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!

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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!