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  • Jan 07 / 2015
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The Profcast: Dr. Gozde Ozakinci

A new year, a new profcast! Today we’re talking to Dr. Gozde Ozakinci, Lecturer in Health Psychology at the University of St Andrews.

Why did you become an academic?

For me, it was a natural attraction. I liked being around people who were excited by ideas about how humans/animals ‘worked’. I also had the fortune of attending a beautiful university in Istanbul (http://www.boun.edu.tr/en_US). I just fell in love with the idea of teaching and doing research with enthusiastic and smart students  in a beautiful environment. And initially (like many psychology students I guess), I thought I’d also combine it with clinical psychology practice. I had done some volunteer research assistance in some labs in my university in health psychology. And I really liked it. But I was not ready to give up my ‘I want to be a therapist’ goal yet. But doubts were creeping in. So, after I finished my degree, I took a year out and went to Cardiff and spent a year in a psychiatric hospital as a community service volunteer. There were 6 of us there and we lived in the hospital too! Oh the stories I can tell but I’m digressing… And there I realised my passion for psychology was in the health domain and not in the clinical world.. I did an MSc  in health psychology at UCL and had the fortune of being supervised by Profs John Weinman and Charles Abraham. And the rest is history! Continue Reading

  • Dec 03 / 2014
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Academia, Katie Gallacher

Treatment burden: a new agenda for research across the globe

By Katie Gallacher:

Health care providers across the globe are facing one of their biggest challenges yet: the increasing volume of people with chronic disease, and the enormous proportion of those with multimorbidity (more than one long term condition). It seems however, that whilst trying to keep up with demands, governing bodies and policy makers have forgotten one important thing…the patient experience.  Continue Reading

  • Nov 12 / 2014
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The Profcast: Dr. Jason Gill

In this week’s Profcast, Dr. Jason Gill, Professor of Cardiometabolic Health at the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences at the University of Glasgow answers our questions…

Why did you become an academic?

I was fascinated by science at school and loved the concept of doing an experiment to find the answer to a question.  It seemed much more interesting than just learning something from a book.  So, from a pretty early age I had a vague idea that I would like a career in ‘research’ but I was not really sure what that meant in practice.  But I guess I am a somewhat ‘accidental academic’.  I was reasonably good at triathlon when I was young (competed at the World Championships as a Junior) and went to Loughborough University to study Physics and Sports Science, largely because of its sporting reputation. I trained two or three times per day throughout most of my time at university and would, on occasion, be leaving to go training as some of my fellow students would be coming home from the night before.  Being at university was a convenient way to essentially be a full-time athlete with a bit of studying on the side. But in my final year of my undergraduate degree, I realised that I was not really talented enough to compete at the highest level, so ‘retired’ from competitive sport and found that I suddenly had loads of time on my hands.  I turned the time and effort that I had been putting to training to focusing on my studies and ended up getting a First in my degree.  Because I of this, I was lucky enough to receive a scholarship to do an MSc (this was in the days that these still existed).  I had nothing better to do, so thought why not spend another year as a student.  During my MSc project, on the effects of exercise on lipoprotein metabolism, I realised that this was really what I wanted to do with my life, so my project supervisor, Prof Adrianne Hardman, and I submitted a PhD studentship application to the BHF to continue this work.  The application was successful, and three years later I had my PhD.  I then came to Glasgow for my first post-doc job in 2000 and the rest was history….  Continue Reading

  • Nov 05 / 2014
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Current Affairs, Uduak Ntuk

Ebola is a global affair

By Uduak Ntuk:

The 2014 Ebola epidemic has compelled the world to see the fragility of the overall global health system. It is the worst Ebola epidemic to date with nearly 5,000 deaths reported in west Africa’s Liberia Sierra Leone and Guinea, and the death toll keeps rising1,2. Sporadic cases in Mali and the USA have also been recorded. The recent case fatalities in the United States and Spain sadly bring home the truth that viruses do not respect national territories and that ‘when danger lurks somewhere then there is danger everywhere’. It is thus imperative that in dealing with issues like this, prompt proactive global measures are taken.

Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) is characterised by a constellation of signs and symptoms beginning with fever and progressing to diarrhea, vomiting and in a subgroup of patients, hemorrhage3. Human transmission of Ebola is through direct contact with blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people and with surfaces and materials such as beddings, clothing contaminated with these fluids2.  In addition to its health impact on society, it has an overwhelming impact on the economies of the affected countries4.

Several research studies are underway to understand the clinical illness and epidemiological impact of Ebola. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM)5 showed that in addition to clinical characteristics and demographic factors, age is an important determinant of disease mortality. Patients under 21 years have a lower case fatality rate than those over the age of 45 years. According to the WHO, trials of Ebola vaccines are to start in December this year following discussions at a high-level meeting on accelerating testing and production, with plans to dispense vaccines in 20156. This decision comes amid a growing realisation that vaccines could play an important part in halting the current epidemic in West Africa.

There is hope that the fight against Ebola can be won. First Senegal and then Nigeria have been declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organisation1. As a Nigerian I feel proud to hear such compliments. Apart from the global respect Nigeria has won for herself in fighting Ebola, it also shows the brave leadership, commitment to ingenuity, courage and sacrifice in the line of duty of the Nigerian people. Such success helps to overcome criticisms of corruption and incompetence that West African governments are often labelled with. But the fight against Ebola in Nigeria wasn’t won with conferences or public relations talks; it took massive efforts to quarantine those infected, and monitor all of their contacts, until the spread of the virus was contained. What then are the other West African countries not doing right to combat Ebola? Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia have very weak health systems, lacking human and infrastructural resources and call for support has been given high priority.

The bulk of the human and financial resources being deployed across the epicentre of this outbreak come from Western nations and very few resources have been deployed from sister African countries, which is very disheartening.

The recent issue of whether to quarantine health care workers, returning to their home countries has also been a topic of huge debate. From a public health perspective, the idea of placing primary contacts under relaxed medical surveillance that depends on self-reporting and individual cooperation may comply with respect for individual rights but it appears to be difficult to manage. Perhaps it may be necessary to still adhere strictly to full quarantine even in instances where the primary contacts of index cases are minimal and manageable, and Individuals may be encouraged with different forms of incentives and remuneration for them for the period of their confinement. This may turn out to be be far cheaper and easier than frantically searching for contacts, such as passengers on flights, when a primary contact breaks self surveillance.

How do you think we can handle quarantine in a different way?  Do you think treatment given to health care workers with primary contact with cases is an infringement of their human rights?  I would love to hear your opinion!


  1. World Health Organisation. Ebola response roadmap situation report. Available from http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/137424/1/roadmapsitrep_31Oct2014_eng.pdf?ua=1 .Accessed 4 November 2014
  2. Breman JG, Johnson KM. Ebola Then and Now. N Engl J Med 2014; 371:1663-1666.DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp1410540
  3. World Health Organisation. Ebola virus disearse. Available from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs103/en/. Accessed 29 October, 2014
  4. BBC . Ebola crisis: The economic impact. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-28865434. Accessed 27 October, 2014
  5. Schieffelin JS, Jeffery GS, Goba A, Gbakie M, Gire SK, Colubri A , et al . Clinical illness and outcome in patients with Ebola in Sierra Leone. N Engl J Med; October 29, 2014. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1411680
  6. World Health Organisation. WHO convenes industry leaders and key partners to discuss trials and production of Ebola vaccine. Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2014/ebola-vaccines-production/en/. Accessed 29 October, 2014.
  • Oct 29 / 2014
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The Profcast: Professor Ronan O’Carroll

The IHAWKES are excited to post the first blog in our brand new series, the Profcast! Today, Ronan O’Carroll, Professor of Psychology at Stirling University answers our questions on life as an academic. We hope you enjoy it.

Why did you become an academic?

I initially wanted to be a Clinical Psychologist and it was hard to get on a training course, so I studied for a PhD, purely as a means of increasing my chances of getting a Clinical training place. I applied for a PhD studentship in the MRC Brain Metabolism Unit in Edinburgh, entitled “The behavioural effects of androgens in men”. We conducted a number of placebo‐ controlled studies investigating the effects of testosterone on mood, sexuality and aggression in men. I was fortunate enough to be awarded the Kinsey Institute international PhD dissertation prize in 1984. This came with a $1,000 prize, which I recall was particularly welcome at the time, as my wife and I desperately needed to buy a bath to replace a shower as we had just had our first baby. I really enjoyed my PhD studies. After I qualified as a Clinical Psychologist, I worked for a couple of the years in the NHS adult mental health services, but I realised that I didn’t want to be doing CBT from 9-5.30pm, 5 days per week. I saw an advert for a job working in a University in Canada helping to run a Clinical Psychology training programme, applied for that, and have been in academia ever since. However, I still do clinical work, 1 session per week, and I really enjoy it. Continue Reading

  • Oct 08 / 2014
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Academia, Siobhán O’Connor

Getting over that scholarship hump. You’re too busy? Please apply, here’s why!

By Siobhán O’Connor:

You may wonder as a busy PhD student why you should spend your precious time applying for postgraduate scholarships. You no doubt have a million and one deadlines, a growing stack of articles to read, and a very rough draft of a paper you swore you’d finish weeks ago. However if you have an interest in public health here are my top 10 reasons why you should apply for a Young Forum Gastein (YFG) scholarship.

  1. The YFG scholarship is much more than a travel bursary to attend the European Health Forum Gastein (http://www.ehfg.org/) conference. It also incorporates a jam-packed programme that enables you to interact with over 70 other Young Gasteiners. These scholars are a diverse mix of researchers, policy advisors, economists, doctors, nurses and many other clinicians from all across Europe, who are working in public health. They are eager to share their knowledge and experiences with you which are invaluable to a fledgling researcher.
  2. As the YFG scholarship is jointly sponsored by the International Forum Gastein, the European Commission and the World Health Organisation (WHO), the speakers and delegates at the EHFG conference are senior academics, researchers and policy analysts as well as Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), senior staff from the European Commission, the WHO, industry, and patient organisations. Making these types of contacts at an early stage in your career can give you many more options in the future and help you realise that there is life after your PhD!
  3. Although I have a particular interest in digital health and lapped up the two sessions on eHealth, there is a broad range of public health topics covered. I gained just as much from attending sessions about public health leadership, personalized medicine, and EU health policy to name a few as they gave me new perspectives from which to view my own research. Whatever your area you will find something that intrigues and inspires you.
  4. This forum is also a great way to promote our own research, as there is an opportunity to present a poster. Although only a few are selected, it is worth submitting an abstract as it’s a great experience. You get to practice your presentation and communication skills, and the feedback can really enhance your research.
  5. Getting involved in a working group in another option where you can participate in writing blogs on conference proceedings, interviewing senior attendees, or contributing articles to the daily newsletter. Each working group also debates upcoming EU law such as the new Cross-Border Healthcare Directive. This is a great way to boost your confidence and help improve your written and oral communication skills.
  6. One element of the Young Gastein experience I really valued was the personalised mentoring session. I was lucky to be paired with Professor José Martín-Moreno, a professor of preventative medicine and public health at the University of Valencia. To say he crammed in as much career advice and guidance as possible in an hour is an understatement and it will definitely help to shape my future career choices.
  7. We also received a series of specialised careers talks; one from the WHO, the second from the European Commission, and the third from two public health consultancy firms. They all shared insights into their current roles, discuss how they progressed throughout their careers and outlined the skills that were needed in their professions. A frank Q&A session helped to us to gain an understanding of the pros and cons associated with these careers.
  8. For those of us with burning questions on how the new European parliament is going to tackle public health challenges, we got our questions answered at a one-to-one interview with the newly appointed EU Commissioner-designate for Health and Food Safety, Dr Vytenis Andriukaitis. We were able to pose any question or make a recommendation on what Europe should focus on until 2020. If you have a point to get across then this is the forum to do it.
  9. If you’ve very adventurous then you could also get the opportunity to practice your literary skills, by writing a poem which is broadcast live at the end of the conference, or participate in a video documentary which is available online. And don’t forget to tweet, tweet, tweet – a Young Gasteiner life skill that you will perfect throughout the week!
  10. And of course last but not least being a YFG scholar also means you get to visit beautiful Austria, where you can join early morning hikes into the Alpine mountains, practice yoga at sunrise, relax in the indoor saunas (warning ** these have nudist areas**), spend a day pottering around Salzberg, or try out local brews, gulasch, schnitzel, apfelstrudel and other delicacies. The list is literally endless!

If you are interested in applying check out the website at: http://www.ehfg.org/young-gastein.html or Twitter feed @YoungGasteiners.

Young Forum Gastein Scholars 2014
Young Forum Gastein Scholars 2014
  • Oct 03 / 2014
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Starting your PhD: A view from the summit!

So, you’ve made the decision – and it’s a big one – to do a PhD. One or two people will now play a big role in your life for the next few years – your supervisor(s). And – if you feel a bit daunted and unsure of how that relationship will develop, your supervisor probably feels the same way!

You can Google “What is a good PhD supervisor?” and you’ll find a lot of articles. Or – my own favourite – you can go to Jorge Cham’s PhD cartoon strip. But, the supervisor there is male and bearded and I am neither – honest. So, drawing on my own (fairly long ago!!) experience of being a PhD student and of supervising a fair number of (I’m pleased to say) successful PhD students, here are my 10 tips.

1. Don’t be shy.

Initially you and your supervisor need to lay out some ground rules about meeting – frequency; content; expectations. I tend to see my student once a week, at least during the first year – that gives us all flexibility. But, as you move into the second year we may meet less frequently – you will have a plan and be getting on with it. Weekly meetings might be a disruption. You need to decide what suits you – and tell me. But, if you need to ask me something, I should be contactable – if not in person, at least by email. So, don’t be shy about contacting your supervisor and agreeing a way of working that you are both happy with.

2. You’re not the only one in my life!

This brings me to the next really important truth – your PhD will probably become all-important in your life (especially if you are full-time). However – you are one of many activities for your supervisor. This doesn’t mean that you aren’t important or they don’t care, but you will be one of many competing priorities. So – you might not get an immediate response to your email. If you need a quick reply, chase me. But try to judge when to chase and when to wait. HOWEVER ….

3. It’s OK to make me wait.

One of the problems for an academic is that our sense of work-life balance is terrible!! So, we might decide to reply to your email – or send a request – at midnight, or on a Sunday, or any other really stupid time! The sensible supervisor DOES NOT expect a reply then. If they do, they’re wrong (unless you have pre-arranged it for a very good reason). So, it’s OK to make me wait.

4. Teach me new things.

Supervisors – believe it or not – don’t know everything. So, if you find a really interesting paper, a new theoretical approach or a research approach that might be useful – tell me about it. Chances are it’s passed me by. Likewise, I will try to do the same for you.

5. It’s your PhD.

I might have had the original idea – or you might have come to me with the PhD idea. Either way, it’s your PhD. My job should be to steer you away from the inappropriate, the wacky or the plain non-starter. It shouldn’t be to stop you doing something, just because I haven’t thought of it – but you will need to convince me.

6. It’s a training process.

Sure, getting academic papers is great (for you and me) – but you also want to get the training that can take you on into the work of academic research (if you want) or into other areas. So we should always be thinking and talking about that too.

7. Please, please, please write …..

I will try to get you writing from early on in your PhD – sections for chapters, protocols, a thesis skeleton. Lots of people HATE doing that. Couple that to the fact that PhD students are pretty high achievers and self-critical and ….. you can’t hand in a piece of writing that isn’t “finished”. Guess what – supervisors are just the same when they write their own papers. So, we understand that feeling. But, the point is – if you do find writing a challenge, much better to come to it early. Then you and I can work on it together. (Though, going back to point two – remember to give me time. A deadline helps here!)

8. I’m your first port of call (I hope).

A PhD can be a long and hard road. There is plenty written about the toll that doing a PhD can exact on people – both physical and mental. So, if you are finding it over-whelming ….. please come and talk to me. The more experienced a supervisor is, the greater the chance they have heard this before and know how to help you, or point you in the direction of help.

9. If I’m not your first port of call (or if I’m the problem)….

Talk to others – fellow students, student advisory service, advisors/reviewers or (at Glasgow) your Postgraduate Convenor. But mainly, talk to someone….

For me, supervising PhD students is akin to having kids! You start new to the whole, extended research process of a PhD and need a lot of support. But slowly, steadily, you develop and find your feet and confidence. And in time – it’s the best feeling in the academic world to stand as a supervisor and see your students graduate and take off into the wider world.

Oh, and before I forget:

10. Bake

I seem to have a bunch of very talented bakers …… just saying!!

Good luck.

Kate O’Donnell is Professor of Primary Care Research and Development, in the Department of General Practice and Primary Care, University of Glasgow. She is also the outgoing postgraduate convener for the Institute of Health and Wellbeing and supervisor to more than one of the IHAWKES bloggers. You can follow her on twitter @odo_kate.

  • Oct 03 / 2014
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Starting your PhD: Views from the foothills…

Congratulations! You’re starting your PhD. Right now you are probably feeling swept away on a wave of excitement and shiny new stationary, but you may also be feeling a bit nervous and wondering, so…what now?

We asked our intrepid team of IHAWKES PhD bloggers, five things they had wondered when they were taking their first tentative steps into PhDhood.

1. Reading: There’s so much to do, how can I keep up with it and how do I know if I’m doing enough?

Olivia: There will always be another new paper to read and it can be really hard to keep up. Why not set up search alerts on Web of Knowledge for key words or important authors in the area. That way, the information comes to you!

David: You will also stay ‘current’ by speaking to colleagues, following key authors on Twitter, and attending relevant conferences.

Matt: Try to do 30 minutes a day or a couple of hours a week on Google Scholar or another relevant digital library. It doesn’t need to be a systematic search but you will gradually accumulate a lot of knowledge.

2. I was always one of those last minute people during my undergraduate/masters degree. Can I still wing it?

Anna: It’s going to be impossible to do that with a PhD – it’s a pretty large piece of work! If you’re someone who tends to leave things until the last minute it might be useful to set up a series of deadlines to make sure you’re keeping on track.

Matt: The difference between PhDs and UG/masters degrees is that there often aren’t clear deadlines. As long as you set these for yourself and stick to them then doing it last minute can work.

David: Hmmm… in a word, no! A PhD is very much your own – you will get out what you put in. If you try to ‘wing it’, you are unlikely to come away with a PhD at the end of the day.

3. How many hours a day should I work?

David: Get into good habits of working on your PhD even if you don’t feel at your most creative – you can also do more administrative or process-based tasks until that creative spark returns

Anna: There are always going to be times when you end up working late into the evening, or over the weekend. However, the more you can treat your PhD like it’s a job, the more chance you’ll have of maintaining a social life and feeling like you’re being productive.

Olivia: The key thing really is sustainability- you may be pulling 10 hour days now and flying through your work, but in 2 weeks time, will you be flat on your face? It’s also about productivity too: do you ‘work’ for 7 hours a day, but only really produce anything for 5 hours? Ditch the extra 2 hours and do something else.

4. Should I come to the office every day? I hear lots of people do this working from home lark.

Rosie: This might need to be negotiated with your supervisor. Generally you should work wherever you will be most productive but don’t forget that an office environment can also provide social support from other students.

David: There are pros and cons (mainly various distractions) to both. Many people find being flexible – perhaps working at home one day a week – is the best approach.

Matt: At first, it might help to go into the office to give yourself a routine. After a while though you should have the drive to complete the tasks you’ve set – you’ll be able to sit at your laptop for hours at home, leaving The Wire boxset untouched!

5. Should I ‘manage’ my supervisor?

Rosie: Yes. Set out your expectations of them from day one, and ask them directly for their expectations of you. Write these down and make a formal agreement but revisit this if things change.

David: It’s good if you can write an agenda for your meetings and email it to your supervisors beforehand. Similarly, it’s a good habit to circulate minutes of your meetings afterwards, for your records but also to check you’re all on the same page.

Olivia: I would say learn your supervisors, rather than manage them. Do you get a faster response if you email them first thing in the morning? Is the decision making process smoother if you give your supervisor a list of possible options?

Whilst we really hope some of these pointers are helpful to you as you set out on your PhD journey, we know that the internet is awash with advice about the best way to keep up with reading or the best way to organise your writing. The true secret? There is no one PhD ring to rule them all; it’s about what works for you and finding your own best way of doing things. Oh, and asking the final year buried under a mound of paper in the corner, they’re a goldmine of information! Good luck!

Anna, David, Matt, Olivia and Rosie are all PhD students within the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow. They blog at IHAWKES about research and methodology, health-related current affairs and the PhD experience.

  • Sep 24 / 2014
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Katie Gallacher, Methods

Building Bridges in Qualitative Research

By Katie Gallacher:

The late John Donne famously said “No man is an island”. However can we say the same of our research projects? In relation to quantitative research, we probably can. Systematic review has become the “gold standard” method of research used to inform national policies and guidelines. This is widely accepted as a method of synthesis for quantitative research, but finding an equivalent for qualitative studies has been more controversial. As part of my PhD, I have endeavoured to carry out a systematic review of qualitative studies, fully aware there is still widespread debate about whether this is an appropriate or worthwhile task (and I certainly found it no mean feat!).  

Renowned qualitative researchers Glaser and Strauss warned in their early work that the continued failure to link local grounded theories into larger formal theories would relegate the findings of individual studies to “little islands of knowledge” which may never be utilised if kept in separation. So should we start to build bridges between these islands in order to encourage policy makers to use qualitative research in their decision making?  Would this help us ‘keep up’ with our quantitative neighbours? Or does the synthesis of qualitative work simply destroy the underlying principles of this type of research? Any thoughts on this by readers would be greatly appreciated!

In a nutshell, quantitative research is generally associated with a realist positivist stance, which assumes that knowledge is objective and true and accessible through what can be observed.  This is the customary stance taken by those carrying out a systematic review, the typical purpose of which is to summarise the findings of available studies to estimate the ‘true’ answer to a particular research question. Qualitative work has strong links with interpretivism rather than positivism. This assumes that there are multiple realities, and that knowledge is a socially produced construct, making truly interpretivist approaches deeply cynical of any one coherent theory as a singular explanation of phenomena. As you can imagine, holding this viewpoint makes the synthesis of studies challenging, as if there is no ‘truth’ to be discovered, only a collection of different stories that all have their own truths, then synthesis would be pointless and would destroy the integrity of individual projects. Sandelowski eloquently states “Just as it goes against the nature of poetry to attempt to summarize even one poem about love, so it seems both epistemologically and ethically inappropriate to attempt to summarize findings from one or more qualitative studies about human experiences of health and illness”.

I hold the opinion, similar to others before me, that by synthesising qualitative studies, it is possible to generate more powerful theory, and that by not doing so we risk isolation from policy makers and clinicians. I am an academic GP carrying out a PhD which examines the experiences of those who have had a stroke, and I believe that the synthesis of qualitative research can add to our knowledge of how individuals experience healthcare, and how we can improve their interactions with healthcare providers. I understand that not all patients have the same experience, and that caution should be exerted when making generalisations. But with enough knowledge about the sample being researched, and with enough transparency in reporting by qualitative researchers, I believe that synthesis is possible, and in fact, important. So, I guess my stance is that of a ‘modified’ or ‘critical’ realist, with sensitivity to the heterogeneous nature of the studies involved, and with the appreciation that what I seek to understand is a variety of representations of the reality of living with stroke. Are there any other modified realists out there? Or indeed any realists or interpretivists who would like to challenge my viewpoint?

Even for those who feel that synthesis is possible, the best method remains under debate, with a plethora of choices available. This could be viewed as inspiring or infuriating, either way it is certainly a demonstration of how popular this type of research is becoming. As is the case with all good research, the correct method is no doubt heavily reliant on the individual research question and underlying assumptions. One thing is for certain: the increasing numbers of qualitative studies and their use in informing health policy has undoubtedly led to a demand for the appraisal and synthesis of this type of research, and this has to be a good thing. So let’s continue to build bridges!