On generosity and kindness

cakes for sale

…and there was more!

Yesterday was the big cake sale day.  I made meringues, lemon cakes, fruit cakes, victoria sponges, fairy cakes, honeycomb boulders, white chocolate tiny cakes, and cheesy biscuits (well, there had to be one little bit of savoury among the devilish sugar overdose!)

I simply can’t believe how many people came to eat and buy my cakes!  I had an idea that there would be a steady trickle of friends during the day, and I was imagining the mountain of cake that might be left over at the end.  But in reality, there was an absolute deluge of visitors pretty much on the dot of 11:30, and in two hours they managed to eat and take away almost everything I’d baked.  And in their generosity, they gave me almost £250!!!

It really was one of the loveliest days of my life: what could be better than old friends and new coming to my house, drinking tea and eating cake?  I’m incredibly touched by the fact that people made the effort, and by how generous they were.  I feel like this trip is supported by so many brilliant people, and it will be all the more special for that.

So it’s now just 22 days until I fly, and I feel like my plans are all coming together.  I’m starting in Sydney, then travelling by train (yes, 13 hours!  I love trains!) to Byron Bay for a few days, and then I’ll be moving on to Gold Coast for the conference itself.  I still can’t believe it’s real, and my fear of flying has not abated.  I’ll be getting that self-hypnosis app back on in the near future…

In the meantime, I’m doing a little cake sale at work tomorrow – I have to bake again tonight, as there was so little left from yesterday’s extravaganza.  And I have a little sponsored thing underway – more about that later in the week!  For today, I’m just enjoying the glow of having successfully fed huge amounts of sugar to such a lovely group of people…

Cakes of Happiness!

CakesHaving decided I was going to make cakes to help towards funding my way to Australia, I sold my first batch on Saturday morning.  On the advice of willing victims, who have previously eaten a lot of my cakes of badness, I made some chocolate honeycomb boulders, some white chocolate tiny cakes, and some toffee crispy cakes.  Much baking on a Friday evening after work, but actually quite fun: homemade honeycomb is its own reward in terms of appearing like actual MAGIC from just three little ingredients!

So it was off to choir on Saturday, having sent out an email letting people know there was going to be a cake sale.  I had no idea what to expect, and half thought that nobody would even buy anything.  How wrong I was!  Before choir even began, almost all the gift bags of chocolate boulders had gone – it turns out that women in the choir weren’t even bothered about doing a taste test: the lure of chocolate is a powerful force!

By the end of choir, I’d managed to shift the whole lot – all thirty-something gift bags!  And I made a profit of £40, so my little money box is smiling broadly now.  I’m so chuffed at the generosity of people around me – imagine, I make cakes, and people pay money to eat them – how brilliant is that?!

I’ve decided on several more cake sales, including a fun day at home at the end of August: an open house invitation to my local friends, at which they can come and drink tea and eat cake, and even buy some to take away with them.  More on that coming soon…

Meanwhile, I’ve had something of a brainwave on the subject of my sponsored event.  My husband did his first triathlon this weekend (I know!  And he can still walk at the end of it!), and suggested I should aim to do one as well.  So guess what: in six weeks minus two days, I’ll be doing a sprint triathlon!!!!  Well, it’s a challenge, isn’t it?  And I definitely wanted any sponsored event to be exactly that: pushing myself all the way to Australia!  Be warned: I’ll be looking for lovely people to sponsor me soon…

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…

From physical to metaphorical travels…

road to somewhere!My apologies for not having written for several weeks.  I’ve been trying to think of ways to put this that don’t end up sounding a little depressing and self-pitying.  But here goes: it appears I won’t be going to Australia after all.

So my home School didn’t support my funding application, on the basis that it was for a poster presentation.  I was still considering putting in an application to the university’s Graduate School Travel Prize, but something occurred to me.  Well, two things, actually.  First, even if I managed to secure the maximum available (£600), that wouldn’t even cover the flights, as the price has been rising steadily (yes, I’ve been watching closely!).  I would have to find the money on top of this to cover the conference fees, accommodation, and the need to eat food occasionally.  Given the tight budgets we operate within as a family, I realised I would really struggle to achieve this – and on top of that, it seemed a little cheeky to ask my friends to buy stuff and sponsor me in order to essentially go on a jolly (but useful) trip far, far away.

The second thing relates to the lack of support from my School: it wasn’t just financial support that was missing.  Alongside this was the need for study leave – and without financial support, I couldn’t expect them to offer study leave.  The amount of time I would be able to spend in Oz was becoming smaller and smaller, and of course would require me to use annual leave.  And I don’t think my family would have been particularly thrilled about that!

Now, as every good parent knows, there’s a line we use to smooth over our children’s disappointment when they can’t do something they really, really want to at this precise moment: ‘Never mind, there will be plenty more opportunities…’  I’ve heard this phrase A LOT over the past couple of weeks, and I get it.  Of course there will be another conference in another year and probably somewhere equally exciting.  But the child in me is cross: I really, really wanted to go to Australia, and I was working hard to try and achieve this.  Barriers are not my favourite thing, and sometimes in life it seems there are many, and that they are very painful when you knock into them.

But hey, by nature I am annoyingly optimistic, so of course I’m going to be fine about this.  Hence my waiting a couple of weeks to write it down: if I’d written this a while ago, it would have resulted in an unacceptable degree of sarcasm on my part, and a lot of ‘You ok, hun?’ messages from my lovely friends.

So here’s the thing.  I’m really enjoying blogging, particularly on a platform that’s all mine (much as I love PhD Life and Piirus, obvs).  So I’m going to continue with this project – it’s just that for now, it will be my metaphorical, rather than physical, travels.  And believe me, there’s much to say about the adventures of a midwife who’s undertaken a PhD and is now attempting to achieve that visionary ideal, the clinical academic identity…

Feeling like I need some encouragement

sad faceI’ll apologise now, as this post may well be somewhat downbeat.  As one of life’s optimists, I often face accusations of being an idealist.  If being an idealist means straining to see exciting things on the horizon and then trying to find a way of getting to that horizon, then I’ll take that accusation.  But I think I’m also quite pragmatic when I need to be – maybe that comes with parenting?  Or perhaps it’s a significant part of being a researcher?  Whatever, I definitely have a logical, analytical side to my brain – hence my self-definition as optimist: I prefer to see the good things, but I’m totally aware that shit sometimes happens!

This past week, shit appears to have happened.  Despite some very supportive lobbying on my behalf by a senior colleague, my home School decreed that I should have no money, as they continue to apply the blanket rule that posters don’t really count in the great academic game of ‘putting your research out there’.  This places me in a difficult position: I can still apply to the Graduate School Travel Prize, but they like to see matched funding from your home School – my favourite kind of catch-22 now comes into play.  I could write angry emails about the discrepancy between the Graduate School and my home School, as the Grad School thinks it’s absolutely fine to present a poster in Australia, on principle.  I probably will write that email, but I’m not naive enough (or should that be idealist enough?) to think it will make the slightest difference.  Maybe it will make me feel better, though…

My lovely colleague then came up with another idea: she suggested that I write to the conference organisers explaining my difficulty, and ask whether I might be able to change to an oral presentation.  It took me a few days to work up the courage, as it felt a bit cheeky to do this (I know, but I’m English, what can I do?), but eventually I put my case in a very jolly email.  More bad news: they can’t accommodate an oral presentation until they have all the registrations in – and here’s my second beautiful catch-22 of the week: I would have to register to attend, which involves a mighty £461.95 (for those of my friends who don’t know this bit of academic life – yes, it costs a lot to send your research out into the world :/), but then I might not get the presentation changed from poster to oral, so I’d be in exactly the same situation of having no funding to get there!!

Does my mood seem slightly cynical?  I hope this comes across loud and clear in what I’m writing today, because that’s how I feel.  Yes, I can have a budget to attend conferences.  But only in the capacity decreed acceptable my my School.  Making an individual case does nothing – the School applies a broad brush approach.  I’m not a fan of feeling disempowered – I doubt anyone is, really – but that’s how I’m feeling just now.  I’m a tiny step away from abandoning the whole project – even if the Graduate School give me the maximum amount available, it wouldn’t even cover my air fare, and finding the rest makes my brain actually ache.

And yes, I will definitely be sending carefully worded emails – but maybe when I’ve counted to a thousand and taken some very deep breaths.

Making a Case to the Grown Ups

picture of begging handsNext week, I’m told there’s a meeting of the committee within my university School in which they decide whether people like me can be trusted to spend the grown ups’ money wisely.  Let’s not forget, I do (allegedly) receive an annual budget towards conferences and study leave.  Generally speaking, however, and as I’ve mentioned before, the grown ups don’t extend that budget to being allowed to take a poster presentation to a conference.  Papers yes, posters no.  However… I happen to know someone lovely who sits on that committee, and she has suggested that if I put a strong application together, there’s a chance they may look favourably on my begging and take pity on me.

With that in mind, I’ve been considering what else I might get up to in Australia.  I’ve been looking at midwifery leadership and identity over there, and happily I’ve discovered three significant things that might strengthen my case:

  • Like the English NHS, Australian policy makers currently have a mild obsession with the need to develop clinical leadership capacity in their healthcare organisations.  This is good, because it demonstrates a great deal of similarity in policy imperative – and that’s always a great driver for research;
  • From a midwifery perspective, the Australians seem to be continually scratching their heads about how to establish a strong professional identity – much like us, really.  This is also good, because much of what I’ve got to say relates as much to identity construction in the profession as it does to leadership;
  • Finally, there is an utter dearth of midwifery leadership-specific literature coming from Oz – again, much like here.  And this is the best thing, because in my tiny brain, I hold an awful lot of relevant information: about leadership generally, about midwifery leadership specifically, and about how the professional identity impacts on leaders’ ability to lead, in the context of clinical leadership.

So I’ll be putting the relevant paperwork together over the next couple of days, and then it’s fingers crossed.  If I get a favourable response from my School, I’ll be a happy bunny.  If I don’t, it’s all going to get much more difficult.  And it will involve a lot more baking.

The Joys of University Funding

monkey confused about funding

Here’s a funny thing: according to the Research Staff Travel Prize rules, you can apply for their funding if your presentation at a conference is going to be through the medium of a poster.  That’s great, because they’ll fund up to 50% of the costs, to a maximum of £600 for an overseas conference.  By my calculations, that’s most of the flight covered.  However, they expect you to show in your application that the funding they offer will be matched, preferably via your home school – in my case, Health Sciences.

Apparently, I have a budget of up to £1000 per year for such things as conferences, via my school.  However – and here’s the nonsense – according to my line manager, that budget only covers PAPER presentations at conferences, not posters.  Which suggests that posters are not as valuable as papers.  I’m not sure I agree with this, and here’s my logic: if I present a paper, I get around 20 minutes, and I’m one of many presentations going on at the same time.  So only the people who happen to come to hear my presentation will know anything about the study.  If I present a poster, it’s up in the conference venue for the whole time (in this case, four days), I get to hover around it at break times, I can leave a little version of it along with my business card in case anyone wants to contact me, and – this is my favourite bit – I get to do a tiny version of a presentation on the daily poster round.  Seriously, does that sound less exciting than presenting a paper?  I think not!

I’m quite a fan of challenging things if I don’t think they’re entirely fair, so I feel a carefully worded email coming on.  If that doesn’t work out, it’s back to plan A: convincing friends and family that they love my cakes so much, they’ll pay me actual money to eat them.  And maybe a sponsored silence – anyone who knows me will understand the challenge there…