projects, ‘own account’ doctorates will struggle to get onto the portfolio. They therefore run the risk (in some circumstances) of not being supported by organisations within the NHS unless their associated costs are explicitly met. One way of achieving this may be for local NHS managers to agree to carry the costs of non-portfolio studies which it is planned will take place within their services. But securing this kind of support is not straightforward, and for would-be research students the added challenge of finding a means of paying costs is hardly an encouragement. And, where MSc students can usually opt for non-research projects this is not so for those aiming for PhDs or Professional Doctorates. These are awards made only to those who generate new knowledge using sound and defensible research methods.

So what does all this mean? It’s early days, but one likely outcome may be a reduction in small-scale research projects within the NHS, along with an increase in the preparations and negotiations which precede data generation. Another may be the proliferation of non-portfolio projects which are explicitly designed to meet ‘research’ criteria for academic award purposes, but which are constructed to be something else (typically ‘service evaluation’) within the context of NHS research governance. A reasonable, longer-term, concern is that research capacity-building in fields like nursing may falter as potential students rethink their plans. And that, in my view, would be a big step backwards.

Postgraduate symposium

Tomorrow I’m off to the School of Healthcare Sciences’ first-ever Postgraduate Research Student symposium, taking place in the grand surroundings of Cardiff University’s Glamorgan Building.

This has given me the perfect excuse to find out, once and for all, the particular meaning of the word ‘symposium’ (as opposed to ‘colloquium’, for example). So for those interested (which won’t be many of you, I’m sure), the Collins English Dictionary defines ‘symposium’ thus:

  1. a conference or meeting for the discussion of some subject, esp an academic topic or social problem
  2. a collection of scholarly contributions, usually published together, on a given subject
  3. (in classical Greece) a drinking party with intellectual conversation, music, etc

A ‘colloquium’, on the other hand, is:

  1. an informal gathering for discussion
  2. an academic seminar

I’m glad that’s sorted. Looking at the third definition of ‘symposium’ above, and then at the organising committee’s Socratic quotation reproduced in the flyer at the top, I now realise I ought to prepare for an event in the ancient Greek style. I may bring my guitar, all the better to join in with.

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.

Theses, vivas and research students

I’ll be examining another doctoral thesis soon, which today I’ve started reading. I won’t say anything about it specifically, but the occasion does give me a starting point for this post.

My own PhD thesis ran to about 450 pages, references and appendices included. It was years in the making, not least as I was a part-time student with plenty of other things to keep me busy. My supervisors, who I’ve mentioned on this blog before, were Davina Allen and Philip Burnard. As an internal candidate it was necessary for me to have two external examiners, and these were Ian Norman from King’s College London and Lesley Griffiths from Swansea University. Here’s the summary from my study:

My viva went well, proceeding in a spirit of collegial inquiry. This is how it ideally should be, and even where a thesis is judged to have major weaknesses I firmly believe that the examination should be conducted fairly and with courtesy. Cardiff University vivas are independently chaired, which I think helps the process, though I know this is not standard practice everywhere.

As it happens the Cardiff School of Nursing and Midwifery Studies has significantly grown its postgraduate research in recent years, and we now have a healthy number of UK and international PhD and Professional Doctorate students. Together they run a lively multi-author blog under the title PhDays. Check it out.

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.