Cake now, Bernard! For one day only!

Thursday night baking

Thursday night baking!

One day, in the (not too) distant future, I fully intend to be living in my spiritual home of Northumberland, running a little tea room called ‘Dr B’s Cakes and Teas’ (thanks, Sandy, for that inspirational name!).  It will be especially loved by people who struggle to write in offices, and I might have a little corner where crafty types can sell their wares.  All sounds very idyllic, doesn’t it?  Well, maybe it really will happen – I can’t see myself hanging around in the Tower of Doom forever.

I really do like making cakes – it’s how I show people that I love them.  In fact, the title of this blog post refers to just that: I once turned up to a hen weekend several hours after everyone else, and I’d been sure to send my cakes in advance – a sneaky but sure fire way of ensuring that they liked me when I arrived!  We decided I should have a mail order service for those moments when only chocolate fridge biscuit will do (hence, cake now Bernard!).  So it’s only right that my fundraising efforts should revolve around the constructing and eating of cake.  Next up, an open house cake day: next Monday, being a handy Bank Holiday, I’m inviting friends and neighbours to pop in and eat/buy cake.  I’m providing the tea, the coffee and the soft drinks – and COPIOUS amounts of cake – and my friends have been asked to bring their pocket money!

Today I made meringues, two fruit cakes, and some magical honeycomb (ready for the wonder that is honeycomb chocolate boulders, yum).  Tomorrow evening it will be a couple of lemon cakes and some tiny white chocolate bites.  On Saturday, I’m off to London for the day, so Sunday will be full on baking of Victoria sponges, fairy cakes, rice krispie cakes, and who knows what else…

Much as I love baking, I imagine that by Tuesday I’ll never want to see cake ever again!!

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…

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!

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.