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.

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.

A related post from my other identity as social science correspondent at Piirus

Piirus logoHere’s a post that’s just gone live over at Piirus, where I write on the subject of making research links and exploring the world!


I think Piirus is going to be central to my exploration of Australia, as it’s a great place to begin making connections: you become a member (for free, hurrah!) and add your research interests and areas in order to connect with other researchers who share things in common with you.  As it’s a global network, I’ve already found some researchers in Oz who might be perfect for me to become friends with..!

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…

Time flies, but people really shouldn’t

image of Gold Coast beachI’ve realised that it’s less than six months until this epic journey happens.  And it does feel like it’ll happen, now, because I’ve been talking about it to lots of friends – apparently I’m one of the last people in the world to visit Australia (or so it seems).  Talking about things often makes them seem more real, I find.

The downside of these conversations is the inevitable question: ‘But what about your massive fear of flying?!’  It’s been a long-standing joke, my aversion to getting on a plane, and I’ve been trying to deal with it for a lot of years.

Back in the mists of time, when I was not a parent, I flew to Saudi Arabia a couple of times, to visit my Dad who was working there.  I also flew to the Czech Republic, Greece and Paris.  Bizarrely, I can’t remember being utterly terrified in those days – I mostly just enjoyed the food-in-a-tray excitement, and the biggest dread was about having that toddler playing peek-a-boo for THE ENTIRE JOURNEY over the seat in front.  I do remember not particularly liking taking off or landing, but there was no gripping of the arm rest, or hawkishly watching the cabin crew’s faces to make sure I knew the minute something might be wrong.  I know, I sound like a mad woman.

Anyway, somewhere in the mire of having children, I developed a proper, full on fear of getting on a plane.  I think it’s something about being a responsible grown up – several of my friends have been able to relate to this idea.

So in 2010, I had to go to Belfast for a conference.  Believe me, I looked at every possible way of travelling that didn’t involve planes – a combination of car and boat, or train and boat, or train, boat and car… But they all took too many days, and I decided I should face my fear.  I heard Chris Moyles talking about how he’d used a self-hypnosis app to conquer his fear, and thought this sounded like something I could do to help myself.

I have no idea whether the app worked – I never managed to stay awake long enough to even hear what was on it.  I always woke up to a lovely, calming sound that told me it was over.  I think I may be worryingly susceptible to hypnosis… Anyway, I got on the plane, and I felt as okay as someone who’s terrified of flying might feel.  But I did find myself tapping my arm rest part way through the flight, and tapping is not something I’m usually prone to, so I wonder whether it did work in some way?

Since then, I’ve continued to avoid flying.  I’ve only been once to Amsterdam (with my son, who told everyone when we got home that I was so scared, he had to hold my hand…), and twice to Dublin.  Each time, I feel a little worse, and I’m beginning to wonder whether I might soon turn into one of those people who demand to get off the plane mid-flight?

So, coping strategies for a massively long flight: I’ll probably try the self-hypnosis app again, and I’ll perhaps combine it with some kind of sedative – given the length of time in the air, maybe I can sleep the whole way there?!  One thing I’m very sure of, however, is that no alcohol will be involved.  I’m a cheap date at the best of times, and I don’t know whether you’ve seen ‘Bridesmaids’, but there’s a hilarious cautionary tale there about not mixing sedatives with alcohol…

Finding Friends

My youngest daughter had some interesting statistics for me the other day, on the subject of how many people live in Australia and how immense the country is.  I’ll be visiting a tiny part of it, but already I’ve discovered that two of my Facebook friends are nearby (that’s you, Val and Sairose).  This makes me happy, because it means I can visit them (if I survive the flight, obviously) like a proper tourist!  Also, it makes me wonder whether the entire population is crowded into the tiny part I’m now calling ‘Goldie’ (got that from the horse’s mouth, so to speak!).

My next job is to find people over there who have an interest in midwifery leadership.  If I’m going to travel that far, I’d really like to meet with like-minded researchers or policy bods, and I always find it super interesting to explore different systems of care.  And let’s face it, leadership is a worldwide obsession, so there are bound to be people with similar research interests to mine.  I’m thinking narratives of identity might be a good pitch, too…

So my first step is to go exploring in the world of Australian universities – well, the ones somewhere near to where I’m planning to visit – and hunt down some poor, unsuspecting researchers.  Then at least I can begin to put a plan together, instead of just doing blank face when my family ask me how long I’m planning to be away!

Well, hello there…

I have a massive fear of flying.  Some people think this is a silly thing, given that I get into my car and drive it every day.  I disagree, for lots of reasons, but mainly because I don’t fly my car over vast expanses of water.  A few weeks ago, I thought a fun way to get over this fear would be to put an abstract into a conference on the other side of the world.  Well, that wasn’t quite my thinking, but as it happens, I did put an abstract in for a conference on the other side of the world.  I thought if it was accepted, I’d just have a little think about the flying thing when it became necessary.

So now it’s become necessary, because the abstract was accepted for a poster presentation at this year’s Australian College of Midwives’ conference in October, which is happening at Gold Coast (you see that spectacular photo at the top of the page?  Yes, it is).  Initially, I thought I just wouldn’t be able to go – for fear and financial reasons.  However, it turns out that my university has a staff travel prize, which includes poster presentations, so that would be a help.  And then my eldest daughter pointed out that a lot of my friends would want me to go to Australia (apparently not in a bad way, though *hmmmm*), so I should raise the money to get out there.

Hence this blog: I’ve decided my daughter is right (as 17-year-olds so often are), and I really should try to go to the ball – sorry, conference.  I thought writing a blog about the adventure would be fun – my friends know how much I love to blog – and a good way of keeping my concentration along the next six months as I plan the trip.  As an added bonus, readers will get to enjoy my experiences of trying to get over my fear of flying enough to climb aboard a plane that goes over VAST expanses of water.  Fun times indeed…