Not quite the plan

I really like research. So I did imagine that I would do more of it, some day. I thought I would finish my clinical doctorate, work for a while, hopefully in a place that had a strong research culture and then eventually do a PhD through work.

So part of me is a bit baffled to find that I’ve gone and upgraded from the smaller (MSc level) research component of my combined clinical/research degree to a PhD (so I’m now enrolled in the clinical degree alongside a PhD).

I really like the research I’m currently doing. I’ve had a lot of freedom (potentially too much) to set up my own studies. I have a lot of data, which would have already been too much for an MSc. And the truth is, there’s no guarantee that I’ll end up working clinically in a setting that is supportive of research. So here I am.

Life Things are mostly starting to pick up. I’ve picked up the exercise, which has helped. I do some exercise most days of the week now – running mostly, but also rock climbing, stairs, a bit of strength stuff (probably not enough). I’ve cut down on alcohol (not that I’m a huge drinker, but it helps). And I’ve started doing mindfulness again. I use either Headspace or Smiling Mind. Stop, Breathe and Think is another one I have on my phone, to try out. Here is a literature review looking at the features of various mindfulness apps.

And here’s an upbeat song I like at the moment – Against the Current – Running With the Wild Things.


Strange days

All the hours you sleep

All the self-care you do

All the care, compassion and love you receive

All the km you run

All the melancholy piano pieces you listen to

All the other things you distract yourself with: work, TV, books, socialising


None of these change the fact that a person you love is no longer in this world.

Autumn running and research FOMO

It’s a cool, rainy Autumn morning – finally. I’m inside, with the kitty, planning to do some work on the lit review before heading into uni to do more testing, reading and writing once traffic subsides.

Pearl Izumi
Pearl Izumi E:Motion Trail N2 v2. Love the red, black and lime combo.

My body is feeling quite sore, but a good “done lots of things” sore. On Friday I did a short walk/run with a friend around a bay that’s close to uni (very lucky, running by the water – lots of dog-, people- and boat-watching), on Saturday I did the usual parkrun (10 sec slower than my PB, dammit), followed by more home decluttering – the pantry looks lovely and manageable now (although how long will that last?). On Sunday I did some trail running (almost 10k very slowly, I came 3rd last in my age and sex category, but I enjoyed it a lot). I hit the trails in my new shoes for the first time, and they felt very grippy and secure, although more neutral than I’m used to (less arch support) which I’m not 100% sure about.

It’s sinking in that in just over a month I will be going overseas (North America) to present my research at two conferences. I’m still testing participants, which means I won’t have much time to analyse results and think about discussing the findings. (So I’m quietly terrified.) I’ll be spending some time in the US and Canada beyond conferencing. I’m going with a friend, and I think it’ll be fun – apart from becoming enlightened and covering our dear alma mater with glory,  I think we’re going to hit up some haunted/creepy places, catch trains, and trial some fine local fare (especially of the liquid variety).

Conferences are funny things. They make you pay to attend even if you’re a presenter – so, essentially, you are providing the content, and yet you have to pay for the privilege of being there and providing said content. Also, I’ve just found out that one of the two conferences I’m going to won’t be providing lunch this year – outrage!! And yet we do it, because it’s good experience, good “networking” (ugh…) and not least because the university subsidises the attendance of research students and academics.

Lately I’ve had massive research FOMO. My degree is a combined clinical and research degree, and my research as part of this degree will finish in a few months. I’ve been going to quite a few research seminars and colloquia, and I really wish I was sticking around to do more research – I have ideas on how I’d like to continue the research I’m doing, but it involves more experimental work of a kind that my current university is not really equipped for. Also, I don’t want to lose my clinical skills (hard-earned over the past three years), and I do really like clinical work. So the sensible option is to finish, get a job, and then think about coming back for more research later, which is something lots of psychs do. I just have to make my peace with not being able to Do All The Things at the same time…

Back to Stats

Tools of the trade: coloured whiteboard markers, eraser, Casio calculator of a vintage that makes me feel old, tissues, and mints because talking for hours requires minty fresh sustenance. Plus accidental e-reader.

It’s the first week of tutorials for the undergrads, and the first day of tutoring for me. I started doing university tutoring two years ago, not having done any kind of teaching before, and (mostly) loved it, so here I am, back again, doing it alongside research and other work.

I’ve tutored various 1st, 2nd and 3rd year units, but most of the time I stick with Statistics. Why Stats? Quite a few of the students I teach openly admit they’re scared Stats. So I give them a bit of a spiel at the start of the semester. Stats is important, obviously so if you’re running your own research, so you can make sense of your data and see how your hypotheses fared. But even if you don’t go on to run your own experiments, in any area of science or health science you end up in, you’ll be able to critically evaluate journal articles, for example about different treatments, and make up your own mind about the results*. And even if you don’t stay in science, if you get Stats you will find people who want to be your friends, because so many people are scared of Stats**. Stats is also relevant to lots of other areas, like marketing and politics.

Riveting stuff😉

But I do think the above is true, and the reason I generally choose to tutor Stats over other areas is because I want to make it a bit less scary for the students, and hopefully get some of them interested in Stats. (And also, other more selfish reasons, like keeping it fresh in my mind for my own research needs, and also because the marking is more objective and straight-forward than in other subjects. And also professionally selfish reasons, like increasing the Stats literacy of the future Psychology workforce.)


* What I don’t tell them is that it takes a long time, and a fair bit of not only statistical knowledge, but also knowledge of research methods in general and also often of a particular area of research, to really be able to engage critically with a paper’s results section.

** You might prefer people to befriend you based on your stellar personality and sparkling wit, but as a fellow Stats enthusiast I’m certain you possess both of these attributes in spades.

Walking 500 miles

IMG_5129Ok, so it felt like 500 miles, but it was actually only 31 miles. This weekend I took part in a 50km walk around our Bush Capital, for the CBR100 Challenge. Some beautiful views, and lovely places to walk, even in the mid-30 degree dry, dusty heat. The course took us through Hall, One Tree Hill, Mulligan’s Flat, Goorooyarroo Nature Reserve, Mount Majura and finished with Mount Aislie.

I’d never walked that distance before. The most I’d done had been about 25k, touristing around Paris a few years ago, with frequent cheese, wine, and potatoes cooked in goose fat breaks. So I figured I’d either blow out in the first 30k, or make it all the way. As it turns out, I almost lost it around 47k, when my feet were essentially blobs of pain (burst blisters, mostly). It then took a really long time to do the last 3k, which was a bit miserable both physically and mentally, especially as the sun had set by this time. But, such as it was, I finished, and with the knowledge that I’d made good time for most of the 50k.

I enjoyed Mount Majura the most, even though it was well into 30k that we reached it, essentially because I like the challenge of going up mountains (coming down is another story though). Mount Aislie I liked the least, because I wasn’t sure when, or if, it would end. Goorooyarroo Reserve was also beautiful to walk through. This is a research and restoration area free of introduced species (except us pesky non-Indigenous humans), for supporting endangered native animals such as the Eastern Quoll. Here we were on mostly flat fire trail which was peaceful, and as you didn’t need to vary pace that much, this portion of the walk had a meditative quality.

Things I’ve learned from this walk:

  1. Wear shoes with plenty of room as feet swell considerably. I did this walk in my Brooks PureGrit 2 shoes, which I usually use for 5-10km trail running, but found that 0.5 size larger than my usual shoe size was not large enough.
  2. Band-aid, pad, vaseline any problem areas early.
  3. You need to eat more than you think you do, and really keep electrolytes up. I learned this as I was going up the first bit of Majura, when I started to feel faint, which reversed with food and electrolyte drink.
  4. There are different phases to conquering a long distance. When things are tough, putting one foot in front of the other will still eventually get you there.
  5. Training would have probably helped? I did this with no specific training, apart from doing the usual 5 to 10k runs a couple of times a week.

Would I do it again? Probably. Would I do the 100k course? Part of what I found exciting about this walk was that I had no idea if I’d be able to do it or not. So maybe I’d consider doing the longer course in the future – with solid training, different shoes and a very good music playlist.

On blog reading and writing

I really like blogs, and I read a fair few. Apart from friends’ blogs, I mostly read those of other health professionals, health students, scientists or researchers. It helps if they post food pictures, are snappy dressers or creative, or discuss both professional and personal matters. Being in the health field, its tricky discussing the last two due to confidentiality constraints, both concerning patients, and the professional’s life, in the Google-your-healthcare-provider-or-potential-employee age that we live in. I realise, however, that the blogs I enjoy the most are ones that discuss the personal, at least to some extent: reactions to tricky professional situations, travel, self-care, family. So with this in mind, I’ll try injecting a bit more of myself into this (so far, pretty dry) blog.

This week, I felt more like the bug than the windscreen. I didn’t get a job that I had pinned my hopes on and that would have been a really good fit, my research participants all cancelled, there are some family health issues, and exercise (which I use, not just for fitness but also for mood) felt painful and like a chore.

There are quite a few jobs out there in my field, but I had not realised how stiff the competition is. Not getting this job makes me worry that I won’t get a job, and feel angry at the thought that I’ve spent so many years studying and working hard, and there might not be light at the end of the tunnel. Of course, no one’s promised that there would be a shiny job at the end of the hard slog, but being human* means you assume things such as hard work -> some sort of reward. It’s also especially frustrating when you know that the mental health needs of Australians are far from decreasing, and that all the services you’ve done training with are stretched beyond capacity, with high rates of burn-out for clinicians – and yet there aren’t enough new jobs. (I should mention that I haven’t been applying for heaps of jobs, just very specific part-time ones, since I’m still doing my research. Not to mention that many/most positions are not available for people still finishing their clinical degree, which is fair enough.)

This brings me to the second point: I’m trying to finish my research, and even though I am still really interested in it, I also feel disheartened by the publication cycle and how hard it seems to get my last lot of participants. People are very generous to volunteer their time to participate in studies, and many have already done so for my research. So much goes on “behind the scenes”, before I meet with participants: out of those who contact me to say they’re interested, I end up talking to and screening about 2/3rds. Out of these, maybe half are eligible. Then I have time set aside for assessments, and it sucks when people don’t turn up. Even when they do – there’s a lot of forward and backward emailing, calling, schedule-checking, etc. Of course, there’s no reason for participants to know all this background information. TL;DR – research is really time-intensive and it makes me sad when participants cancel or don’t show up, which happens regularly. (Even so, I’m grateful that so many people have been interested in my research.)

Running, which is my preferred form of exercise, normally helps with life’s bumps and jolts, such as the above. I’ve recently come back from an (amazing!) overseas trip (honeymoon, actually), with some unwelcome residual sinus issues probably made worse by rapid changes in climate and aggressive airplane air conditioning. This has made running painful for the past couple of weeks. Bad breathing -> huge stitches -> sad runner. I’ve powered through: two painful Parkruns, a painful trail-running race, and a painful short run with a friend. I’ve tried to stay mindful, and the beautiful scenery of the trail run helped, but still, not the best outlet. Happy to report that this morning’s Parkrun was relatively-pain free, probably helped by sucking it up and taking some antihistamine medication.

So where to, from here? I’ll apply for other jobs that seem suitable to my stage in training. I’ll keep screening research participants, whether or not they end up coming in. I’ll keep going. And I’ll also see how this personal-and-professional blogging thing goes.


* Really, an instrumentally-conditioned animal.