Our first Postgraduate Enabling Workshop was a great success, and we are very lucky to introduce two of our fantastic PhD students who share their thoughts and impressions about the event.
Sara Jones qualified as a nurse in 2009 and after working in A&E in London and Sydney, Australia she returned to Wales where she qualified as a Health Visitor in 2014. She has a passion for research and is studying for a PhD in Public Health. Her research focus is infant feeding, in particular weaning, but she is also interested in anything related to the health and wellbeing of babies and parents.
Learning from each other
On Friday I attended the first Health, History and Culture postgraduate enabling workshop, a co-operative event between the College of Human and Health Science (my home college) and the College of Arts and Humanities; two colleges that may seem poles apart in terms of their component disciplines. Science versus Art. Empiricism versus Creativity. Professor Ceri Phillips opened the day with a few words about collaboration and learning from others. As a PhD student I thought, “sounds great – but I’m sure no-one here knows about my topic area”, namely infant nutrition.
The day started with fascinating presentations from other post-graduate students about topics ranging from ancient relics of the Virgin Mary to modern suicide prevention, before moving on to an ‘ask the experts’ panel discussion, the part of the day I have been asked to write about. Of course the first question from the floor was from a student enquiring about how to obtain a studentship, and how to get yourself known academically. Other similar questions emerged…. “How do you improve your CV?”, “How do you get teaching experience as a postgraduate student”, “Where can I publish my work”. The replies from the experts were helpful and informed; the academics talked about networking and presenting at conferences, the librarians talked about the support that they offer with regard to publishing and impact factors. The audience diligently took notes.
But most interestingly, the discussion on the floor opened up. One student with a background in creative writing said she was interested in oral history and how this can benefit health and wellbeing, and other students piped up with “have you heard of this project that’s going on in the Centre for Innovative Aging?”… “You should speak to this person…”. The students from a wide range of disciplines were helping each other.
I was thinking all the while about my own studies (naturally- my own project is never far from my mind – no matter how many times I procrastinate by tidying my desk / study/ entire house before starting to write!). My project involves gathering quantitative data about infant feeding methods, a scientific pursuit I thought. However in my wider reading for my literature review I had recently been looking into the historical and cultural development of infant feeding trends, and had found that these (and indeed most parenting behaviors) are steeped in tradition, and received wisdom, passed down through the generations. Researching this stuff had been taxing, looking for old parenting manuals, scouring the internet for anything remotely relevant. I realized on Friday that all along in the University I was surrounded by people, not only expert academic staff and knowledgeable librarians but students of history or humanities who might have been able to point me in the right direction. The help I needed was right under my nose, all I had to do was ask.
So of course Prof. Phillips was right, we all have a lot to learn from each other, no matter what your academic discipline, whether about our research topics specifically, or just about PhD student life in general. But I think most importantly of all we have a lot to learn about looking after ourselves and each other. During one student’s presentation she touched upon the high levels of anxiety and depression that can be present in post-graduate student populations. Starting out on my PhD journey I have been feeling a little worried about this; everyone keeps talking about the loneliness of being a PhD student. I thought “I feel ok now… but is being depressed and lonely inevitable?… will I end up, in 3 years’ time, sitting alone in a dark room, staring blankly into the middle distance, clutching onto my completed leather-bound thesis?” One PhD student who had just started 2 weeks ago said she felt a little lonely already; she hadn’t seen anyone working in the shared Haldane building office she’s been assigned to. “Haldane building…. shared office…. my office!” By the end of the morning we’d swapped emails and numbers and had a coffee arranged. Because if you need to procrastinate (sorry, I mean rest the mind and refuel it with caffeine) might as well do it with someone going through the same thing.
Sara Jones can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets at @
Adrian Osbourne is a first year English Literature PhD student at Swansea University. He is studying the poetry of Dylan Thomas, particularly the fifth notebook which the university recently acquired at auction: He says that when he’s not reading, writing, or thinking about poetry, he’s asleep. He tweets at @bobfossil99
The first Postgraduate Enabling Workshop for the Research Group for Health, History and Culture was held on 22 January 2016. Drawing on both proposed areas of study and research that is well under way, the event gave an opportunity for four postgraduate students from Swansea University to share their findings with an inter-disciplinary audience. Whilst the presentations varied widely in their subject matter: from religious artefacts in the thirteenth century to wheelchair access in the supermarkets of today, via the growth of opticians in Victorian Britain and nursing strategies to reduce suicide rates, a recurring characteristic was the obvious personal passion and motivation that fuelled the research.
The first presentation was by Rick Turner, a PhD candidate from the College of Arts and Humanities (COAH), who talked of ‘Girdle Power: the Use of Saints’ Relics in Childbirth in Medieval England’. It was a fascinating account of how items such as those purported to be the girdle of the Blessed Virgin Mary were used to assist in childbirth, with their holy status believed to offer pain-relief as well as ensuring a safe and healthy outcome. Many of these relics were seized and destroyed during Henry VIII’s Suppression of the Monasteries, a fact which Rick used to highlight questions about the role faith-based medicines have to play in today’s world of modern healthcare.
The second speaker was Jenea Nicole Butler, a PhD candidate from the College of Human and Health Sciences (CHHS). Jenea spoke movingly, with a combination of empathy and scholarly concern, about how research was needed to improve the training of third year nurses in identifying and assisting patients they come into contact with for signs of suicidal behaviour. With a million suicides per year globally, it now ranks as the 8th most common cause of death according to WHO, but Jenea’s research seeks to assist in the prevention of this public health concern through increasing the likelihood of timely medical intervention from nursing staff, to whom suicidal patients often present themselves in the month before their death.
This was followed by Gemma Almond, another PhD candidate from COAH, who gave the audience an overview of her doctoral research entitled: ‘Correcting Vision in Nineteenth Century Britain’. In a most inter-disciplinary way, Gemma’s study combines academic approaches from the perspective of healthcare, medicine, and disability, as well as research into the cultural and social impact of glasses in this time-period. An invested audience (over half were wearing spectacles, myself included) met with great interest information about how nineteenth-century Britain saw the specialisation and professionalisation of ophthalmology which in turn led to the proliferation of opticians. We learnt that the eye was seen as the ‘quintessential organ’ at the top of the sense hierarchy and that while spectacles for the upper classes could be fashion accessories, their use by the working classes was seen as a sign of deficiency and often led to the termination of their employment.
The final presentation was given by Allyson Rogers, an MSc student from CHHS, with the title: ‘Shopping barriers – exclusion by design?’ This early stage project seeks to explore the experiences of shopping that people using wheelchairs have in today’s supermarkets; Allyson highlighted that whilst a building might meet the minimum legal requirements for accessibility, this was not always the same as offering a genuinely functional and enabling layout. With a focus on whether accessibility planning sufficiently considers the social, practical, and mobility needs of wheelchair users, it also looks to focus on the effects such developments have on the partners of wheelchair users.
In all, the presentations delivered showed innovative and intriguing areas of research with great hope for future outcomes. Similarly, the next Postgraduate Workshop for the Research Group for Health, History and Culture will carry such positive expectations.
Adrian can be emailed at email@example.com