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Posts Categorized / Olivia Kirtley

  • Mar 23 / 2016
  • 1
Academia, Olivia Kirtley

We need to talk about the ‘hum’

Photo by Sergey Zolkin ©. Unsplash. Used with permission.

By Olivia Kirtley:

Recently, I watched a superb TED talk by doyenne of Primetime TV, Shonda Rhimes. In the talk she discusses ‘the hum’; this sense of perpetual drive, passion and industriousness. She loves the hum, she is the hum. One day, the hum stops. She feels restless, exhausted, disconsolate and, in a sense, grieving for the loss of joy in her work. Unlike many episodes of Grey’s Anatomy however, this story has a happy ending. Shonda takes a breath, she plays with her children, she keeps putting one foot in front of the other, and one day, the hum returns. She had a dip, a temporary period of being lost in the wilderness, then once rested and restored, she returns to her path. Continue Reading

  • Feb 17 / 2016
  • 0
Academia, Olivia Kirtley

Out of Office: Can leaving our desks boost our research and wellbeing?

Photo by Aleksi Tappura ©. Unsplash. Used with permission.

By Olivia Kirtley:

At the risk of sounding as though I am already penning my memoirs less than a month after my viva, most of the moments of academic serendipity in my career so far have not been during supervision meetings or whilst writing papers, but instead over coffee, drinks, dinners, and more recently, also on Twitter. I would even go as far as to say that the most magical moments of academia-the knitting together pieces of complex puzzles, of meeting people whose ideas set one bubbling with excitement- don’t actually happen in the office. Continue Reading

  • Jul 29 / 2015
  • 0
Olivia Kirtley, PhD Experience

Lions and tigers and theses! Oh my!

By Olivia Kirtley:

Blog posts and advice columns about writing your thesis abound and the vast majority speak about it with great reverence; it isn’t just a thesis, it’s “The Thesis”, “The Big Book”, the Goliath to your David, the magnum opus of the last 3 or 4 years of your life. The thesis as a portrait of academic Herculean struggle can strike fear into the hearts of many PhD students. It feels like an unknown, a dark forest with lions and tigers and bears, but perhaps writing your thesis isn’t as scary as it first sounds?

Continue Reading

  • Feb 11 / 2015
  • 1
Methods, Olivia Kirtley

So you want to go systematic? Three points to prevent you weeping into your keyboard

By Olivia Kirtley:

Conducting a systematic review has become somewhat of a rite of passage for PhD students.  Systematic reviews can sometimes get a bad press for being “boring” or “unwieldy”, but have the potential to provide critical insight into the state of an area of knowledge as we know it (or think we know it).  Often in the cold light of a systematic review, things that we thought were fact are revealed to be spurious.  Doing a systematic review is no mean feat however, from either a logistical or an academic perspective. Based on my own experiences of conducting a narrative systematic review, here are a few pointers to consider:

  • How many hits did I take again?

One of the most important things when conducting a systematic review is to be organised and keep copious detailed notes of every tiny little thing you have done.  And I really do mean everythingThis is a great excuse to go and buy yourself a nice new notebook or set up a shiny new Excel sheet to log everything you do.

Things you will want to keep notes on:

  • Your search terms (e.g. self-harm, suicid*)
  • The dates you conducted your database searches
  • Which databases you used, e.g. PsycINFO, Medline, PubMed
  • How many hits you got from each
  • The exact format in which you entered your search terms into each database (we’ll come back to this in a minute)

In addition to these notes, you should fill out (and include in your review) a PRISMA flow diagram.  PRISMA provides best-practice guidelines for conducting your review or meta-analysis, from producing an accurate, replicable search methodology, to what kind of things your review should cover.

Create an account within the databases you use, so that you can save your searches.  This will save you countless hours of trying to remember the exact format that you used to enter your search terms if your search times out or you end up having to update your review at some point.  Trust me on this! 🙂

You will also want to use some form of reference management software (e.g Endnote), so that you can transfer all of your search hits (not just the ones you think are relevant, that comes later!) to a place where they will not change, disappear or time-out if you get a phone call or start reading PhD Comics.

  • This is not a magnum opus.

You’ve read every single one of these X studies a hundred times and you know them inside out.  If someone asked you how many participants ate breakfast on the morning of the study in Bloggs et al (2014), you could tell them and also say how many sugars they each had in their coffee.  You want to show everyone that you know all of this information. Don’t.  This is a systematic review, not a magnum opus.  It is not supposed to be an all-you-can-eat buffet of details about each study, it is a finely curated set menu which only includes certain, relevant details that are specific to your research questions.

Leading onto the last point, which is…

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Systematic reviews are usually longer than other types of papers, but this does not issue you with an automatic licence to bore the socks off people or for lazy (or even zero) editing.  Just as you would do with an empirical article, always ensure you trim the fat; keep the paper as lean as possible and make sure that your take home messages come through loud and clear.  Your systematic review should not be a 50 page list or read like a bibliography.  Even though you are looking at previous work, the insights and conclusions you arrive at should be new, interesting and move the area forward.  This type of paper is about synthesis, not repetition.

As that great orator, Dr Kelso, once said “nothing in this world worth having comes easy”.  Doing a systematic review can be tough, but you will get there!  It is a great learning process and a fantastic opportunity to develop detailed expertise in your area.  Who knows?  Maybe your new insights could provide the platform for a quantum leap in your field!

Do you have any top tips for conducting systematic reviews? We’d love to hear them in the comments or on our Twitter feed @IHAWKES1.

  • Sep 10 / 2014
  • 2
Current Affairs, Olivia Kirtley

Suicide Prevention: We Need Everyone

By Olivia Kirtley

 

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.  Last week the World Health Organization (WHO) released the first ever World Suicide Report, showing that around 800,000 people die by suicide each year.  In fact, around the world, one person will die by suicide every 40 seconds, which means in the time it’s taken me to write these few sentences, around 14 people have taken their own lives.  Every mortality statistic in suicide research represents many personal tragedies.  Sometimes I find the sheer scale of the task in front of us, as suicide researchers, overwhelming.  But all around the world, people are doing something to try and reduce suicide.

The sad death of Robin Williams last month prompted an outpouring of tributes and stories of people’s favourite memories of him.  One of the things I remember Robin Williams for the most, is his role as inspirational teacher Mr Keating in the Dead Poets Society.  In one scene, he stands on his desk and asks his students why he is doing this.  He says: “I stand on my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.”  I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote recently and how if we’re going to reduce suicides, we need to look at suicide in a different way.

A different way of looking at suicide is something highlighted in several recent journal articles (Glenn & Nock, 2014; Klonsky & May, 2014; O’Connor & Nock, 2014): we need to become better at working out what’s different between people who think about suicide, without acting, and those who actually translate those thoughts into actions.  This is one of the main aims of the Suicidal Behaviour Research Laboratory (SBRL) here at the University of Glasgow.  We do research using experimental and self-report methods to try and work out what some of these differences may be, because once we know, we can develop interventions to try and stop suicidal thoughts from becoming suicide attempts.  But we know that one size does not fit all, so we also need to think about which risk factors are specific to the individual.

Researchers are not the only ones trying to look at suicide in a different way.  New York photographer Dese’Rae L. Stage is working on a remarkable project called Live Through This, which pairs the stories of suicide survivors along with a photographic portrait of the person and for a topic such as suicide, this is completely groundbreaking.  Suicide is too often the stigmatising preserve of hushed voices and side-ways glances and those who have attempted suicide face that stigma also.  Live Through This is a quantum leap in the fight against stigma and shows that people who attempt to end their lives are regular people like you and me.

Why is this important?  Because sometimes for a really big task, like trying to reduce suicides, research is not enough on its own.  We need people to give faces and voices to those who have thought about and attempted suicide, to research potential causes and interventions for suicidal behaviour, to translate that research into policy change, to implement these changes into our healthcare and education services and to share their own stories and experiences of survivorship and bereavement.  The theme for this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day is “Suicide Prevention: One World Connected”, so carpe diem!  Do something today to help prevent suicide.  We need all the help that we can get.  We need everyone.

How do you think we can look at suicide in a different way?  Do you feel like your research area requires a global “group effort”?  IHAWKES would love to hear from you.  Please leave comments below.

  • Jun 03 / 2014
  • 1
Current Research, Olivia Kirtley

Sensitivity and Sensationalism: Media Reporting of Suicide and the Science of Why it Matters.

By Olivia Kirtley:

I am currently the IHAWKES roving reporter at Columbia University, New York City.  Just one of the many intriguing pieces of research to come out of Columbia Psychiatry recently, is a Lancet Psychiatry article by Professor Madelyn Gould and other colleagues from Dartmouth College and Tufts University, looking at how the reporting of suicide in newspapers may be involved in teenage suicide clusters.  Point clusters of suicides are when a higher than expected number of suicides occur within a shorter than average time period, e.g. a week or a year; and/or in a similar space, such as within an individual school, or town (Mesoudi, 2009).

Gould et al’s study looked at all suicide clusters that occurred in 13-20 year olds in the US, from 1988-1996, and matched them to other non-clustered suicides.  The researchers then examined newspapers that were published after the index cluster or non-cluster suicide from each area where suicides occurred, and searched for stories relating to suicide, e.g. a headline including “suicide” or another word/phrase suggesting a person had taken their own life.

Findings show that in areas where cluster suicides occurred, there were significantly more news stories published about suicide than in areas where the index suicide was not followed by another death.  These news stories were also more likely to be front-page news, give more details about the individual and the method of suicide and also to use sensationalist headlines containing the word suicide or the method used.  Crucially, subsequent suicide deaths were specifically associated with stories about suicidal individuals rather than with general stories that included suicide related content.  Whilst the findings from this study do not demonstrate that overly explicit and detailed news reporting about individuals who die by suicide causes subsequent suicides, it does show an association.  The authors urge caution, however, as suicide is complex and usually involves many different factors, of which exposure to news stories may only be one.

Indeed, not all suicides are reported in the media.  What is it about one suicide relative to another that makes it newsworthy? Another recent study by Machlin, Pirkis and Spittal (2013) from the University of Melbourne, investigated the characteristics of suicides that were reported in the press and whether or not these suicides had specific features which may have made them more likely to hit the headlines.  They looked at data on suicides collected by the National Coroners Information System and also radio, TV and newspaper reports that included the word suicide which occurred from 2006-2007.  Suicides reported in the media were significantly more likely to be those of younger people (29 years or younger), to involve violent methods (e.g.,firearms) or to occur in an institutional setting (e.g., a hospital).  In addition to potentially leading to copycat suicides, sensationalist reporting of suicides in the media can also affect how the public understands suicide, maybe leading to the idea that particular groups of people are the only ones at risk of suicide.

This research highlights the critical importance of sensitively reporting suicide in the media and the crucial role the media has to play in suicide prevention.  There are both national and international guidelines for media reporting of suicide, including from from the Samaritans in the UK and the International Association for Suicide Prevention and World Health Organization internationally.  The guidelines advise against giving detailed descriptions of the method that a person has used to kill themselves or the location of the death, as this could provide a “how to guide” for someone who is vulnerable and considering ending their life.  The media guidelines for suicide reporting are supported by a wealth of scientific evidence and are intended not as bureaucratic red tape or media censorship, but quite simply, to save lives.

References:

Gould, M. S., Kleinman, M. H., Lake, A. M., Forman, J., & Bassett Midle, J. (2014). Newspaper coverage of suicide and initiation of suicide clusters in teenagers in the USA, 1988—96: a retrospective, population-based, case-control study. Lancet Psychiatry. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1016/S2215-0366(14)70225-1

International Association of Suicide Prevention & World Health Organization.  (2008). Preventing Suicide: A Guide for Media Professionals.  Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/resource_media.pdf

Machlin, A., Pirkis, J., & Spittal, M. J. (2013). Which Suicides Are Reported in the Media – and What Makes Them “Newsworthy”? Crisis, 34(5), 305–313. doi:10.1027/0227-5910/a000177

Mesoudi, A. (2009). The Cultural Dynamics of Copycat Suicide. PLoS ONE, 4(9), e7252. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0007252

Samaritans. (2014). Media Guidelines for the Reporting of Suicide.  Retrieved from http://www.samaritans.org/media-centre/media-guidelines-reporting-suicide