Seizing the day (and the blog post)

I was recently reminded of the fact that at some point my NIHR doctoral research fellowship funding will finish. I am just shy of being half way through my PhD – I have just over two years left and after that I’ll be done. That seems like a long time but really the first 22 months have flown by so I am sure the next 26 months will too. I started thinking about my NIHR application around 2 years before I commenced my studies. Per se I should probably be starting to consider my  post PhD future around now.

I have a couple of friends who have just finished their NIHR fellowships. They have almost completed their PhDs (wow!) and are heading back to clinical roles. Their advice? Well they recommend seizing all the opportunities you have – going back to an old job can be tricky. But going back to an old job with new ideas, new skills and projects can enthuse, invigorate and rejuvenate you, your colleagues and your future research prospects. They have recommended I do this by seizing any opportunities offered on my PhD journey. On this journey there are many interesting and exciting opportunities – some rather scary and new. But their advice has been jump in.

The opportunities I have encountered have included networking with amazing people, speaking and presenting, attending conferences and training and blogging. There have been other opportunities too but I am going to focus on blogging for a second.

Now I do enjoy blogging. It took me a while but I’ve realised that my skills as a verbose speech and language therapist have translated quite well. And in fact have cascaded – creating new opportunities, spreading the word about my research and broadening my networks. This is a blog post I wrote for the NIHR:

For me blogging is about  writing as though I am having a conversation. It’s a very different style when compared to any other academic writing activity. I feel it is much less rule bound than many other types of writing. And yet people have asked me about how to do it. So I have jotted down a couple of tips:

  • To read a blog people need to stay hooked so write in a easy, accessible manner (by this I mean plain English, think about how you chat to your colleagues)
  • Don’t write too much most people can’t be bothered to scroll very far down
  • Apparently google is more likely to pick something up if there are more than 1,000 words in it- might be worth bearing in mind!
  • Include an image at the start- this can be included in any tweets and people are more likely to click through or look at an image on twitter (just make sure the image is labelled for non-commercial reuse or it is your image).
  • An image can summarise an idea in your blog and convey a key message (the old a picture can convey a thousand words theory)
  • If you are writing a guest blog check out other guest blogs on their site- I wouldn’t necessarily recommend referencing in a blog post but some sites may like a reference or two
  • It is important that you don’t give away the results of your research- these should be saved for peer reviewed publications- draw people in with other ideas or talk about processes. Tempt them and they may follow or look up your peer reviewed publications!
  • Blog regularly – then people will follow you more reliably. People like a routine.
  • Enjoy it! I quite like to think about what I will blog- it’s fun and you can chat about most things (carefully).

So seize the opportunity to expand your skills and happy blogging!



Please ask questions: Investigating your own future PhD ideas.

Doing a PhD is an interesting experience – not least because lots of people (including myself pre-starting to have any real interest in research) do not really know what it is! In fact I would say I didn’t really know how research worked and am still finding these things out. But since starting my PhD I have had a number of people asking the same questions, including:

“How are your assignments and exams going?” (There are none)

“Is your course longer than one year?” (Yes I am doing it part time for 4 years)

“Do you get a student discount?” (Yes in some shops!! yay)

“So what days do you actually work?” (My PhD IS my work- and I work Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and the occasional Wednesday)

“Who is paying you?” (The NIHR- the research arm of the Department of Health, and they pay my annual leave, sick leave and pension contributions)

“What about your clinical skills- do you miss patients?” (I remain HCPC registered and I am using clinical skills with research work with participants in my research: win-win!)

“Who’s idea was it?” (Eh mine- but it has evolved with advice from my supervisors)

These are actually all very valid questions.

I really feel there are a pool of potential researchers among the allied health professions who just don’t know much about how to get involved with research or even who to ask. And when I answer these questions they frequently lead to more questions. SLTs are often investigating their own options – they have great ideas and would love to realise them as a PhD! It can be valuable to share experiences to buoy others up to have a go. So many people gave me advice and I am always keen to pay it forward. I would always encourage SLTs to come along to the annual doctoral information session at UCL (just passed but keep an eye out on the RCSLT Bulletin mag in April/May next year). Also come along to an event at UCL- such as the Aphasia Research Group at UCL. This is a great place to network and meet academics. You will need to be supported by an academic who is somewhat interested in your project so they can support and advise you. This type of networking is key. The next Aphasia Research Group meeting is tomorrow at UCL from 3-5pm. Come along and hear some inspiring talks from research SLTs and network. They run 4 times a year and are free to attend. There are also opportunities to discuss any of your own budding ideas and get feedback at our regular research generator workshops:

On the other hand My friends and family are simply fascinated by this apparent torture (in their eyes) I have let myself in for! They are more likely to ask:

“You’ll be how old when you finish?” (FYI I won’t yet be 40 when I finish so I’ll be really really young still ok!!!!)

“Do you seriously think that a PhD is more flexible for childcare?” (Yes I do! I can make up my hours around my children’s needs and I don’t have to cancel patients so often when they get sick!)

“Are you actually really enjoying it?” (YES I really do love it! I am 21 months in and I still love it)

Do we have to call you Doctor Volkmer when you finish? (Eh YES! But not when there is an emergency hence I will not be using Dr on any airplane ticket purchases!)

These are also all valid questions: And YES seriously I do enjoy it- I feel incredibly lucky to be doing something I enjoy and I feel is going to make a difference to more people’s lives (I hope).