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Institute of Health and Wellbeing Early Career Researchers' Blog

Summer Schools for Postgraduate Students – Yea or Nay?

Academia, Siobhán O’Connor

Summer Schools for Postgraduate Students – Yea or Nay?

Photo by Alexis Brown © April 13, 2016. Used with permission under the license of Creative Commons.

Photo by Alexis Brown © April 13, 2016. Used with permission under the license of Creative Commons.

By Siobhán O’Connor

I often wondered if research based summer schools run at universities and other organisations were worth investing in as a PhD student. When I heard the European Academy of Nursing Science (EANS) run an annual summer school specifically for nursing researchers, I decided to see if the benefits of attending would outweigh the costs of participating. The 2016 EANS summer school was held at the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg in Halle, Germany. It brings together nurses and midwives of many specialties from across Europe to develop and promote nursing science. The intensive programme focuses on complex interventions in health and runs numerous workshops and seminars by eminent nursing professors on different research methods used to evaluate nursing interventions.

Prof David Richards from the University of Exeter opened the summer school with a discussion on the Medical Research Council (MRC) Complex Interventions Framework. Dr Ralph Mohler and later in the week Prof Ann Van Hecke gave the group an overview of the different ways to conduct systematic reviews. Other speakers included Dr Maria Horne who delved into qualitative methods and Prof Gunilla Borglin who taught our group about mixed method approaches to examining complex interventions. The first week finished with a series of presentations by Prof Helen Allan on how theoretical perspectives can inform our thinking. Our 35 strong research group, from sixteen different countries, also presented our individual PhD projects. It was really interesting to see the diversity of nursing topics and methods being used from feasibility and pilot studies, to interventions as part of RCTs and also projects exploring implementation, so the full spectrum of MRC complex intervention phases were being studied.

Although each day consisted of intensive workshops and seminars, we had our evenings free to explore the city and sample German delicacies. We tried out Sauerbraten and Bratwurst in the many outdoor restaurants in Halle and I found my all time favourite (and super cheap!) brand of sparkling wine called Rotkappchen a German brew that I would highly recommend. The Trocken variety is the nicest – yes I did sample them all with some of my nursing colleagues J. As the EANS summer school coincided with the Euro 2016 football tournament, we also frequented several local bars to watch the qualifiers and final game, which gave us the chance to try out many types of German beer. Prost! Zum Wohl!

The 2nd and 3rd year EANS summer school students joined us for the second week, as they had been through the programme in previous years and came to continue their training and keep up their networks and collaborations. Our series of lectures continued with Prof Walter Sermeus discussing process evaluations, Prof Sascha Kopke highlighting how to maximise recruitment and retention in clinical trials and Dr Caroline Bradbury-Jones who chatted to us about sampling methods and sample sizes in qualitative research. Some post-doctoral nursing researchers also offered us invaluable advice about how to survive during your PhD and what to do afterwards – which was great to hear. We also took part in scholarly debate, which was my first experience of ever debating in an academic environment – a little scary but we survived!! Thankfully it was a group effort, we had time to prepare our arguments against the motion that “There are no aspects of knowledge, research and practice that are completely unique to nursing” and I’m happy to say our side did very well and received the most votes AGAINST the motion, thanks to some coercive Twitter action, a little bit of very well placed propaganda and our well rehearsed speakers who could think on their feet.

We also enjoyed two keynote speakers Prof Dame Nicky Cullum, who spoke about key developments in wound care research over the last 20 years, and Prof Walter Seremus who presented the results of the RN4CAST European wide study looking at nurse staffing ratios and patient mortality in hospital which was published in The Lancet – yes THE LANCET!!. I can safely say that I have learned more about nursing research and nursing across Europe in those two weeks than I ever had before and given the aftermath of Brexit it was a nice reminder that Jo Cox was right when she said, “we have far more in common than that which divides us”. A European and indeed a global perspective is required in research to ensure we can learn lessons that improve how all societies function and the EANS summer school will enable me to do that in collaboration with my European friends and colleagues. I’m already looking forward to next year’s summer school in Malmo, Sweden where I will get to catch up with all my fellow nurses and hopefully learn new tips, tricks and contacts that will see me through my academic career.

You can find out more about the European Academy of Nursing Science and the annual summer schools that are run via their website: http://european-academy-of-nursing-science.com/event/eans-summer-school-2016/

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