As the end of the PhD draws ever nearer, I’m finding myself thinking more and more of the next steps… where will this take me? what will I be doing this time next year? Will I continue in research, in clinical work or manage to find a role that combines both?
With all this running through my mind it was great to have the opportunity to fly off to Edinburgh and spend a couple of days with other people completing their PhDs in dementia care, scoping out the future of dementia care research whilst building some great networks.
Here are my reflections and, of course, as always, my take-away points which I hope will also be helpful for all those dementia researchers out there, in case anyone is losing the will a bit!
The conference was very different to anything I’ve been to before – with less listening and more doing! It was personal, inspiring and fun.
The days were split between listening to others talk and joining in different and creative activities:
- A range of practical and informative talks:
- Al Innes showed us the funding landscape,
- Agnes Houston shared her experiences of living with dementia and involvement in research,
- Rob Thomas described his experiences of being a carer of a loved one with dementia leading to conduction dementia research,
- Megan O’Hare navigated us round the NIHR website and where to look for future opportunities.
Certainly an inspiring group of people – the world is our oyster!
- On the afternoon of day 1, we spent some time being arty and creative! We made a mandala of all our self-representing objects, and then wrote haiku poems! There was a real connection felt between everyone there.
It was exciting to feel and be part of the buzz and rumbling of motivation, inspiration and passion for the future of dementia care.
- Day 2 afternoon we had the privilege of Fiona McNeill Associates facilitating an afternoon of Appreciative Inquiry. We weren’t allowed to have paper, pens or any devices out during this exercise – a real challenge as you can imagine!As a result my memory has faded as to what we actually did (we will have a report from them to remind us!). What I do remember was an afternoon of discovering (what we are already doing so well), dreaming (of an ideal future for dementia care and research), designing (action plans for how we would do this) and delivering (hypothetically! Specific action plans for each person).Although the actions were just a part of the exercise it was refreshing to dream and come up with something quite feasible for using the connections made at the conference beyond Edinburgh and into each of our dementia research careers.
Most importantly, these exercises revealed a room full of compassionate researchers.
The driver of their amazing work now and in the future? A heart for the people they are aiming to help.
My highlight of the 2 days
3 talks by “successful researchers in dementia care” – none of whom would identify themselves in that category, which was telling!
It was uplifting to hear from these researchers; nearing the end or retired from their careers, not condescending but humble, not losing sight of the reason for their careers – to improve the lives of people with dementia through effective and relevant research.
So, I leave you now with some excellent quotes and advice from Professor Charlotte Clark, Professor Brendon McCormack and Dr Harriet Mowatt – in our eyes successful, but as Dr Mowatt said:
“Success is a negotiable commodity”
- Work/life balance does not necessarily mean keeping them separate. What is important to us makes us who we are at work and at home. If we care about our work, which was very evident among everyone at the conference, it is part of who we are. The challenge we received – are we flourishing as people? Both at work and in the rest of our lives.
- Be comfortable living in times of a state of mess and not knowing – let yourself say “I don’t know”, it’s liberating! We can only learn what we don’t know.
- “Hang onto the coat tails of others” – I love this one! Connect with critical connections and when you find lasting ones, don’t let them go. Ride on the wave of other’s success if needed!
- Be clear of (and don’t let go of) your core values. You need to be connected emotionally to what you are doing in order to make a real difference to people’s lives through research.
- Be prepared to shift your gaze as you age! Goals and aspirations are great, but be prepared to be flexible, and keep hold of what really matters in life!
You need to be connected emotionally… to make a real difference to people’s lives through research.