Candidacy, writing

I’ve been thinking a lot abut writing lately. I talked to a new friend and fellow blogger recently who passed on Nadia Bolz-Weber’s wonderful advice that you should “write from your scars, not your open wounds”. Wounded writing is reactionary but has a powerful immediacy and emotive quality. Writing from scar tissue allows distance, reflection but perhaps doesn’t carry as much emotional punch as the pain is recalled, remembered. I found an echo of this in Gloria Anzaldúa’s autobiographical book “Borderlands”. She describes her writing process as a state of psychic unrest, a cactus needle wounding her skin that she needs to remove and ultimately a way of making meaning from experience.

Experience is at the heart of my research proposal. It was interesting to see the different members of my committee this week reacting to that word. The poet saw experience at the heart of narrative inquiry (NI), my chosen methodology. The authors I am primarily drawing from are the social scientists Clandinnin and Connolly who themselves call on Dewey, the father of learning through experience. The physician saw patient experience, how healthcare professions could judiciously use their own spectrum of identity (such as being a mother, or being a lesbian) to extend themselves and find common ground, risky though that might be.  My supervisor saw recognition of each other – really seeing who that person is in all their complexities and identities – as the first step to experience and the key to moving forward and improving it.

I have written before about how one of the challenges of this EdD is finding other ways to express myself, and write beyond the usual 3,000 passive words describing methods, results, discussion and conclusion.  In my proposal meeting this week we talked about different ways of crafting a narrative inquiry (NI) dissertation. NI has many forms, but I am interested in storytelling and so I need to be comfortable with typical elements like plot, characterization, tempo, genre to produce an engaging and readable piece of work. Some NI dissertations throw off the typical chapter headings and incorporate all the familiar elements (such as the literature review) in a story, poem or other arts based format. I am using autoethnography – an autobiographical way of researching and writing that “displays multiple levels of consciousness, connecting the personal to the cultural*”. My participants and fellow story makers are friends and fellow LGB radiation therapists. From field texts (my interview transcripts, personal writing and perhaps artefacts like photographs) we will negotiate back and forth using interim texts (rough drafts of the final collective story, emails and discussions) as we move towards the final research text – the story or representation we have made together. It’s an intimate and time-consuming process that will involve a constant renegotiation of what is told and untold, what is revealed and what is left private.

With lots to consider going forward, my proposal was approved this week and I am officially a doctoral candidate! After ethics, I can begin my research. I am certainly feeling the itch to write, the needle in the skin and I am eager to get started. If I think about my own stories, there are scars but (now) few wounds. I wonder about my participants who are working clinically and those who are not. Are they smarting from wounds, living with scars? What will we uncover, disturb, heal?

*Ellis, C., & Bochner, A. P. (2000). Autoethnography, personal narrative, reflexivity: researcher as subject. In N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (2nd ed., pp. 733–768). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage p. 739

It-is-like-a-cactus

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Pondering the proposal

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When I was investigating doctorates – a phase that lasted about ten years – some of the programs requested a proposal up front. The idea was to reassure the university (and any potential supervisors) that the research project could be completed within the allotted time, and that the candidate had the skills and experience to do so.  PhDs and professional doctorates are different. For an EdD the proposal comes after the competency exam is passed but essentially does the same job as a PhD proposal. We have been well prepared to tackle the proposal; our comps paper is essentially the proposal literature review with the theoretical framework in some cases. What we were missing was the methodology – the mechanics of the data gathering and analysis.

When I think of my data analysis, the fitting together of four peoples’ stories, I see myself serenely reclining in a sunlit meadow or sitting at a window (perhaps like a pre-Raphaelite beauty with a loom and pet swan*). The actual “how” was a bit blurry.   For qualitative analysis in general there is a lot of confusion. Vague statements like “emergent themes” sound like a magical process and don’t reflect the reality of a time-consuming slog through pages and pages of words.  I found the book “The Good, the Bad, and the Data: Shane the Lone Ethnographer’s Basic Guide to Qualitative Data Analysis” has a very helpful, step by step way of explaining (text based) qualitative analysis (plus it has cartoons!)  For narrative inquiry I turned to Clandinin and Connolly’s approach. They stress that that the process is never linear, and the researcher continually moves back and forth between field texts (transcripts, notes, reflections made after interviews for example), interim texts (shared with the participants like rough drafts of the story, emails etc.) and final research texts (the final story – my results section) as they navigate the process.

My timeline at the moment is tight; I would ideally like to talk to my participants in Toronto in late September. That means I have to have an approved proposal to attach to my Research Ethics Board application soon, and then pass the UBC ethics approval process in time for my trip to Toronto.  The first full committee meeting is next week, a just-in-time scramble before the committee members leave for their summer vacations.  At the moment I am stalled as I wait for that meeting and any changes that might be requested afterwards. If (a big if) my proposal is approved with minor changes I can apply for candidacy. A doctoral candidate has completed all of the requirements for the doctoral degree with the exception of the dissertation. It’s the next big step!

*I take no responsibility for my imaginative processes

 

Gaiman S. (2013). The Good, the Bad, and the Data: Shane the Lone Ethnographer’s Basic Guide to Qualitative Data Analysis. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press

Clandinin, D. J., & Connelly, F. M. (2000). Narrative Inquiry: Experience, Story in Qualitative Research. San Francisco, US: Jossey-Bass

 

 

 

Year three: Beyond the comps

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For many graduate level courses the comprehensive examination (“comps”) is a pass/fail checkpoint in the program (often after mandatory coursework) that assesses knowledge and work done to date. Once passed, the student can progress to their research. Comps seem to be more common in US and Canadian higher education – and Wikipedia, that rigorous source of academic information, says that “preparing for comprehensive exams is normally both stressful and time consuming!”

Our EdD comps were last weekend and preparing for them was indeed stressful and time consuming.  We wrote a 7,500 word paper on our research ideas (and questions) to date, that included a literature review and (in some cases) details of our theoretical framework.  We had to present for 20 minutes on our paper and our work so far. A panel of six UBC professors (familiar to us from our classes) then asked us questions for 40 minutes – it was pretty much open season! I am happy to report that I did get a question on Foucault. In fact, I think I managed to dodge/deflect enough to insinuate that, yes, I was intimately familiar with his groundbreaking contribution to the history of western morality – the three-volume L’Histoire de la sexualité (in the original French of course) and it was, in fact, my regular bedtime reading.

We have been together as a cohort for 2 very long years, and we are pretty familiar with each other’s areas of interest. Some of us haven’t varied much from our original idea, and many others have taken a long and winding journey to settle on something that may not have even been a consideration back in 2015. Members of the group have changed jobs, had personal and professional crises and questioned why they are doing this in the first place! There has been crying, anger, hugging and lots and lots of reflection.  Some of us have supervisors, some have a committee, a few others are still exploring. Regardless of where we are it was a significant weekend for all of us and marked the last time we will be “officially” together as a cohort.

We’re currently waiting for our results; we may have to do some extra work on our submitted papers before we move on. Next hurdle is the proposal, after which we can finally be referred to as doctoral candidates.  After a few bad academic first dates I finally have a committee – consisting of a philosopher, a poet and a physician. I am particularly thrilled with this and I am in the process of writing a “….walks into a bar” joke so please forward any suggestions you have. They haven’t got together yet, that comes after the proposal is approved by my supervisor, but I hope that happens before the end of the summer.

So – year three begins tomorrow! It’s not an overstatement to say the last two years have been life-altering, but I think that was the point. I have gone from being acutely uncomfortable speaking up about LGBTQ issues to never shutting up about them and I can’t wait to get into the rich conversations with my participants and find out what it’s like for LGB radiation therapists working today. Stay tuned!

Coming out: Reflections on UKRCO 2017

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So, last week I did a talk at UKRCO 2017 on “Coming Out in Healthcare”. The focus was on patients and healthcare professionals who are LGBTQ, and how we can normalise the coming out process. I had an amazing time at the conference, and met a lot of wonderful people I have so far only known on Twitter. While I was there my friend Rachel Harris gave me some wise doctoral advice – “don’t forget to write this up for your reflective portfolio”.  Not having one of those, I decided to blog it. I’ve been reading and writing (and presenting) on LGBTQ issues in healthcare for what seems forever (although realistically it can only be a year or so) – and overall had a good response. Often LGBTQ people will come up afterwards and tell me about their experiences in healthcare (some funny, some just WTAF). Many straight people will comment that it has “made them think” or the talk “opened their eyes” – which is also gratifying.  The UKRCO post-talk activity was definitely the most positive/funnest/most affirming so far.

The best part was afterwards (on Twitter as well as IRL) talking with a diverse group of people, gay, straight, differently gendered – medical imaging people, radiation therapists, managers and leaders . For example, I met a brilliant undergrad student who was volunteering at the conference and doing research on examining radiographers’ knowledge of care for trans patients. Her impetus was listening (as a first year) to how staff around her had talked about a trans woman who was being treated for prostate cancer. She wanted to change that conversation.  I think what struck me about all the interactions with LGBTQ colleagues were the things we have in common. Coming out stories were shared, some were easy – some painful to talk about even now. There was a lot of discussion about how we manage our identity at work, who knows, who doesn’t – who is cool with it and the inevitable horror stories of the times it didn’t go well (for us as well as for patients).  Most of us remembered patients who were LGBTQ that we clicked with – some of us wore rainbow lanyards, lapel pins or just gave off a strong gay vibe!  We talked about gender – and being gendered – and the difficulty of finding a sweet tailored suit (and not a cocktail dress) to rock up in for the inevitable conference gala dinner.  It was so great to be in the gay-zone and get that sense of support and affirmation – most importantly that my research is on the right track, the stuff I experienced at work hasn’t gone away, and that people are really receptive and keen to learn how to improve care for patients.

In my talk I used a clip from the fabulous Macmillan* “LGBTQ experiences of cancer care” video series where Lesley (a lesbian living with ovarian cancer) talks about her discomfort with knowing some of her nurses were lesbian but closeted. She says “it’s about equality really….” – she is out, why are they hiding that same thing from her? This prompted an interesting side discussion about “should LGBTQ staff HAVE to come out” – where I think (fairly obviously) the answer is “of course not”.  Issues ranged from legislative concerns (where we can’t discriminate against anyone based on sexual orientation etc.) to colleagues saying “well, should I wear a badge that says I am a Christian, Muslim?” One person said that “it’s about being professional” (not talking about their sexual orientation at work) – which ties into a lot of the research that shows it’s often homo, not hetero-sexuality seen as “unprofessional”.

Next week is my comprehensive exam that will assess whether I am ready for candidacy and the research part of my EdD. This week has been a gift in terms of giving me insight into what it is like “out there” and validating my topic as one that is important, relevant and likely to make a change in practice.   Now onward!

*Macmillan have some really good resources, including the recent “Supporting LGBT people affected by cancer” article and the “No one overlooked- experiences of LGBT people affected by cancer” report

Serious indecency: Talking about LGB issues in a country where being gay is criminalised

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I took my very first research poster to my profession’s international association conference in 2001 (ISRRT). It happened to be in beautiful Barbados and the combination of rum punch, meeting other therapists interested in research and finding out just how much great work is happening in other countries was intoxicating! My wife and I made the poster together – I can’t remember how we decided who presented it but I do remember being proud to see our two names together on the top. It’s still listed on both of our CVs, along with the journal articles we have co-authored since.

We’ve always worked in the same field, our eyes first met across an electron cut out (a romantic location only radiation therapists would appreciate!). Our relationship at work has always been a bit of a balancing act – a kind of double-managing of the usual professional coming-out dilemma. In the 90s we weren’t eligible for joint medical coverage through our health insurance as a same-sex couple. When I took some time off after my father died (and needed dental work), we filed a human rights complaint that led to a swift exit from the workplace closet. As attitudes and legislation changed, we worried less about being fully who we are there, but there’s considerable evidence that even in progressive Canada many people still actively manage their sexual identity at work.

My research interest is LGB issues, specifically how/if radiation therapists deal with this. Is it an issue? How does it affect relationships with patients? What about LGB patients? I’ve done a few talks already in this area, just preliminary and broad findings from the literature along with some recent research about LGB patients and their experiences with healthcare. There is growing interest in doing a better job – we know there are fairly easy things we can improve, and we need better education across the board. This is true for many Western countries, the UK are well ahead of most of Canada and we all know about some of the issues the US LGB population are facing with Trump attempting to roll back many hard-won rights such as freedom from discrimination legislation.

But what about other countries? Mostly not so great. I logged onto Twitter this morning to see posts about the “Chechnya 100” – gay men imprisoned and possibly killed because of who they love. While gay rights progress in many parts of the world, there are still at least 74 countries that punish same-sex relationships with life imprisonment or even death. Many of these countries are in the Caribbean and one is Trinidad, where the next international association conference is being held. In that country “consensual intercourse between men is punishable by up to 25 years in prison, while “serious indecency” between women is punishable by 15 years in prison. In addition, an unenforced law calls for a prohibition on homosexuals entering Trinidad” (1).  Also not great.

While I was happy to see that the law that would prevent me from entering the country is unenforced (and to be honest I wasn’t planning on having any kind of sex – let alone the seriously indecent sort) this has given me significant pause. What would you do? Go anyway? Go and change your topic from “homosexuality” to something else? Not go as a protest? (To whom?) I talked to the ISRRT’s Public Relations Regional Coordinator for the Americas last week at our national conference and asked her about this. She has gay friends, she doesn’t think it is a big deal – and was unaware of the law. I imagine it wasn’t even on the radar when they picked the venue. But I think it is a big deal and I am aware of it. I just don’t know what to do!

Reference:

  1. Stewart, C. “Legal challenge confronts Trinidad’s anti-gay laws”. 76 Crimes

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