PHD Update Celebration - Dementia Care Research

Where have I been? A PhD update & some top tips for getting through one!

It has been FAR too long since I sat wrote a blog post, so firstly I apologize for my absence!

So what have I been doing these last few months?

The last time I left you, I was feeling motivated and passionate about my clinical academic role and my future. I can’t stress how important those moments of enthusiasm, positivity and motivation are in this PhD journey:

It’s been a tough few months!

You’ll remember my analogy of the PhD being a roller coaster ride. Well, I feel like the last few months have been one long, slow, HARD trudge up a slope. In fact I think the cart might have stopped half way up!

Being positive and persistent is very important, but I think it’s more important to write really honestly here. I don’t want to cover up how difficult this journey can be with positive and motivational snippets.

The last few months has not been without major stress, panic and anxiety attacks, feelings of losing control, and tears. Of course the ‘cart’ never actually stopped – but it has been hard!

Cause to Celebrate

Still, there has also been cause to celebrate in this time!

If you follow my Twitter profile you will have seen my momentary celebration at finishing my patient observations in the hospitals – very exciting and a massive milestone met! First phase of data collection complete! It couldn’t have happened without the amazing help from the Dementia Nurses and their teams at each hospital. They gave me their valuable time to help recruit my participants, and a base where I could eat and type up notes, while I was at the hospitals for hours on end. So a big shout out to them! A PhD is certainly not a journey that can be completed alone!

Another cause for celebration – I have been accepted to share the first phase of my research at the Alzheimer’s Europe Conference in Berlin in October, and at the World Federation of Occupational Therapy Congress in Cape Town next May!!

The best bit of this isn’t the travelling opportunities (honest!), but that people out there are interested to hear about my work! I will no doubt be sharing those experiences with you as they happen!

Day by day…

I’ve also been working towards my upgrade from MPhil to PhD.

This involves a 30,000 word thesis and a viva exam in order to continue with the PhD. Thankfully it’s broken down into chapters so doesn’t feel QUITE so overwhelming.

My viva exam is booked for January 2018 and, with about 14,000 words to go, I’m aiming to submit my first draft by mid-October. I can only imagine the relief and excitement that will follow that moment! Another Prosecco photo will be making a Facebook and Twitter appearance I’m sure. One more big push with data analysis and writing up results for the next 6 weeks.

Analysis of my quantitative coding and my qualitative field notes is well underway and I’m finally starting to see results.

The first phase of the research is actually producing some interesting, and hopefully applicable, findings about how people with dementia experience meal times in hospitals and how the care provided influences food and drink intake. Stay tuned for more results!

Alongside the PhD progression, there are the usual presentations, teaching opportunities, training, working alongside other projects to help others and gain experience, and submitting conference abstracts.

Last but not least, we can’t forget my clinical work, ticking along for 2 days each week. Time for some more honesty – I have had times when I feel this is just getting in the way!

With so much going on in my academic time it sometimes feels like being at my clinical work just isn’t getting stuff done! But, again, this isn’t really true!! I have continued to develop as an Occupational Therapist and member of a team of health professionals. Exciting opportunities are developing for moving forwards in my clinical career, potentially setting up a trial OT role in a hospital, linking with the undergraduate programme at the university and making global links. Of course, I will disclose more as ideas are firmed up! But this is by no means secondary!

PhD Survival Tips

I’d like to leave a few tips for managing the difficult, stressful and pressured time – maybe some help for people reading and relating to the stress, or encouragement for those considering the clinical academic PhD route. It can be managed and people have finished it in one piece!

1 – Time management is absolute key

Sorry to state the obvious!

This is where I’ve come loose quite a few times and end up in a stressful and unproductive heap!

In the words of Chris Croft, “Time management is about taking control of your life by taking control of your time”. Life feels a lot more manageable when you are in control. So write to-do lists, break tasks into small achievable items, take regular breaks, learn to say “no”, delegate… whatever it takes to make sure you are in control of your life by being in control of your time.

2 – RELAX!

As part of taking control of your time, allow time to relax, to do the things that you enjoy and make you feel energized. For me this ranges from taking a candle-lit bath listening to Enya, to getting up a bit earlier to start the day with a run, to spending time with family, to allowing a whole evening of not thinking about anything that needs to be achieved but having a glass of wine and binge watching the Tudors!

And get enough SLEEP! It will make a world of difference to your energy and motivation!

3- Have the right people around you 

I wouldn’t still be here without the 24-hour contact I have with friends who are on this journey as well, or who have been there and come through the other side. Just be careful to avoid the comparison trap!

As easy as it is to be all-consumed by your PhD, don’t neglect friends and relationships that aren’t part of the PhD world. It’s so important to be able to step away from the work and have fun and brain space, as well as the benefits that come from being there and supporting others who also need friends!

4- Keep the passion

At this stage of the PhD it can be hard to remember why you started, and then you have nothing to keep you going!

Revisit that time when you made the decision to take on this task. For me, I ask what was it that made me care so much about people living with dementia? What experiences did I have that made me want to make change?

We can also live out that passion in ways other than work! So on 16th September I am doing a 26 mile walk (Trek26) raising money for the Alzheimer’s Society to support all the work they do to help people with dementia have better lives. If you’re interested in sponsoring this cause, it would be amazing if you could donate via my JustGiving page.

Donate to my 26 miles Alzheimer’s Trek!

In conclusion

I hope you’ve found this honest update helpful/insightful/interesting!

I will aim to get back to sharing more of my progress and learning with you on a regular basis! I am aware I promised you a blog post about communication and dementia, so watch this space…

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