The Defense

On Monday morning I had my PhD Defense and it was completely wonderful!

For weeks beforehand I prepared diligently, trying to anticipate difficult questions my examiners might ask. I made an exam binder with my whole dissertation in it, Mplus output, copies of my survey booklet, key references, detailed notes that I made as I re-read my work, etc. What can I say, I like to be prepared.

IMG_20160521_085203 (1)
My super organized exam binder 🙂 

I finally chopped my presentation down to 30 minutes on Friday. I rehearsed it twice on Saturday, one last time on Sunday night (after an epic game of water gun capture the flag with my son). I went to bed on time and slept like a rock.

On Monday morning I was just the right amount of nervous and excited. My game plan was to enjoy the day; the day of my once-in-a-lifetime PhD defense. The hard work had already been done – the hours of endless reading and thinking, writing and rewriting…rewriting again…the data collection and many hours of data analysis….it was all done!  I was as ready as I could be.

The public presentation went well. I felt comfortable and confident and enjoyed sharing my work with everyone who came. About five minutes in, the computer shut down for updates but it broke the ice a bit and helped me relax. It also helped that the audience was full of friendly faces 🙂  After the presentation was over there were a few questions and some discussion.

Then I went to the exam room with the examiners for the “grilling session”. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised when the first examiner opened with praise and compliments about my study, writing, and attention to conceptualizing social capital at different levels of analysis, etc. The whole exam is rather a blur but at that point, I knew I was going to be fine. Of course they asked me some challenging questions but overall it was an enjoyable discussion. I am also very hard on myself so it was really nice to hear such positive feedback about my work.

The defense made me realize that everything my committee had done to guide me and challenge me over the past few years had resulted in a solid dissertation study. More importantly, I have developed the knowledge and skills required to be an independent researcher and hold my own as I move on to my new role as an Assistant Professor.

I passed and had minor revisions to complete but the most difficult part was finalizing my acknowledgements section. How do you adequately say thank you to every single amazing person who’s been part of your journey?  The whole reason I became interested in workplace social capital (the topic of my dissertation) in the first place was because I found myself surrounded by caring, supportive colleagues, friends, and family as a single parent working on my PhD. Initially I wanted to look at something completely different – the link between leadership and the work environment and nurses’ physiological health outcomes (something I may do in the future).

My biggest lesson over the last few years, both first-hand, and through my research, is that social capital is tremendously valuable.  Not confined to the workplace, I know I could not have accomplished all that I have without the awesome people in my life. More importantly, social relationships make life meaningful and way more fun!  I am ever thankful for the special people who have been part of my life adventure thus far. Now that my PhD is complete, it feels like 10 million billion elephants are off my back and I am super excited for the new adventures ahead!

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Grant Writing Success

In late November I was offered my dream job as an Assistant Professor at the University of New Brunswick in the Faculty of Nursing (I enthusiastically accepted!).  I am getting ready to board the train on the tenure track and plunged right into writing my first CIHR grant as a PI. Not for the reasons you might think either. While I do understand that obtaining funding is valued as a performance outcome for faculty members, having money to do your research allows you to – wait for it – do your research 🙂  That being said, being awarded the money which allows you to accomplish valuable work is not the only reason to write a grant proposal and it is not the only measure of success (although, again, it is super helpful and makes it easier to do what you are trying to do).

So what else defines a successful grant application?  For me, success includes learning more about the research problems that I am interested in examining, learning more about what other researchers have done, and thinking about what we need to know and/or do to solve these problems (ultimately contributing to a healthier health care system and society I hope!). Building connections with other researchers, health care providers, and policy makers can also be a lot of fun!  Over the last few months I have been able to connect with others who share common interests and also have unique expertise and experience to bring to the project that I initiated. Regardless of whether or not we get funded for the project, we now have developed a plan, a budget, and have a good handle on what we want to accomplish through our research.

As a new kid on the block in New Brunswick it has also been really helpful for me to start meeting people and getting a better understanding of my new province. I grew up in Nova Scotia but each province has a different approach to health care delivery and my training and experience in nursing has been in Ontario in an urban centre which is quite different than Fredericton.  Making connections now will make it easier to fit in when I get there and I feel like it is a very welcoming place.

I do think our project is important and worth funding but I also recognize that there are limited funds and lots of great ideas worth funding.  It also depends on who ends up reviewing our application and the other projects that are being submitted.  At this point I’m not sure if you get “tenure points” for submitting applications that don’t get funded but it’s not like a straight-forward sport like track and field where there is a clear winner. Train hard, eat right, be the best, win, right?  Research grant competitions are more like artistic sports like figure skating and gymnastics where judges (reviewers) assess the relative value of competitors/applications and assess whether or not you will be able to successfully do the proposed research. Comparing research projects and teams that are qualitatively diverse makes it harder to decide which projects should be funded.approved

For these reasons, I think it is important to define success not just in terms of getting funded or not. As a novice PI, I am uncertain whether that will go in my favour or not.  After 4 degrees, 3 theses, and being able to balance all the demands of school, work, residence life, teaching, research, and being a single parent while also staying fit, I am 110% confident that I will be a good team leader and that we will be able to carry out the project as a team.  Of course, when you submit a research grant application you can’t put “single mom/time management ninja” or “worked 10 part-time jobs including running a residence hall while completing my undergrad” as part of your accomplishments/skills (and if you did, it would probably count against you).  Again, another reason why I think it is important to always do your best and see the process and the development of the proposal as an accomplishment and an opportunity to learn and grow as a writer and researcher.

Of course, if we do get the grant, it will be icing on the cake and I will be literally jumping for joy because we can start putting our research plan into action.  There is absolutely no denying that actually getting the grant is a successful outcome too!  And a very sweet one at that! However, if it is the only outcome that you focus on, I think that you miss out on a lot of other great things about writing research grants.