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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.

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