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  • Jun 22 / 2020
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Patrice Reid, PhD Experience

Covid series: Today’s Start. By Patrice Reid

This piece is part of a series collecting the experiences of researchers during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Patrice Reid is a Commonwealth Scholar pursuing her Ph.D. in Psychological Medicine. Her research is focused on the development and field testing of a culturally grounded digital intervention to address alcohol and marijuana abuse in young Jamaicans. The following is a reflective piece by Patrice on living in lock-down.  

Today’s Start. By: Patrice Reid

Where do I start? I really don’t know. It’s Thursday, and I have work to do, but I got up after noon because I couldn’t sleep. It’s a recurring pre-COVID-19 issue that has been worsened by the current conditions, I think. But, even in these conditions, it’s a new day, so let me start. 

Before starting my academic journey as a graduate student away from home, I was confronted with one of the hardest decisions about my future, I would have to make: stay or go? ‘Stay’ or ‘go’ because before me lay the possibility of grabbing one of two very different, but much yearned for dreams. The decision made was to go, in the hope of having it all. Our plans don’t always work out as we hope, as I left behind all that I knew or that I thought I knew, especially what I thought I knew about myself. Deciding to leave came with positive outcomes and less desired consequences, but that’s life I suppose – a series of questions and decisions we encounter and create for ourselves that lead to paths of unknown and hoped for end results.  I was faced with, yet again, the difficult decision amid this pandemic: ‘stay’ or ‘ go’? Asked by my supervisors, asked by my family, asked by my funders, asked by my friends, asked by my accommodations, asked of myself. The borders were closing in a week, I had almost three years’ worth of my life in my flat that I couldn’t take with me if I left. I was on the mend from being ill, left considering my own semi-vulnerable health status, and the potential risk I could pose to my family and myself by going through gateways and flying across oceans with many others – all in the attempt to go home.  I stayed. And I realised that other students like me were faced with the same choice and they left – leaving behind everything but going back to everyone. My internal clock is now set to the morning and night of home as I yearn for its’ embrace and connections like no other time before. It took restrictions of movement and curtailment of freedoms that were once at my fingertips to bolster my appreciation for not only what I left behind and what I have stayed away from, but who I look forward to embracing and where I most want to return.   

Before the official lockdown, I was self-shielding – being the hermit that my doctor cautioned to avoid becoming given my decision to stay. A hermit who found joy taking out the garbage and doing laundry at odd times in the wee hours of the morning. A hermit who inhaled deeply as my lungs filled with fresh air. Taking the time to gaze upon the velvet blue skies and listen to the quiet. Enjoying the experience of coolness dancing across my skin, which the four walls and window of my flat hid me from. It was on the two months’ anniversary of self-shielding that I deliberately stepped foot outside my self-imposed hermitage because I had no flour for weeks. Can you imagine, the flour made me do it?! Armed with double masks, a pair of gloves, fully covered, and a sanitizer in my pocket, I walked along the path to the supermarket. In my mind’s eye, getting strange looks from passers-by, yet feeling relief when I saw others costumed like me. I guess this is how persons attending Comic-Con in costume must feel, I think, that sense of camaraderie that they are not alone in a choice they made when they stepped out the door. I would never imagine that the act of preparing myself to go beyond my door would fill me with anxiety or that I would feel fear walking along a street I have so often travelled. It has been three months. The weather is beautiful now. I ordered something from Amazon and collected it from the voice that called me from the other end – venturing beyond my door only costumed in a pair of jeans, flats, an old T-shirt, and a cap because I didn’t comb my hair. I lifted my face to the sun, relished in the melding of heat and coolness on my skin, and thought, ‘maybe it’s time to take a step out, to live beyond my four walls and a window.’   

The question of whether to stay or go is never an easy one to answer because it’s never just about the act of leaving or remaining. It’s about the visible and invisible strings that bind. It’s about the courage to face uncertainties even in fear. Anaïs Nin once wrote, “life shrinks or expands in proportion to ones courage,” and I understand the words more clearly now. Her words ring true as frontline personnel day by day make the decision to stay or go in the fight against COVID-19, and as I see us zooming to adjust to a new normal while praying and keeping hope alive in these unprecedented times. There is a risk just stepping outside to take a walk, just as much as it is a risk not doing so. My experience of the pandemic is a kaleidoscope of lockdowns and restrictions – the lockdown of my temporary residence, the lockdown of my home, the lockdown on physical connections and movement, the lockdown on my own mind and body because it is all just so overwhelming at times. It’s a reality we are all facing together, not only you or me but us. We are all experiencing this kaleidoscope of uncertainties and rising to the challenge to move forward in an evolving ball of resilience, kindness, innovation, appreciation, and creativity. I watch the news, review posts on social media, and there is still strife and ugliness packaged in discrimination, abuse, and poverty. These truths haven’t changed but have been heightened by the pandemic. Yet, I see mother nature filling her being and taking some much-deserved TLC – her so-called higher-order thinking children had to be scolded and given a time-out so that her other children could frolic on playgrounds that were once their own.  

After all is said and done, where do we start? Where do I start? I really don’t know. It’s Thursday, and I have work to do but awoke after noon because I couldn’t sleep. I started writing because it’s a recurring pre-COVID-19 strategy that I have embraced more as a result of the current conditions. But, even in these conditions, it’s a new day, it’s a start.  

Author’s profile:

Patrice is undertaking a PhD developing and field testing a culturally grounded digital intervention to address alcohol and marijuana abuse in young Jamaicans. Her research interests include substance misuse, child development, ageing, caregiver support and training, digital mental health, and the development of culturally sensitive psychosocial and psychoeducational interventions.  Patrice also enjoys non-academic writing and volunteering her time. These extracurricular activities have been captured in her current role as a Unibuddy-Ask a student e-Mentor, supporting prospective students, and writing blogs for the University of Glasgow.

You can find Patrice on twitter @Patrice_Reid1 and contact her via p.reid.2@research.gla.ac.uk

  • Jun 22 / 2020
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Lauren Gatting, PhD Experience

Covid series: A grey comic-strip. By Lauren Gatting

This piece is part of a series collecting the experiences of researchers during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The artist of the following piece is prone to hypersomnia and, with this comicstrip, hopes to portray the feelings of overwhelm, repetition, entrapment, isolation, futility, and dysphoria that comes with this. Many people experience sleep problems in times of stress and uncertainty, and the coronavirus pandemic has brought with it a lot of both.

you can contact the artist @lauren.podge.art

  • Jun 22 / 2020
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PhD Experience

Covid series: Laughter in a time of COVID-19. By Reece Dawson

This piece is part of a series collecting the experiences of researchers during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Laughter in a time of COVID-19 
by: Reece Dawson 

My neighbours must think I am strange, 

hearing full belly laughter and giggles as the quiet engulfs. 

To the left, incremental music 

To the right, nothing 

Above, jumping jacks 

Beyond my entrance,  

banging of doors greeting hello and goodbye 

as their masters no longer touch. 

Watching our planet  

Nature slowly rebounding from the infections and loss we caused 

Guffaws at the fair play as they are no longer caged and trampled. 

Sitting on surfaces within walls 

Isolated from my pride 

Yet chortling with a stomach filled with memes,  

gifs,  

inspired music,  

social media comments,  

and creativity 

borne out of coping for this beasts’ harshness. 

Laughing at 

dancing to  

beats not realized by Belcalis [Cardi-B] the Wizardess  

but engendered by  

and in her revelation of fear and raw truth. 

Feeling wrong for dancing, 

but being blessed to be able to. 

Feeling shame for laughing, 

but being happy that I can.  

In the uncertainties of it all 

it’s extraordinary, 

finding joy in this isolation. 

Sincerely wishing that neighbours could hear  

the belly-filled laughter and chuckles  

as the quiet envelop days into the night. 

No longer wondering about the thoughts of others  

as I drop a pebble in the symphony of silence 

because the least I can do 

in the moments that ripple then fade 

is own my laughter in the face of the mortal world’s new enemy 

a seemingly temporary fixture in our lives, 

yet an instructively destructive new Master. 

  • Jun 22 / 2020
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PhD Experience, Sam Brady

Covid series: Lockdown, self-reflection and privilege. By Sam Brady

This piece is part of a series collecting the experiences of researchers during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Sam Brady is an AHRC CDP PhD student at the University of Glasgow, researching the socio-political and technical history of the sports wheelchair in collaboration with the National Paralympic Heritage Trust. He also excels at eating, worrying and obsessively tweeting @SamB24. In the following post, Sam reflects on his situation in light of lock-down

Lockdown, self-reflection and privilege By: Sam Brady

It feels very strange to think about the time before lockdown, even though it was only a few months ago. I remember the start of March as a very stressful time. I was coming up to my first APR (annual progress review) and I’d taken extra shifts in my part time job. I was planning my future trip to Glasgow, as I am a remote researcher, and had just organised a summer placement working with an archive. I was trying to make more time to socialise (I hadn’t seen many of my friends in weeks because of how busy we were) and my girlfriend and I had tickets to a few concerts. It was stressful, to be sure, but still normal for me. Since I began my time at university, I have always kept myself busy, with my studies, paid work, social events, music or shows, you name it. I was used to doing a thousand things at once and not relaxing at home. But, like for many people, the lockdown dramatically halted so much of my regular life.

I’d like to acknowledge the fortunate position I am in, due to my circumstances and in my PhD. Personally, I am young, relatively healthy and in a supportive relationship. I don’t have children or parents to care for, and no-one close to me is particularly high risk. Moreover, I began my PhD in October 2019, so whilst lockdown interrupted my summer placement and research timeline, it wasn’t a devastating blow. I wasn’t mid-field work or in the final stages of writing and, as a Sociologist, I didn’t need access to labs or physical equipment. Sure, the library was closed, but I was used to mainly using online resources before this. I was affected by lockdown, and the last few months have been hard, but I’m very fortunate to have not been as affected as others.

Researching under lockdown gave me ample space to consider the privileges associated with a funded PhD. The majority of my friends and family were furloughed from their work, and before the government announced their support for furloughed workers, a few people I knew had been made redundant. I know many have struggled with lockdown and being furloughed, so to have the normality of continuing research from home was in some ways a blessing. However, my ability to maintain focus on my work was completely destroyed, leading to many wasted hours re-reading articles or half-making notes. Thankfully, almost everyone I spoke to experienced the same thing, from undergraduates and fellow PhD students to postdocs and professors.

Yet the guilt of ‘not doing anything’ still haunts me. I’ve always struggled with this attitude towards my work (something which seems to be common in researchers) and I found that lockdown only exacerbated this feeling. Some days are just harder than others, after all, and it’s unfair to expect too much of yourself at the best of times. At the start of lockdown I saw many people say this was the time to learn a new skill or write that article and I tried to have that mentality. But it was incredibly taxing, and after a few weeks I ended up being more burnt out than before. As part of this, I also found myself questioning if my research was important. For reference, my project explores the history of sports wheelchairs and touches on the history of Paralympics, which is an under-researched topic. But it was hard not to think whether my time would be better used volunteering, for instance.

Thankfully, I’ve managed to get closer to a state of ‘normal’ in the last week. My APR seems to have happened, I’ll be submitting my ethics forms soon and I’ve started to organise my (now remote) fieldwork. My focus has definitely improved, and I feel more confident about my work than ever before. But I know that things will continue to be difficult going forward, so I’m trying to recalibrate my thinking and introduce more changes to my work habits. For instance, knowing that other people faced the same challenges as myself helped to curtail feelings of guilt, and this also helped me to realise how I could better support my friends and colleagues. Now, I better understand the value of regular socialising for my mental health, and the importance of setting small, achievable targets during the workday.

For myself, lockdown has provided a time to reflect on my research and my work habits, alongside the privileges of my circumstances, which can only be a positive thing. I hope, however, that self-kindness becomes more normalised after lockdown, and that positive reflection can continue to improve things once it’s over.

  • Jun 22 / 2020
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PhD Experience, Rachel Thomson

Covid series: Experience as PhD student and NHS public health professional. By Dr Rachel Thomson

This piece is part of a series collecting the experiences of researchers during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Rachel Thomson is a Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Fellow who started a PhD modelling the impacts of welfare policies on population mental health at the University of Glasgow in September 2019. Her clinical background is in public health medicine, and since March 2020 she has returned to clinical practice on a part-time basis to assist with the public health response to COVID-19 in NHS Ayrshire & Arran (A&A). In the following piece, Rachel reflects on her experience of this time as PhD student and public health professional.

Since COVID-19 became woven into the fabric of our everyday lives, I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve joked that at least now people will know what I do for a living. It’s true that of all the medical specialties public health isn’t one of the sexiest, and so it’s generally not well understood. No heroic life-saving surgeries, no stethoscopes or scrubs – instead, lots of spreadsheets, stats, and politics with a small ‘p’. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, my friends often joked during the (infrequent) times I was ‘on call’ for public health that if I actually did get paged, it must mean the end of the world as we knew it. Turns out they weren’t entirely wrong.

The realities of ‘peacetime’ public health are very different from the past six months; COVID-19 has tested the public health workforce like little before. From the relatively sheltered world of academia, I watched as my former colleagues in NHS A&A’s public health department (where I’d been training as a registrar since 2016) moved from what’s typically a fairly comfortable 9-to-5 job, to one which began to push the boundaries of work-life balance in ways I only recognised from my time working in acute hospitals.

In mid-December 2019, awareness began to spread from Wuhan, China to Scotland’s local and national public health systems of what was then only characterised as an emerging new severe viral pneumonia. As the potential for this to become a global threat became clearer over the following months, the workload within our tiny Health Protection Team increased exponentially, mushrooming out to pull in staff from other areas alarmingly quickly. Within the space of a few short weeks following news headlines in February, I moved from thinking ‘it’d have to get really bad before they’d need to draft me back in’ to ‘I can’t in good conscience not go back right now’. At that point I agreed with my PhD supervisors and my funder that I’d return to NHS service three days a week, keeping the remaining two days for my academic work. I officially started back on 20th March 2020; just three days later the UK declared a lockdown, and I found myself right in the thick of it.

The NHS Ayrshire & Arran COVID19 Control Centre: a socially distanced workplace!

On my NHS days I’m based in the NHS A&A COVID-19 Control Centre in Ayr, working alongside an absolutely incredible team of public health nurses, practitioners, and consultants. Our role is primarily managing community-based COVID-19 outbreaks in closed settings (e.g. care homes and workplaces), though we’re often contacted about wider COVID-related concerns by worried members of the public or key workers. As of 28th May we are also the escalation point for contact tracing of complex cases in Ayrshire as part of Scotland’s new NHS Test and Protect system, managing any positive COVID-19 cases who work or live within closed settings. We’re open seven days a week, which has meant that I’ve worked six-day weeks about half of the time since I started – there are few of us to spread the work between.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the volume and pace of the work has been relentless. One of the difficult aspects of our role is that we’re the ones people come to for help interpreting the latest guidance on infection control, personal protective equipment (PPE), or access to testing, but we often have little or no warning of the almost daily changes. As you can imagine, that doesn’t always make for happy phone conversations. Before I realised how bad it was for my mental health, I got into the habit of religiously listening to the daily press briefings in the car on the way home from work, and consuming every piece of news I’d missed in the evenings, just so I was prepared for what the calls would inevitably be about the next day. I don’t want to get into a commentary on how the pandemic has been managed – that’s a whole other blog article, and others have already written it much better than I could. But I can at least say that too often, those of us working on the public health front line have found ourselves having to rapidly act on policy changes where we simply didn’t have access to the evidence underlying them. In a specialty that prides itself on being evidence-based at all times, that’s a very uncomfortable place to be.

Taking the time to clear our heads: Lead Health Protection Nurse Fiona and I pausing on a busy Saturday afternoon to walk through the Ayr Hospital grounds

However, the best way to try and remedy those kinds of difficulties is to have a strong, supportive team around you, and our team is truly the best. At the behest of our leads we’ve had some extremely frank discussions about how challenging we’re finding things, with a focus on how we can support each other. We take time to check in with each other when we see someone is struggling; we volunteer to hold the fort when someone just needs a minute; we force each other to stop for a cup of coffee or a breath. During the peak of the epidemic, the most frequent precursors to such interventions were our discussions with care homes – speaking daily to managers and nursing staff devastated by the loss of their residents, many of whom they’ve known for years, it’s impossible not to be personally affected. That can take a toll on your own well-being in a way that I’ve become unused to since leaving hospital medicine. If we didn’t talk openly and support each other, we wouldn’t be able to keep moving onto the next call and the one after that, and keeping moving is essential. As we often remind each other, for those of us in public health this isn’t going to be a sprint – it’s a marathon, and we’ll have to persevere until we either contact trace the virus out of existence or find a vaccine.

Obligatory photo of my ‘working from home’ set-up, with bonus cat tax

My PhD hasn’t disappeared in all of this though: far from it! If anything, my topic – predicting the impacts of changes to welfare policies on mental health – has become increasingly relevant in a post-COVID world. During my academic days I’m continuing my work on a systematic review summarising literature on how changes in income affect mental health, and trying not to lose momentum despite having to juggle this with my clinical work, which often bleeds into evenings and weekends. As my lead PhD supervisor is from a clinical public health background too, I’ve also been fortunate enough to be able to contribute to some additional COVID-related research led by Public Health Scotland, studying how the economic mitigation measures such as changes to Universal Credit and the furlough scheme may impact on population health. It’s been hard to fit everything in, but it’s also really valuable to have something else to focus on, reminding me that the world beyond the Control Centre still exists.

I’m aware that my lockdown experience so far has been pretty atypical, both for a PGR student and for a clinician, and though I’ve focused a lot on the challenges here there are still many ways in which I think I’ve lucked out. I’ve been able to leave my home to travel to work in person, which means I’ve had regular face-to-face contact that so many of my friends and family have been denied for months. My PhD project is primarily secondary data analysis, so I’m not having to completely overhaul my plans like those who can’t collect their data due to lockdown. I’ve been able to reduce my academic commitment with the full support of my funder and I’m still early in my PhD, so I don’t have the acute worries about extensions I know other PGRs are facing right now. And, unlike my friends in other medical specialties, I’m protected from the worries and stress that go along with providing direct patient care during a pandemic, including the heightened fears of becoming infected yourself.

While admittedly it has been a difficult few months in many ways, it has been incredible to see first-hand how those working in health and social care have rallied in response to the pandemic. It’s impossible to predict what will come next, after this odd ‘eye of the storm’ moment with case numbers falling, temperatures rising, and adherence to lockdown waning, but I know that despite our collective exhaustion we will face it with equal determination. I’m acutely aware that this is probably – hopefully – the most significant public health emergency I will contribute to in my working life. At this stage, I can honestly say I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to dust off my figurative stethoscope and lend a hand.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of NHS Ayrshire & Arran or the University of Glasgow.

  • Mar 25 / 2019
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Alessio Albanese, Current Research

Researcher showcase: Alessio Albanese and the impact of post-migration life difficulties on mental health

I am in my first year of completing a PhD looking into the impact of post-migration life difficulties on mental health and somatic symptoms. I would like to take this opportunity to present my current work which focuses on the mental health and somatic symptoms of asylum seekers and refugees in the context of post-migration life difficulties. In addition to presenting my research work as it is developing, I would also like to briefly talk about my personal background and how this has influenced my personal and academic development.

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  • Mar 13 / 2019
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Current Research, Lauren Gatting

Promoting some of our ECR’s work

On Tuesday 26th February, Seven Early Career researchers working within UoG’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing presented their work, during the institute’s annual research away day. Following the format of the three minute thesis competitions held in universities worldwide, each presentation had to be under 3 minutes long and use only one power point slide (no animations allowed). During the away day, the presentations were judged by a panel for winners of 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. All the presentations were excellent.

I drew up a brief summary of each person’s work, while they were presenting, which I now present to you:

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  • Mar 11 / 2019
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Academia, Lauren Gatting

Demystifying research impact

During the IHW away-day ’19, Rose-Marie Barbeau presented on research impact, with the aim to clear up any enduring myths and misconceptions. Rose-Marie is the Research Impact Manager at the University of Glasgow. The following are key messages I took from Rose-Marie’s presentation:

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  • Feb 05 / 2018
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Current Affairs, David Blane

Adult weight management – Time for action not words

Photo by Hush Naidoo. © 2017 Unsplash. Used with permission under the license of Creative Commons. Via Unsplash Photos.

By David Blane

 

We hear repeatedly that obesity is one of the biggest public health problems in the UK today.  Yet there is a stark mis-match between the newspaper column inches devoted to the nation’s waistline and the resources spent on NHS adult weight management services.  

ON the 26th October 2017, the Minister for Public Health and Sport, Aileen Campbell, launched the Scottish Government’s Consultation on a Diet and Obesity Strategy for Scotland. There is much to commend in the Strategy – prevention is better than cure, and targeting resources on more ‘upstream’ determinants of obesity (changing the so-called obesogenic environment) is rightly the focus of the new Strategy (and of Obesity Action Scotland’s advocacy).

However, for a country with one of the highest obesity rates in the world (where 1 in every 4 adults lives with obesity), there is a need for action at multiple levels.  As a recent Lancet commentary argued, the distinction between population-level and individual-level approaches is a false dichotomy. Yes, we should be restricting advertising and price promotions of junk food, but we also need high quality, accessible, multi-disciplinary treatment services for those with severe and complex obesity – and not just people with type 2 diabetes (the target of the Strategy). Continue Reading

  • May 30 / 2017
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Current Affairs

On 13 Reasons Why: Acknowledging those working in suicide prevention

Photo by Elisa Riva. © 2017 Pixabay. Used with permission under the license of Creative Commons. Via Startup Stock Photos.

By Katerina Kavalidou 

No matter what you are going through, there is help out there; suicide is not the solution”

The above is an important message from Professor Rory O’Connor, an expert on suicide research and prevention, regarding the recent airing of 13 Reasons Why, a TV series about a teenage girl’s suicide. Reading this, I started thinking about one particular group of people working on suicide prevention: those who pick up the calls at suicide helplines. Continue Reading

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