A blog about a paper about a tweet chat about a paper…

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A couple of years ago I was deep in a policy class at UBC as part of my EdD. My final paper was about policies in LGBTQ healthcare – from global (like the WHO resources) to local (what my department didn’t have and why). Tracing the web of policies, legislation and guidelines around LGBTQ health was fascinating and depressing. Canada is one of the best countries in the world when it comes to anti-discrimination laws and every hospital has a statement about diversity. However, there are still lesbians who avoid screening appointments because of their past experiences with healthcare, trans patients who get treated terribly in the ER and gay men with cancer who can’t find local resources that include them and their loved ones.  Polices and legislation are great, but we also need healthcare professionals who understand what the issues are, know how to work with LGBTQ patients and work towards fixing some of the systematic gaps that some of our patients fall through.

I adapted the work I’d done in the policy class and the sought the insight and lived experience of UK radiographer Sean Ralph to co-author a paper that was a kind of “LGBTQ health issues 101 (and how you can help)” for Radiography. It was packed with references and we hoped it would be used by people wanting an overview of the issue. It was the first paper about LGBTQ issues in any of the three major radiography journals. In the meantime, our Twitter journal club (MedRadJClub) was getting going. The paper that Sean and I had written was suggested for one of the monthly chats. One of the regular chat participants was Sophia Thom, a student diagnostic radiographer from the UK. We’d met in real life at a conference (UKRCO) where I’d been talking about my EdD research – and we’d gone out with Sean to Canal Street in Manchester to drink gin and talk about research, coming out in healthcare and the perils of online dating. Sophia wanted to do some research but wasn’t sure where to start. I said something like “Oh, we’re doing a MedRadJClub chat later this year about our LGBTQ paper, why don’t we use the data from that and submit it to a conference – how about UKRCO next year?”

So we did. In this case we were interested in how much education the participants had received around LGBTQ people and healthcare, and what was going on in their departments. We had 44 people join the chat and a lot of conversation. We weren’t surprised that most people hadn’t had a lot of formal education – although participants shared an amazing list of self-found resources. We co-wrote the conference abstract in the fall with Julia Watson (a MedRadJClub friend) and Kim Meeking (Kim’s research area is social media) and submitted it to UKRCO with crossed fingers. When it was accepted we analysed the chat data and Google Drive’d the poster design together complete with Sophia’s rainbow Twitter symbol! As we’d done the analysis it seemed wasteful to stop there. There’s very little in print about this – and someone, somewhere might need citeable evidence. So we wrote the paper based on the tweet chat, based on the paper based on the policy class.

I think this process illustrates a few points. Firstly, if you want to get started use the resources you have, projects, essays, people and connections – the inspiration and material for writing a paper can come from many different sources. If you’re a new researcher, reach out to people who can help. Most of us are happy to give advice, edit, cheerlead or (sometimes) collaborate with you. Finally, if you’re an established researcher and have the skills, bring a few people along for the ride next time you do a project or write a paper. There’s a lot out there to investigate and we need more people to help!

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Explosive Knowledge: Freddie Mercury and my Literature Review

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I am deep in my literature review. Having finished (for now) my results section I made an attempt to write the discussion. It was a sad effort. My results section is my stories, written very much from the heart and from being immersed in the transcripts from my participant interviews. I got very lost in the discussion section, trying to tie the stories back to the literature review I had done for my proposal, about ten million years ago. I kept writing little notes to myself like “add a section on how cancer care is gendered” and “stick in lots more about coming out”. Then I’d get sidetracked for days reading more about cancer and gender (that stuff is interesting!) and forget what I’d been doing.

My supervisor advised me to continue with the discussion – I had the stories in my head, she said, it’s the ideal time to put them in context, relate them back to your research questions. I do have the stories in my head. It’s reassuring. I read about patients being misidentified as sisters, not partners, and I think “oh, that happened to Lisa and Alex” – as if I know them instead of having invented them as characters in a story. It wasn’t enough though – there were big gaps to fill back at the literature review section.

The part I’m building at the moment is on coming out. I originally had a couple of pages in my proposal, which looked fine to me at the time, discussing the metaphor of the closet and how coming out isn’t a one-time act. That small section has grown to many, many pages. I might know more about coming out at this point than anyone in Edmonton (in theory anyway). Watching Bohemian Rhapsody last weekend, I found myself categorising Freddie Mercury’s identity management strategies in my head. He didn’t exactly hide it, most of the time, but used a combination of non-verbal disclosure such as covering and using clues to signal affiliation with a non-heterosexual identity. He was possibly one of the most queer rock stars in history, but some of his fans didn’t pick up the clues, the social context of a rock band served to mute the effectiveness of the message. Similar to Freddie, most LGB people use a combination of methods to come out, a process which is both continual and contextual. See how much fun I am to go to the movies with?

One thing that has struck me, as I wade through my papers, is how this is still very relevant. I did wonder, starting out, if being LGB was still (sometimes) something to be managed at work, or out in the world. In the last few days my news feed has popped up stories about two women being asked to leave a concert for kissing (in EDMONTON!) and a woman in Ontario being kicked out of her church for being in a same-sex relationship. Coming out, for them, had consequences. Watching TV, Drag Race is full of coming out stories, and Transparent is a study in coming out as trans*. At one-point Maura (the lead character, a transwoman) is told not to tell Grandma Rose because it would kill her. “Hey, that’s called ‘explosive knowledge’” I told my fascinated partner, “the idea that coming out could blow up a relationship** and/or cause physical or emotional violence!”

So, the take home message is mainly that I watch a lot of gay stuff, but also that I am mentally and physically immersed in my literature review. I think it was a good decision to do this before my discussion. I hope I will have both the theory and the emotional resonance of the stories available to me when I get there. I’m certainly seeing a lot of connections and hoping I won’t have to do a lot of backfilling if and when I come across an idea or theme I hadn’t  included. Knowledge, explosive or not, that will help me get to the end of this dissertation journey.

 

*I  know, I can’t believe it has taken this long for me to watch it!

** Orne, 2011

 

 

 

 

 

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!

A pause that isn’t a pause

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No EdD classes at the moment, a pause that seems like a briefly exhaled breath, a stretch between one state and the next. We finished our classwork last month. Eight courses (two electives), fifty plus assignments, group work, deadlines and learning a whole new world view and vocabulary. Our comprehensive exam is next month – we need to pass that to carry on to the research bit. For the last two years I have been looking at May on the calendar and thinking “ah, that is when things will slow down, that is when I can breathe again”. But May turns out to be like all the other months.

I am used to operating on full steam ahead mode – juggling the usual work plus family things. My job is full, there’s always more to do and quite a bit of travel. The other stuff is often what gets me through a rough patch at home or work – I write, mess about with Twitter and #MedRadJClub and usually have a few papers and collaborations on the go. I mostly love it – which makes me lucky – and a big part of my self-image is being able to do it all, be that person who can publish the paper, do that talk, find the solution at work and then make dinner at the end of the day and also run a nice house, plan vacations, stay hydrated and exercise regularly (OK, that last part was a bit of a stretch…) None of this is unusual, we are all doing it. But sometimes we wobble, and I wobbled hard last week.

Early April was the last class, getting the comps paper done, presenting our work to our peers – passing that final course. A family crisis followed. A week ago I had to do a presentation for a grant – relating to a project that is very dear to my heart and one that we had dedicated hundreds of hours to. We just needed money to try it out. This was the 4th or 5th kick at the can to find funding. My slides were short and to the point, I felt prepared and fairly confident (we were in the final group) and it just seemed like this was going to be the time. Well, it wasn’t, we didn’t get it and I was heartbroken!

The next day (a Saturday) I had a keynote talk at our provincial association on a topic which really interests me. I’d been reading about it in class and wanted to share the ideas with my professional peers. But it was a new concept, and a new talk, which (again) takes hours and hours of prep, rehearsal and adrenaline.  Since February I had taken to waking between 4 and 5 – then just getting up to work. It was the only time that was quiet, and the only time I could write (I am writing this now while the house is asleep – except for my cat who demands to be picked up!). You can do that for a while – and it helped me write my comps paper, prepare for my pitch and write my talk – but not forever.

So, Sunday I try and get out of bed and it won’t happen. My head is aching, I feel like a black cloud has descended. There’s work to do, kid’s baseball games to watch, a gym appointment, the grass needs cutting…. Sunday stuff.  But I can’t do it.  I lie there, until noon.  I imagine quitting my job, quitting the doctorate. I struggle to understand why all this stuff is in any way important.  The life of the family continues without me – doors slam, food is made, cups of tea appear at my bedside. I think “I can’t do this anymore, my brain is fried”. It was frightening, a glimpse into what can happen if the candle burning at both ends up setting the house on fire! I got up, eventually, and went to work again on Monday but with a sense that the line between OK and not OK is very, very thin. This week I am tentative, careful – taking breaks, making sure I stretch, drinking my chia smoothies. But it is not the same.  My feelings are close to the surface, my patience is limited, my cuticles are raw.

There’s a lot of research that shows doing a doctorate is a tough gig, and can affect your mental health. I expected that to be later, maybe next year – with my transcripts piled around me and feeling like I was getting nowhere. I just didn’t expect it to be so soon.

Nothing More Practical Than A Good Theory

We are almost in the middle of our EdD last course and diving down into the fine detail that will inform our piece of research/thesis/gift to the world.  At the moment we are wrestling with defining our theoretical framework before heading for our comprehensive exams in June.

Being of a positivistic bent – or at least coming from a profession that is newly academic, and mainly unconsciously atheoretical, I struggle with the concept of theory. Theory means something quite specific in science – something you test, a hypothesis.  Scientific principle tells us that everything is infinitely testable (like quantum field theory that ultimately underpins the practice of radiation therapy).  But “theory” or “a theoretical framework” in the social sciences, and indeed in grad school, is something different, a tool that no good researcher should be without.  My current bedtime reading Introducing Critical Theory (literally a cartoon book about Marxism – which is the only way I can deal with it) tells me sternly that an undertheorised student is a failing student, and our UBC Profs tell us that theory is a lens through which we examine the world.  On the other hand, there is the view that theory is for those with the luxury of being able to sit and reflect (perhaps in their ivory towers), not busy practitioners who are out there in the “real world” (wherever that may be). But figure this out and pick a theory I must!

Most of us in the EdD program are there to try and make our little bit of the world a better place. This aligns with the aim of the EdD, which is geared towards practice, examining it and ultimately improving it. A critical theory lens takes an emancipatory, roll-up-your-sleeves-and-do-something-about-it stance and accepts that “there are dirty problems like racism, sexism, classism, homophobia and poverty to be solved” (Sikes p.45). If we look at the world and see that “mainstream research practices are generally, although most often unwittingly, implicated in the reproductions of class, race and gender oppression” (Kinchloe and McLaren, p. 304) we turn to critical theory for help – be it feminism, race theory or critical lesbian and gay theory (my wheelhouse). There are other broad theories/paradigms which we could use – ones that aim to deconstruct current ideas, or understand them – and there is good old fashioned positivism which is all about prediction. For a closer look at this try here. But I think I am a critical theory girl at heart ♥

One thing is sure, once you start looking at (any kind of) theory there are a LOT of “doctoral-level” words that need to be nailed down. I hope to have a few of these impressively roll off my tongue before the comps in June. To help you recognize them in class, impress your love object and to encourage you to sprinkle a few on your grad work, here is your free Valentine’s Day EdD bingo card. Enjoy!

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References:

Sikes, P. (2006). Towards useful and dangerous theories. Discourse : Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 27(1), 43–51

Kinchloe, J and McLaren, P. (2005) Rethinking critical theory and qualitative research. In Denzin, N and Lincoln, Y (Eds) The handbook of qualitative research. 3rd ed. pp. 303-342. Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage.