it's about life, my life, quilts, midwifery, and whatever else occurs to me.

30 December 2010

Highs and lows of postgrad year 2

One of my tasks over the summer/holiday break is to put down some thoughts on my progress so far. What have I accomplished? What do I understand better now than I did a year ago? What disappointments have I had, and what triumphs? Where do I need to focus my efforts in the coming year?

Without a doubt the high point of the year was receiving word that the abstract I submitted for a presentation at next year's ICM meeting was accepted. Having sent it off in the winter with no expectations at all, I think the word "gob-smacked" is a pretty accurate description of how I felt reading the notification email. I haven't yet begun to think about what exactly I will present; for one thing, I don't know how much time I'll be allotted so it's a bit premature anyway. For now, just knowing I have it to look forward to is enough.

In that same vein, a second abstract I sent in for the ACNM annual meeting was also accepted, again to my surprise and pleasure. I dithered awhile over whether to try to do both, but I'm confident I made the right decision to postpone an American presentation until I know more about my topic and can tailor a talk better for an American midwifery audience. It is gratifying to know that someone looked at my abstract and thought, "hmm...maybe this is important for us to hear about..."

My confirmation of candidature in April was all-consuming and nerve-wracking. In retrospect I probably stressed over it more than absolutely necessary, but like giving birth for the first time, I had no real idea what to expect. I had lots of good advice, help, encouragement and support from Fiona and Venerina in the weeks leading up to the day. With little public speaking experience I was very anxious when my turn came. Having some friendly faces in the audience helped me relax and just talk.

At a public speaking event I dread being boring most of all, and to me, standing up in front and reading slides or notes to the audience is the epitome of boring, so it's important that I be able to speak almost extemporaneously using the slides just to prompt or illustrate important points I want to make. The feedback I got from the committee on my confirmation talk was quite positive and suggested I looked a lot more comfortable than I felt.

Moving on to the year's frustrations, top of the list is my failure so far to get anything published. Out of a total of 4 submissions (2 each for 2 papers) I only have one "revise and try again" to show for all the work. My journal targeting is probably at least partly to blame for the two initial rejections, although the comments in one case seemed so off the mark that I supposed the reviewer hadn't actually read the MS. That first rejection was difficult to absorb but now having had 3 more it's getting easier to pick myself up and refocus.

I'm still struggling with some statistical concepts. I know I don't read enough about it. I have yet to find my perfect "Statistics for Dummies" book that will explain it all without those horrible mathematical formulas. I always have so many questions, and I'm afraid of making a statistical faux pas that will render my research useless. Or worse, unpublishable. On the other hand, learning about my statistics software and how to use it has been more fun than I ever imagined. I've learned that if I don't use it regularly, I forget a lot, which means I have to remind myself to use it regularly from now on.

I've been a bit disappointed that my data generally don't support my hypothesis that working as a midwife is a risk factor for WRUQMSD, at least not so far. It's possible though that I just haven't got far enough into the data set yet, and that the variables that will make a difference are waiting for me to find them.

I also feel like I'm slipping behind in my timeline because I don't yet have the first research publication ready to submit. I've had to reorganise my thinking about what the paper should cover, and that has meant running all the statistical tests again. Having done them, I now have more questions than before.

And now to the future: I'm looking forward with anticipation to finishing study 1 and getting it out to Birth; further analysing the data from surveys 1, 2 and eventually 3; and (with some trepidation) to organising and carrying out a qualitative study later this year. Further, I need to sort out what I can do that will help me with my statistics problems.

I can't say enough about the fabulous support I get from Fiona and Venerina, all the time. They are midwives to me as a novice researcher, and in my world that's the highest praise there is.

28 December 2010

Thoughts on 2+ years in Oz

I was just reviewing my "what I miss/don't miss" and what I love/don't love" lists and realised I had to make some changes. It seems trite to say it, but a lot has happened since we moved here in September 2008. The Aussie dollar is now at parity with the US dollar, which is bad and good at the same time. Good when I have to feed our US bank account with Aussie dollars; bad when I look at the prices of some things here (shoes, bathing suits, books, electronic equipment and sometimes food, just to name a few) and where I used to say "well, X dollars, that's not so bad, it's really only .7 or .8X dollars in REAL money," I can no longer make that comparison.

On my love/miss lists, probably the biggest change has been the availability of good ice cream, i.e. Ben & Jerry's imported from the US of A. This is to take nothing away from the local purveyors of quite good gelato, but everyone knows gelato is not the same thing. My Ben & Jerry's moment arrived a few months ago when Brisbane-area delis started stocking 7 or 8 flavours, of which I actually only bother with one (Half-Baked, if you must know). I wonder what misguided market research led B&J's Australia to decide not to import Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz Buzz to this land of coffee and more coffee. And, sadly for me, there is also no Mint Chocolate Chunk to be had in pint containers, which by the way cost $11.95 at my nearest deli (I told you shit was expensive here!) making it an occasional treat, not a way of life. Sydney and now Melbourne have Scoop Shops; here in the provinces we're still waiting for one. If we should be so blessed, I am pretty sure my favourite MCC, as well as CCBBB for Phil, will be on the menu.

Bagels: not great bagels, but actually boiled and then baked bagels are for sale in the supermarket (plain or poppy), and in the CBD (that's Strine for "downtown") there's now a cute little place called Bagel Nook. BN imports its bagels from Melbourne, apparently the capital of all things Jewish in Oz, and even has sesame bagels on offer, in addition to what seems like five kinds of onion bagels (feh!). Unfortunately, BN is closed on weekends so my shopping trips there are limited to those days when I'm passing through the CBD on my way home from a meeting with my research supervisors.

It's summer and it's been a cool and wet one. When we arrived two years ago, Queensland was under rather severe water restrictions and building a desalination plant to cope with the drought that had been going on for something like 8 years at that point. The reservoirs were at about 15% of capacity. Surely it's mere coincidence but since we've been here it's rained so much that the reservoirs have been back to 100% for months now and communities that had all but dried up, literally, are now awash, again literally. Farmers just can't catch a break; they were anticipating their best harvest in years but were knocked back this time by too much rain rather than too little.

After a wet winter, spring reports had it that the desert areas to the west of us were blooming like they hadn't in years. Spring was often rainy and cool and, unusually, it wasn't until late November that I could wear shorts and go barefoot all day. And now it's summer, when we should be in the pool every day, but with what seems like near-constant rain and overcast skies between the deluges, swimming in an unheated pool just isn't that attractive an idea. I wouldn't wish for a return to the drought conditions, just some sun and blue skies once in a while. But before you think I'm complaining about the weather here, let me just say that I have no idea where we could live in the US that would give us the same weather benefits (no snow and ice) and yet be affordable and in a place we would actually want to live.

Then there's politics...oy. That'll be for another post.