My PhD Journey…

My interest in research was sparked during my Master’s degree at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen in 2001. I discovered I really enjoyed collecting and analysing data and learning something new from the information I had collected – at the beginning it was as simple as that.

In 2011 I was given the opportunity to carry out a piece of research with the University of Aberdeen. The research aimed to investigate how patients managed their early cancer symptoms and any potential community pharmacy intervention promoting earlier detection. This appealed to me for a few reasons. Firstly, it gave me the opportunity to work alongside and learn from a well-respected research team, namely Professor Christine Bond, Dr Terry Porteous and Dr Peter Murchie – I was particularly aware that Christine and Terry had contributed extensively to the evidence base involving enhancing the roles of community pharmacy. Secondly, the proposed research would involve patients and had a community pharmacy focus, and this was exactly the type of research that I knew I wanted to participate in. Finally, to be honest, I think the topic struck a very personal chord. I had previously been diagnosed with breast cancer and I felt, quite strongly, that early detection was the reason my cancer had a successful outcome.

At this point doing a PhD was a very distant dream and I never believed I could do it. I consider myself to be a fairly average person.  With the support from the research team I successfully applied for and received two Sir Hugh Linstead Fellowships[1] from Pharmacy Research UK (PRUK). Receiving these awards meant that I could be released from my work place two days a week to carry out the research. The PRUK awards also enabled me to attend training in qualitative and quantitative research methods. This training was essential to ensure I had the skills to conduct both the patient interviews and survey elements of my research, and helped to guarantee my research was robust. The first award covered my university fees for another master’s degree and when I received the second award I was able to convert to doing a PhD. That is when it all became real. It became apparent quite early on that my previous research experience had been very limited and it seemed I was embarking on a journey up a very steep hill.  There was so much to think about and so much to do, however I was very well supported by the research team and PRUK.

The most fulfilling elements of my research were speaking to the cancer patients, transcribing and analysing the data.  I felt very privileged to be given this opportunity to interview the cancer patients. They were amazing – they were so generous with their time, and were incredibly positive despite many of them knowing they were terminally ill. Transcribing the interviews immersed me in my data, and analysing the quantitative data was exciting because, it not only provided results, but also served to identify new and unexpected opportunities for further research.

I found the literature review and the PhD write up quite daunting since I had little experience of scientific writing. There was so much to include and I am not naturally concise.  I had submitted a final report to PRUK for each phase of the research, so when it came to writing my PhD thesis I already had the best part of two chapters written. I funded the remainder of my PhD by doing locums and short-term research projects. The skills developed as a result of the training funded by PRUK, enabled my participation as a researcher in these short-term projects, which in turn equipped me with additional skills and experiences which were transferable to my PhD and made me more confident in my abilities as a researcher.   I also experienced several family and personal illnesses as well as bereavement, during my PhD journey, which have been difficult but have made me more resilient.

My involvement in research has provided me with many opportunities which would not otherwise have been available to me. For example, I have previously been a member of the North of Scotland Ethics Committee, I have been asked to peer review articles after they have been submitted to journals for publication and I’ve been given the opportunity to review PRUK funding applications. I helped to write the RPS Ethics Guidance Document, and I am now a research fellow in the NIHR funded CHIPPS (Care Home Independent Pharmacist Prescriber Study). I have also achieved fellow status of the RPS Faculty.

Research is not always easy but I found that with the right support, and equal amounts of determination and hard work the journey was enjoyable and fulfilling, and its not finished yet!


[1] Now known as the Leverhulme award


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