Since graduating in 2002, I have always known that I would engage in doctoral study but a profound passion for my clinical role and having very busy professional and personal lives got in the way of this for a long time. My naturally enquiring mind meant that from my early days in clinical practice, I would often wonder why things happen the way they do and what could be done to enhance outcomes. When a split academic/clinical/practice research post was advertised between the NHS trust I was already working in and a local university, I knew that this was the opportunity for me.
I started my research journey with small-scale projects around my clinical practice, attempting to explore questions like “what is the impact on weight gain of admission to a forensic unit compared to general psychiatric wards?” and “what are prescribers’ perceptions of rating scales?”, hoping that I could use what I learnt to inform clinical practice in the here and now. Through further postgraduate study, I learnt the invaluable lesson that my future research would have to be able to generate immediately useful outcomes in order for me to remain fully engaged. I also developed a variety of research skills and learnt more about the themes and techniques which appeal to me (and those that don’t) through collaboration with other, more experienced researchers.
“Doctoral study has been described to me as an apprenticeship in research, paving the way for your development as a credible researcher. Choosing a professional doctorate rather than a PhD has allowed me to engage in this apprenticeship in a way that is right for me – the expectation of the professional doctorate is that I make a unique contribution to my area of clinical practice while continuing to work and progress in the field.”
I love the sense of value that my research has, and it really helps me to keep going when balancing work, personal life and research is challenging – which is most of the time! I am not pursuing a career as a professional researcher, rather a professional who researches. Identifying where my true clinical passions lie and then the best way to weave them into a research agenda has been critical to my success and motivation in qualitative exploration of students’ attitudes to people who experience mental illness so far.