Clinical academic careers and liminal space

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the challenges of moving from clinical life to a fun existence in the Tower of Doom.  I was somewhat preoccupied with this issue for a couple of reasons: first, I had recently had a somewhat bruising encounter with an NHS trust as I attempted to maintain one foot in research and the other in practice; and second, I was about to give a presentation on the subject to A LOT of midwives.  I’ve been a bit obsessed with the idea of moving through liminal spaces for a number of years – an earlier blog post will explain all.

I thought it might be useful to put a link to that presentation here, as it explains the idea of how midwives (including myself) might want to maintain a hybrid identity, and the challenges they (or I) face in attempting to do so.  The presentation is more related to my own experiences, but I’m also writing a paper on this subject from the perspective of the midwifery leaders I interviewed for my doctoral research.  Click here to view the presentation – it’s quite informal, honest!

On, off, and on again: I really am going to Australia!

Image showing Gold CoastWell, this is fun, isn’t it!  I was going, I wasn’t going, but now I REALLY REALLY AM GOING!!!

A senior colleague suggested that I email the conference organisers to see whether my paper could be changed from a poster to an oral presentation, and a couple of weeks ago I got the exciting news that they’d been able to do this.  Of course, this meant I could re-apply for funding from my home School, given their criteria for supporting conference attendance.

Lots of last minute preparation of applications, and some working out of dates and annual leave and study days and needing to get back in time for my eldest’s 18th birthday… But yes, the School has given me enough money to cover my air fare, so it seems rude not to try and raise the rest!

I’m allowing myself a tiny bit of excitement now, although I still can’t believe I’ll actually be going.  Happily, I have two super friends who have each offered to put me up during my visit (Pete in Sydney, and Val in Gold Coast), so I’m feeling very lucky about that.  My research mentor has supplied me with some contacts in Sydney so I can go and talk all things midwifery while I’m there, and then the conference looks really great when I get to Gold Coast.

I’ve been considering a couple of fund raising opportunities.  My cakes seem awfully popular at the moment, and I’ve identified at least four places where I could do a little cake sale.  And then I’ve been thinking about a sponsored something.  Friends have come up with two ideas: silence and tap dancing!!  Although clearly not at the same time, because that would be like a horse wearing those muffler things on feet, and deeply pointless.  And I should say, I tap dance on a weekly basis, so it’s not as random as it might sound.

A sponsored silence sounds fun (probably to everyone around me, actually), but tap dancing would be a very different challenge.  I’m thinking of joining every tap class in the school where I dance, over the space of a week, right from the toddlers to the ones who are a lot more brilliant than me!  These are things to think about over the next few weeks, but for now I’m just really happy that I can get to Oz after all.  Although, I guess I have to start seriously considering the flying thing again…

Presentations and Personal Narratives

liminal spaceI seem to find myself giving presentations about my personal narrative on a fairly regular basis.  The first time I did this, several years ago now, I described it as feeling naked.  That sensation hasn’t gone away, but perhaps I can be a bit braver nowadays, given that my narrative was highly ‘present’ in my doctoral thesis, and the examiners didn’t seem to have any problem with that approach.

Essentially, my narrative was very much intertwined with those of the midwifery leaders I was studying: we were all wrestling with the complexity of making identity transitions – for them, a transition from clinical to leadership roles; for me, from clinician to who knows where.  I used van Gennep’s and Turner’s liminality concepts as a framework through which to discuss my study findings, and was able to identify a clear three-step process for clinicians moving to leadership: separation (moving away from ‘the gang’, wanting more from midwifery), transition (seeing a bigger picture, trying out leadership roles, undertaking leadership programmes), and re-assimilation (‘being’ a leader, enacting a hybrid identity).

For myself, I could see parallels in the first two steps, but the third has been more problematic: how do I move across the threshold if I’m not really sure what lies on the other side?  Recent experiences of trying to keep one foot on either side of that liminal space have been… ‘bruising’ is a good word to describe events, I think, and I’m left wondering whether I should just take a giant leap (or small step, depending on your perspective) and plant both feet firmly in academia.

This pondering matters to me: tomorrow, I’ll be speaking to a very large number of midwives on the subject of my travels so far, and I want to be able to talk positively about what I’ve been up to during and since the PhD.  I’ve decided to apply an analogy of being an explorer – but I’ll be emphasising the importance of putting a trail of stones down behind you when you go on a research adventure from a clinical beginning.  That way, you’ll (theoretically) be able to find your way home again, if you want to come back.  I’m keen to establish a narrative in midwifery around hybrid identities – whether that’s leadership, research, education, or policy making.  I’m aware that there are pockets of good practice, but I seem to be having a great number of conversations in which midwives struggle to maintain a presence across practice and whatever exciting land they’re now viewing.  And let’s not forget, it was the subject of my PhD, so I’m armed with evidence to support my argument!