The motivations, ambitions, concerns and creativity of a collaborative bunch of first-year PhD candidates were shared during a recent week of high-energy, high-impact guest tweeting for Croakey’s rotated Twitter account, @WePublicHealth, using the hashtag #PhDvoices.
Don’t miss the wide-ranging discussions below, from Penelope Smith, Toya Ricci, Libby Richardson and Erin Fitzpatrick. Topics include cultural safety in the health workforce, the history of sexual pleasure, homelessness among women in the perinatal period, and systems thinking in public health.
Penelope Smith tweets:
Before I begin tweeting for #PhDVoices, I would like to acknowledge that this week I will be tweeting from lutruwita. I arrived on this land five days ago from Naarm. I am grateful to the community of this special place, the place where my mother and Aunt were born.
Earlier this year I spent time reading Dr Andrew Gall’s PhD about digitally preserving lutruwita seashells. This important PhD enabled me to deepen my knowledge and understanding in unexpected ways, challenged me appropriately before I lived here.
@toyaricci @libheric @erin_k_f and I are excited, definitely nervous about hosting @WePublicHealth to share about our own PhDs and to discuss, reflect, share and perhaps cause a little trouble about PhDs in general, using the hashtag #PhDVoices.
I am starting my PhD: Learning from non-Indigenous health professionals of colour in Tasmania about culturally safe and responsive healthcare.
The personal angle for me of the topic as a non Indigenous person of colour, #SettlerOfColour, was an important part of deciding to apply for the PhD opportunity – it was also potentially dangerous for my wellbeing – in the short term (should I not be accepted) and the long term.
The relationship between one’s identity, the focus of the PhD, and the impact on mental health is an obvious connection that I was well aware of outside of myself. However, as I was disconnected from my own cultural identity, I was not and continue to be not appropriately prepared.
I have realised how invested I am in my topic: I think this investment is important to talk about when you apply for a PhD in this manner.
Toya Ricci tweets:
I am tweeting from the lands of the Wurundjeri. As a sexologist I think acknowledgement is particularly important as there are many ways of being with sex that have been forgotten.
I am so excited to be working on the history of sexual pleasure, the effects of colonialism and how we can remember pre-contact ways of being with sexual pleasure as a way to connect with modern sexual health and wellbeing. So how did I get here?
My PhD path was non-linear. I studied psychology and creative arts therapy then spent many years working in graphic design and multimedia production. I truly love the creative process. As a side project I began to wonder how creativity and sex could come together
I wanted to start a podcast at the intersection sex, history, art and culture. I became so hooked on the research that when a friend casually suggested I might as well be doing a masters, I took the suggestion seriously and enrolled for the Master of Sexology at Curtin University.
When I started my masters, I knew that I had found my groove! (with a passion for learning and a passion for research).
All of my professional and life experience suddenly made sense. When I completed my thesis on sexual attraction to intelligence and I knew I wanted more.
I connected with my gem of an advisor Matthew Klugman @Raw_Toast at Victoria University, and was thrilled to be accepted for PhD candidature. It’s still early days – I am equal parts exuberant and terrified, but it is an honour to explore, create and transform knowledge into practice.
Historical and political legacies of sex, power, colonialism and culture made me want to deepen my sexological practice by reconciling narratives of the past and present to help people to learn about sex and sexuality through purposeful education, humour, observation, and practice.
There are still barriers to sexual health research, particularly with topics such as pornography or sex work. This article published in @Sexualities1 by Dr Samantha Keene – @Miss_Keene – describes the challenges studying pornography as a doctoral student.
Sexual health research epistemology is a vital aspect of understanding and addressing issues related to sexual wellbeing. It encompasses the methods, assumptions, and approaches used to generate knowledge, shedding light on crucial aspects of human sexuality.
Recognising and addressing stigma is crucial for generating inclusive and unbiased knowledge. Attitudes and beliefs surrounding topics like sexual orientation, gender identity, & sexual practices can create barriers to conducting comprehensive and accurate research.
Sexual health research should acknowledge that individuals experience sexuality within the context of multiple social identities, such as race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status. Understanding intersecting factors is vital for developing effective and inclusive interventions.
Researchers must prioritise ethical considerations such as autonomy, privacy and wellbeing of study participants, especially when discussing sensitive topics. Protecting participants from harm & ensuring informed consent is crucial for upholding integrity of research outcomes.
Public perceptions and societal norms shape sexual health research. Stigma surrounding sexual behaviours or identities can influence availability of funding, publication acceptance and public support. Recognising and challenging these biases is essential for advancing knowledge.
Community engagement is also very important. Involving communities affected by sexual health issues ensures that research reflects their needs, priorities, and experiences. Community collaboration enhances the relevance and impact of research outcomes.
Public policies and legal frameworks impact sexual health research through restrictive laws, criminalisation and lack of access to resources. Advocacy for evidence-informed policies creates an enabling environment for sexual health research andimproving overall wellbeing.
Sexual health research should recognise limitations of traditional methods. Innovative approaches, such as participatory research, qualitative methods and mixed-methods designs can capture complex and nuanced aspects of sexual health that quantitative methods may overlook.
Challenging stereotypes and misconceptions by generating evidence-based knowledge can debunk myths, challenge discriminatory narratives and reduce stigma. Accurate and comprehensive information is crucial for promoting sexual wellbeing and supporting informed decision-making.
Sexual health research strives to promote sexual wellbeing, reduce stigma and foster inclusive & affirming environments. By embracing ethical practices, challenging social norms and actively involving communities, we can generate knowledge that supports sexual health and rights.
Libby Richardson tweets:
About me: I was born in Launceston in 1987 to Queensland migrants. I have moved away and back a few times in adulthood, but have now put down some roots with my husband, two kids, cats, guinea pigs & chickens.
Recently, I have gone through a life-changing transformation of ADHD and ASD diagnoses, missed by many professionals over the years due to being a woman. Consequences included poor mental health, not being able to finish Grade 12, and general life chaos.
In my 20s, I battled through these invisible disabilities unknowingly to get a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne and a Master of Social Work (Qualifying) from Monash University (I am a little bit smug about this).
Since then, I have worked on and off, had a couple of babies, and survived the pandemic. Commencing in February this year, I am now a PhD student at the University of Tasmania – @UTAS_.
My path to Higher Degree Research was a long and twisty one. From dropping out of school, to making a successful alternate pathway application, I have diverged from the traditional candidate at most points along the way.
Through a combination of social and material resources, practice experience, stubbornness, and the generous mentorship and encouragement of several key people, I am here and I am thrilled about it!
About five months in, I am still in the “lost” phase of first year candidature, where my most common feeling is “I have no idea what I’m doing!!”.
I have been assured by peers that this is well within the normal range of experience at this point, phew.
About my PhD project: sitting primarily within the disciplines of sociology and social work, I am exploring the social issue and lived experience of perinatal homelessness.
To pull out some concepts and themes, I am interested in neoliberal mothering, social policy, health and social service systems, poverty, child protection, housing, family violence, and trauma-informed practice.
I am supervised at @UTAS_ by the very wonderful Catherine Robinson, Kathleen Flanagan and Tina Kostecki, who between them are the most amazing brains trust covering housing and homelessness, mothering, social policy, and social work practice experience in family violence.
Some definitions: perinatal refers to the period in a mother’s life beginning with pregnancy and finishing 12 months after birth. Homelessness can be defined a number of ways, but for my purposes the @ABSStats‘ definition encompassing a broad spectrum of homelessness experiences is useful.
When I talk about mothering, I am talking about the role of mothering; the set of physical, relational and emotional labours involved in raising children.
Cis men, and trans and nonbinary people, can and do perform the role of mothering. Our society is set up for the majority of mothering to be performed by cis women, and my language defaults to this to reflect the current paradigm within which I am conducting research.
Between the two most recent @ABSStats Census, the rate of homelessness in Tasmania increased by 45 percent. Recently I have noticed a significant increase in stories and posts about housing stress, particularly from mothers in mainstream news and social media.
The intersection of women in the perinatal period and homelessness experiences is under-researched in Australia. More urgently needs to be known to be able to inform and improve service provision to meet the unique needs of this group.
As a social worker, I have been a part of the child protection and homelessness systems, and feel privileged to have been able to bear witness, and support mothers who are homeless. My biggest frustration in support and advocacy roles always came when complex individual lives crashed against unyielding and ineffective social welfare systems.
The response I get from people when I tell them what I’m doing is usually something like “wow! Big topic!”
True! It can often be an uncomfortable topic, full of unchallenged biases about low-income mothers and stories of people surviving through unfathomable trauma.
In my qualitative research, I am aiming to collect lived experience data of perinatal homelessness in lutruwita/Tasmania, and use analysis of practices from other communities and systems, to try and highlight ways in which service delivery can be improved.
I feel very fortunate that @AHURI_Research is also supporting my project with a PhD Top-Up Scholarship.
My PhD Phase 1 has been all about reading, talking, pondering – repeat – but as year one rolls on, and ethics applications, confirmation of candidature, actually ~ doing the research ~ rolls closer, I feel challenged to consistently hold myself to account in relation to centring the mothers who will (hopefully) participate in my project.
Coming from a critical social work background, the beneficence of my research to its subject and the ways it will challenge structures of oppression that are built into our systems is a primary motivator for me being here.
For me, Lindsey Fidler’s 2018 project for @SARC_Anglicare is a great example of a challenge to the ways in which our social welfare systems respond to poverty.
Something Penelope Smith – @lopeyPen – and I have been talking about is how to navigate trends of quantitative evidence-based policy which bump up against lived experience in very clumsy and, I would argue, harmful ways.
Systems have a powerful way of making my intended research participants disappear. Research systems can also so this. How these interact, and how I develop methods to overcome this, is a key concern for me.
I have really enjoyed reading through methods other researchers have employed, such as auto-driven photo-elicitation, or interviews derived from a single opening question, designed to equalise power between researcher and participant.
Thinking about methods and participants has drawn my attention to the agency of PhD students in shaping their projects, and resisting and conforming to prevailing research trends, and how this varies across disciplines.
While I work of developing clarity around the methods I will use, I am committed to my participants being front and centre of all stages of my research – they have the answers.
On managing energy, self-care etc … I think it’s a reminder, as someone exposed to high levels of vicarious trauma, that finding a way to lean into counter-balancing thoughts and feelings – joy, silliness, dark humour – is vital.
As someone who is chronically online, I can also highly recommend the practice of touching grass; taking a minute to look at my stresses from a different perspective has gotten me through a crisis or two.
The skills needed to manage the demands of PhD scholarship are the same ones we all need to get through life, in concentrated form. As well as a fancy piece of paper, a thesis and professional skills, I expect to leave my PhD with my self-care muscles extremely toned!!
Erin Fitzpatrick tweets:
I’m tweeting from the lands of the Wurundjeri woi-wurrung people of the Kulin Nation.
I’ve spent a lot of years learning about people. My tertiary journey started studying journalism, before changing lanes to psychology, finally completing my commpsych masters at @victoriauninews [with @SonnChristopher]. Since then I’ve tried to find where I fit.
I’ve always wanted to do a #PhD, ever since I was little. I’ve no idea why but it was part of my life plan. Grow up (never!), be six feet tall (not even close), visit Queensland (tick – rollercoasters are the best), and get a PhD (in progress).
I didn’t know what I wanted to learn about. I just knew I loved learning. I always have.
For most of my life it was just my mother, brother, and me. We didn’t always have a lot but I was always supported – in learning and in life. We were always able to try things out without being scared of failure or judgement.
About the same time as Penelope Smith saw the tweet that changed her life, I had my own epiphany – in the form of a Facebook group post.
Having recently come off the back of a full-time masters including thesis and unpaid placements during which I also had to work, quickly followed by starting a new career in the middle of the pandemic I was a bit burnt out on education. Me and a post-grad friend often joked that we were more done than a well-done steak. No more school for us!
I was on a break at work when I got a notification in a #commpsych group. @SamKeast was letting people know about the projects being advertised at @victoriauninews. I decided to take a look. You know, see all the cool things people are doing and read the big words from other fields. I never for a second thought it would lead to anything but laughs.
And then (oh no!) I saw a project with the #PathwaysInPlace team @Mitch_Inst that was interested in exploring place-based systems change with young adults.
Growing up I was able to take part in youth community initiatives and various community supports, and little-me perked up reading about the potential impact of this kind of research.
For the next two days the words “Talk me out of this” were heard by almost everyone I’ve ever met. Not a single person did, though. In fact, the support was overwhelming. I was excited and my people were excited for me.
Similarly to Penelope Smith, my decision to apply was followed by a week of meetings with @MelindaCraike & @Riley_Therese, frantic reading and writing, and asking for academic references. I was graciously helped out by my loyal research assistant, Lily *photo of cat*.
After waiting and waiting and worrying and reading and planning and so much deep breathing I was accepted as a PhD student at @victoriauninews. Relief! Excitement! A new beginning… Oh boy.
Throughout the last (less than a) year I’ve been able to work with the supportive @Riley_Therese & @armowle, as well as @Bo_Klepac & @MelindaCraike from #PathwaysInPlace.
I’m supremely thankful to have such a great team of academics around me. They’ve helped me navigate systems, consolidate ideas, and learn so many new things. I’m thankful for PhD friends like Penelope Smith, who make this sometimes isolating process feel less lonely.
I’m also thankful for the support of those outside of uni: my family and friends. It’s all these relationships which have inspired my project, in all its iterations (it’s gone through a few, and that’s okay!)
Knowing how much my own relationships and networks influenced the trajectory of my life, the People Places Pathways Project will explore the relationship between where we live, the people/organisations we deal with, and how we get where we’re going, focusing on emerging adults.
We all faced a lot of upheaval during the height of the pandemic. Living in Melbourne I, like many, lived through those long lockdowns. It affected the way we worked, studied, and lived.
Some of the hardest hit during that time were casual workers, a lot of who were right in the emerging adulthood bracket, aged 18-25.
The impacts of those interruptions are still being explored, as are the resources we have to support our communities (both in general and in response to world changing events). I’d like the People Places Pathways to give insight into how these supports actually support us.
I began working as a psychologist right smack bang in the middle of the first lockdown. It was…an experience. Then, as now, I had great people around me, but I saw first-hand what it was like for my clients.
Kids, teens, adults. They all were struggling and needed help, and the help just wasn’t there to give. The waiting list at my clinic was MONTHS long and it was the same for every clinic I knew of. It was worse for public providers, who are under-resourced at the best of times.
It got to a point where clinicians in all branches of healthcare were burning out and it wasn’t because they weren’t trying to make time for themselves or do self-care. They were. The system just wasn’t (and isn’t) set up to support professionals and clients.
@DrTammraWarby wrote a great article for the @RACGP about the need for systemic responses to burnout. It’s a really thorough perspective.
Lack of service provision, exacerbated stress from a worldwide event, and caretaker burnout all individually can negatively impact clients, and the combination of these things had the potential to create huge impacts.
This professional perspective backed up something I’d seen time and again in my personal life; that the support systems we interact with can have a huge impact on our experiences of the world.
I have some friends who grew up without access to support services, and the times they have had access they’ve ended up caught in a web of systems issues and haven’t been able to get long-term, effective support.
All this together is what spurred my interest in exploring how where we live, and who we interact with, help or hinder our path through the world, culminating in the People Places Pathways Project.
#PathwaysInsights – Research is about creativity, hard work, and the love of ideas (@Riley_Therese).
Systems have come up several times this week, and I’m sure they’ll come up again. So I thought here would be a good place to have a quick chat about one of the systems my project is embedded in.
My project, the People Places Pathways Program, is a bit different to that of my #PhDVoices co-hosts in that I’m related to a pre-existing project, #PathwaysInPlace. This project aims to co-create place-based systems changes to improve community outcomes.
It is difficult to know where to start the twitter thread about designing this public health unit in systems thinking…however, my mind kept coming back to two incredible women: @mishymorgs @Riley_Therese.
People can be the bridge between us and something new, something complex, something challenging. Both Therese and Michelle helped us workout the starting point for designing our unit in systems thinking and provided key guidance along with resources.
Academia can sometimes be a competitive but the collegiality within Australia’s public health systems thinking community has been the opposite. Both Therese & Michelle spoke highly of each other, shared time and resources willingly with us. This kind of behaviour is a game changer.
Therese and the Pathways in Place team at Victoria University not only assisted with initial design, introduced us to their networks, but also provided their research as the focus for one of our assessments.
Pathways in Place – Co-creating Community Capabilities – has two sites (Brimbank and Logan) and is an incredible example of systems thinking in action incorporated with a place-based approach.
These two researchers, their colleagues and networks meant that our initial design was not only connected to current evidence based research, but had a firm footing in Australia.
We made it part of the introduction session, referring to it often. It is the perfect springboard for learning and understanding.
Being situated with a project like this I think has made this a less lonely experience so far. I’m often able to ask for help on the fly, and being around working academics has given me a bit of a clearer picture about what life after a PhD could look like.
It’s been especially interesting being a part of a multidisciplinary team. I’ve gotten to see how different disciplines and epistemologies are navigated in a professional group setting, and I’m always able to get a perspective that’s different from my own.
In fact, the #pathwaysinplace team have even been willing to contribute to today’s conversation about their experiences doing their PhDs
Similarly to the #PhDVoices team, those in the #PathwaysInPlace team got here by different roads. From a love of research (@Riley_Therese) to just trying it out (@armowle) to it being the next logical step in their training (@Bo_Klapac)
It turns out there’s no single right way to start this journey. And there’s no single place it will lead. Everyone on the #PathwaysInPlace team had different focuses: digital communities, political science, health policy, the sociology of technology and work.
Each person brings different knowledge and perspectives, and I think that’s the value of multidisciplinary teams, especially in research. Speaking earlier about the power dynamics of knowledge production, I think working in a team like this helps combat that to an extent.
Who has access to doing PhDs, how do we change thisPhDs are highly competitive, and the stipends provided to candidates even more so. Even so, there is a rising gap between the number of PhD graduates and traditional academic positions. This article in @ConversationEDU discusses the current landscape.
Although there are less academic jobs than previously, many industries value post-graduate training. It can be hard to go from a strictly academic setting to practical application, especially after submersing yourself in four-plus years of niche.
One of the ways this article suggests combating this is through career training and industry placement opportunities throughout the PhD program. @victoriauninews for example has their Doctoral Industry Project Placement.
Having great supervisors is also key to figuring out what comes next.
#PathwaysInsights –Sometimes your #PhDSupervisor is more important than your topic But who actually has access to doing a PhD in Australia? I very nearly didn’t. Even after being accepted into the program I faced the possibility of having to turn it down. I missed out on an RTP stipend and very nearly couldn’t afford to do this full time.
Luckily, my support system went into overdrive and we were able to figure things out. But it was a scary time. Even then, the poor grad student archetype exists for a reason.
@caitecassidy at @guardian does a great job of showing what this looks like for PhD students right now.
@_erikaroper published a great blog post teaching PhD students about their options for Centrelink support. Some of the numbers have changed a bit since publication but links are included! Thanks Erika! Unfortunately PhDs are not an approved course of study for Youth Allowance or Austudy payments, which means that often people who would need that support are excluded from these programs.
#PathwaysInsights – NETWORK!! I know it can be super hard to do, but there are so many people in academia who just want to help and share and support the next generation of researchers – and they are a wealth of experience to draw on when you’re feeling confused, anxious, or unsure (@armowle)
There are often unspoken criteria for acceptance to PhD programs. The advertised criteria tend to be “at least a 70 percent average” across Masters of Honours programs. The privileging of previous experience and a publication history isn’t really mentioned,
I’m learning it’s kind of a known secret. Those who haven’t been able to work academic jobs are sometimes left out of the running. This can be especially hard if you are the first in your family.
#PathwaysInsights – It’s ok for this to be an uncertain experience. As @armowle said “I’m the first one in my family to have gone on to higher ed (neither of my parents finished high school) so it was all a completely foreign experience and I wasn’t entirely sure what it involved until I was deep in it. (I remember Googling ‘What is a PhD’ like three years in, in a moment of weakness)
So what do we do about it? How do we make sure a multitude of voices are being heard and valued in the research institution? We increase transparency into the application criteria, we prioritise those with interesting and unique perspectives, and we de-privilege knowledge.
There’s no easy solution. Continued work to decolonise academic systems and increase transparency and access is a must. Making PhD research actually feasible and supported is another. The average PhD student is in their 30s. That’s an expensive time.
Continued career support is a must throughout the PhD program, too. If the gap between graduate and career is so big then we need to show people how their skills translate. Because they do translate. Critical thinking, data skills, planning, resilience, and more.
We need to be honest with our students from the outset about what they can expect regarding a career. I come from a psychology background. There were over 300 students in my first year lectures alone. That was cut to about 40 for honours, and then 20 for Masters.
The competition wasn’t disclosed until we got nearly to the end of each degree, and the goal was always “be a psychologist or go into research.” We need to be more clear about the goals, or create a system that can support the people who want to learn.
If I’ve learnt nothing else from my supervisors thus far it’s that sometimes you have to be the squeaky wheel. The system won’t change if the people don’t change it, and sometimes you have to be squeaky to be heard.
You may have noticed today that my language was a bit casual. That was intentional. I love learning, but I don’t love a system that prevents people from learning and contributing by using jargon and the mask of professionalism.
Penelope Smith and myself were talking a little while ago about research access, and how sometimes even just the application forms can require someone who is literate in “Academic” to translate. That’s the doorway and it’s blocked. It can be confusing even for people who speak jargon.
This conversation happened was also inspired by the talk by @PulengSegalo in her @CIDRNVU talk earlier this year. That talk has had an impact doing exactly what was needed: challenging the system and knowledge.
It’s going to be left to us, the new PhDs, to continue to make our work accessible. Academia has made strides – open source journal articles for one – but there is so much work to do.
Penelope Smith tweets:
Our group’s discussions about the financial ramifications of doing a PhD; the most significant overarching theme is the concept of time and where we can allocate our time (earning money, parenting, caring, resting, relaxing, community commitments, advocacy, activism) & what we must give up in the pursuit of this highly celebrated outcome of a PhD.
I will admit that I was terrified of leaving #Naarm last week. It is very difficult to write this tweet this morning because I feel deeply #homesick Part of my decision to relocate was a belief that with less social connection I would more be able to complete PhD & earn money.
The current financial experience of undertaking a PhD in Australia based on evidence and the collection of personal views seems like there is an urgent need for change. If we value the floppy hat as much as we seem to, we need change.
Wrapping up, plus wellbeing tips
From Erin Fitzpatrick and Libby Richardson: It’s important while doing a PhD to have a solid support network in place. We heard from @armowle about the value of professional networking, and how there are people in the #academy who are ready and willing to help when asked.
This can feel really awkward to do. Networking is one of my least favourite things to do. But there are so many people who are excited to share their work with the next generation of researchers.
Earlier in the year I was struggling to plan part of the People Places Pathways Project. Part of my design is in a new field for me (hooray for an interdisciplinary approach!) and I had lots of questions and few answers.
In desperation I looked over at the textbook next to me (it was about 3am, mind you), noticed the author, and emailed them. And you know what? They replied. They shared their thoughts on my questions and provided some amazing resources for further reading.
It was a bright light and it’s stuck with me. When in doubt, ask. We’re scholars. Sharing our knowledge is jam.
Shoutout to @ittagroB at @universityofky for kindly sharing your time and expertise.
A solid personal support network is also necessary to get through a #PhD with both the floppy hat and an intact self.
This support system will (there’s that word again) will consist of people from different facets of your life. Family and friends can provide you a sense of normalcy and remind you who you are OUTSIDE of your PhD. It can be too easy to lose yourself in your work and have it become your whole world, but you exist outside of your work.
As I mentioned on Thursday, my own support system has been integral to my ability to go on this journey. As a PhD candidate without a stipend I had to really weigh up the cost of doing this.
Could I afford to cut back on work or stop working altogether? Where would my money be going? Without the actual physical and financial support of my family there is no way I’d be able to do this full t