This is my friend, Dr Bron. She’s been a friend for a little while, from the other side of Australia. She is in Perth and I’m in Sydney. She is a Doctor of Psychology, and I am a student of that there psychology. As of next month, our friendship will adjust to become a lecturer/student relationship. I’m really excited. I already know it’s going to be a great class, mainly because of the teacher with purple hair and fondness for chocolate and giggling, but also because this is an area of learning that I just love. I loved studying communications and media in a past life and studying qualitative research method is taking it to a different level altogether.
When you start a class for the semester it’s really great to establish a rapport with your teacher and get to a nice level of easy communication and trust with them. I really like Bron because no matter what happens, she retains her humanity, her availability and her compassion. She isn’t aloof or unfeeling, like so many lecturers (no, not every psychologist makes a good teacher, believe it or not. Yes, I know. How is a psychologist being a terrible teacher even a thing?!). Bron is someone that I imagine a lot of students – particularly young school leavers – look up to as a mentor in their first foray into university education. I’m really fascinated with the mentoring relationship, and I’ve written about it before.
Mentoring is a beautiful thing that humans do.
They do it for no particular reason other than an altrusitic wish to choose an heir to their experiences. Yes, there may be an element of ego to it, but I don’t think that in a good mentor there is much of that.
I have been a mentor to people of different ages (some older than I, which is always more of a challenge…), and the only reason I find that it comes so naturally is, I believe, because I was so well-mentored myself. Excellent mentors create more mentors for the next generation, because their legacies are memories of wonderful learning moments. After so many positive experiences of being mentored in my first workplaces, I’ve made it my business to seek out awesome mentors in all that I do, and as I get older, become as good as possible at it myself. After all, it saves the heartache of learning things the hardest and slowest possible ways. Listening to advice from others wiser than oneself was the world’s first ever “life hack”. And it’s timeless.
On Friday, I finished my revision for exams for the day, made a cup of tea and soothed myself a little with some pleasing thoughts about third year research class. I looked in my diary to the (startlingly short) length of holidays that I have to prepare and read like hell for my next four classes. I’m doing some training at work for a lot of those days, as well. So it occurred to me that while I have every intention of becoming <<SuperAwesome>> at qualitative research and contributing to my field, I still have a relatively small impression of what GOOD qualitative research looks like; specifically in the areas of disability. I decided to message Dr Bron, who is teaching my class all about how to write the good shit. But with the limited time I have with four classes next semester, I need a head start on my reading. I asked her to point me in the direction of some Australian work by qualitative researchers in my chosen field/s.
I read a lot of books by other psychologists and psychiatrists, and also books by people who are just mums and dads who have experienced something they felt was worth sharing about their loved one with a uniqueness. But that’s not the same as reading good papers. “The Literature”, as it’s referred to between stuffy academics between lemongrass teas and gluten-free buckwheat scones, holds the basis on which we will build our own questions and hypotheses in the future. I read a lot of papers, too. But not all of them are “good”. Oh yeah, there are some pretty terrible papers out there, just the same as there are pretty terrible books. Mostly due to ambiguous experimental design or little use for the findings. So as a “young” clinician it’s really important to look past the standard undergrad material, and actually ask questions.
I’m also really perplexed by the incredible divide between the medical and the psychological. It’s interesting that as psychologists we’re drilled relentlessly on the anatomy and chemistry of the brain and other systems of the body (for example, the relationship between the endocrine system and maladaptive psychological/social outcomes), and yet the surgeons and GPs we’re expected to work with on a daily basis are not similarly educated on anatomy and chemistry in relation to psychology. Anyone in a hospital has to be prepared to think in cross-disciplinary contexts and remain informed on the newest information. The surgeons I’ve spoken to so far appear to be a pretty good indicator of the attitude that their mob has regarding the relationship between psychological factors and, for example, the time it takes for a stroke recovery patient to bounce back and regain mobility. A couple of younger surgeons I’ve spoken to underestimate – nay, quite blatantly scoff at – the impact of psychology on physical recovery, but the older ones know better than to underrate the importance of a family support network and “positive” immediate surroundings, right down to whether they can see outside to some trees and sunlight during their extended stay in hospital. These things are important. If you speak to me over coffee, I will adamantly argue that psychological wellbeing and family support during recovery is crucial to better outcomes for stroke recovery/acquired brain injury. However, “researcher” me will just give a two-tailed answer; that is, that we hypothesise that there is a difference, but we won’t hazard a guess as to what that difference will be. Randomly assign, and let the data tell us the answer. I keep reading Andy Field‘s textbook and as brilliantly funny as he is, it’s just a tricky area of study, it takes work to get through, and it is the promise of my own future research and publications that’s getting me through the studies of statistics.
My planned studies are closely involved with real patients, real scenarios and real families. It’s not a fun area where people just take a placebo and fill in a questionnaire on colour perception or sexuality. My studies won’t be fun a lot of the time. I plan to ask the hardest, most complex questions. Some of the participants I’ll be working with are people who are recently disabled as a result of motor vehicle accidents and stroke. This is heartbreaking stuff. But I’m doing it because we need to know how to better accommodate their needs and get them back into the community, enjoying their lives. Out of sheer respect for their humanity, their families, and the time and emotional exertion taken to participate, I need to get my designs and methods right, which means I need to get other doctors to tell me the best ways to do things, right up until I’ve earned my floppy silly hat, and beyond. Dr Bron is having a think about the references she’s going to send me, as examples of good work.
As soon we had that short exchange I started to think about how often we really ask ourselves that as professionals. All of us. Not just psychologists. I work and study in two very specialised areas, and inspiration can be hard to find sometimes, because those communities are so small and our information and clients are so closely guarded (for good reason).
But this little thought nugget really applies to anyone. Are you a teacher? Are you a psychologist? Are you a chef? A tradesperson? Are you in retail? Customer service? Hell, are you on the dole? Maybe you’re a volunteer. Maybe your work is 100% inside the home at the current time. Are you a dad or a mum? Are you doing your very best work?
This applies to everyone.
What does “good work” look like to you? When’s the last time you really sought inspiration and motivation by seeking a mentor (or even a figure you don’t personally know) to remind you what you’re aiming for?
Look up your favourite inspirational figure on Youtube or read their biographies. Work out what aspects of that person’s mentality led them to that higher ledge where the good pickings are. Let’s all do good work. To me, good work is about diligence and care taken even on the aspects of things that nobody beside you will even notice. And it’s about treating everyone along the way with the same respect you’d treat your own nanna. “Control” no-one. Inspire everyone. Do good work. 🙂