Reflections of being a PhD student in the BRIGHTLIGHT team

Published on October 19, 2017

As BRIGHTLIGHT’s doctoral student and recently becoming the Research Facilitator, I’d like to share with you a little about my experience these last four years contributing to the team. Now is actually quite a good time for me to tell this story… I am now on the ‘home straight’ of my doctoral degree, with only a few more hurdles to jump over…

My doctoral journey has been a rollercoaster ride… with a difference. I think every doctoral student would describe their journey as a rollercoaster ride. There are many ups and downs, sometimes you feel sick, sometimes you are petrified, sometimes you don’t know where on earth you are, what you are doing, or why you are doing it. However, I was lucky enough to be on the rollercoaster with a group of awesome people: the BRIGHTLIGHT team. They have helped me to see that sometimes rollercoasters can be fun, and that you will feel great once you get off the ride!

I will share some brief reflections of this journey with you, reflecting on the past, the present and the future.

The past

For three years, I worked as a ‘full-time’ PhD student whilst nursing part-time in the teenage and young adult cancer ward at University College London Hospital. It was an exciting and varied few years of clinical work, nursing on the both ward and outpatient areas. Meanwhile, I got to grips with my doctoral studies and then spent 2014-2015 undertaking the data collection for the BRIGHTLIGHT multi-site case study. This involved visiting 21 different hospitals in England and exploring the culture of care in teenage and young adult cancer services. As this work was part of the BRIGHTLIGHT National Institute for Health Research grant and wider study, it will have national impact. It is really exciting to know that the work I am conducting at this early stage in my career will influence national policy and ultimately patient experience on a large scale. For an in-depth reflection of the experience of a newly-qualified nurse on a clinical academic career pathway, have a read of this article.  

I recognise that my situation is unique, the support I have had around me to develop as a professional throughout my time with the team has been invaluable. There is never a dull moment! I’ve attended and presented at conferences, contributed to publications and I’m involved in shaping and evolving other aspects of the study. Some of my PhD data was even interpreted and presented by a youth theatre company and performed! To read more about the performance, read our ‘There is a Light’ blog, which can be found here. Recently, we co-hosted the TYAC-BRIGHTLIGHT Conference in Leeds in July 2017, in which I presented some of the findings of the case study work which conceptualised ‘age-appropriate care’ for teenagers and young adults with cancer. To read more about this conference click here.

One of the highlights of my time with the BRIGHTLIGHT team (so far) for me was attending the 1st AYA Global Adolescent and Young Adult Congress in Edinburgh in December last year. It was an action-packed few days and a fantastic conference. I was fortunate enough to get an abstract accepted for an oral presentation to present some of the case study findings. This was my first oral presentation to an International audience – to say I was nervous would be a complete understatement! (But it was incredibly exciting too). Rachel did a superb job of booking a dodgy air B&B that had a gas leak, so we were upgraded to what can only be described as a mini castle! The evening before my presentation at the conference I was getting myself in a nervous frenzy, dithering over what exact words I was going to say, and going over and over practicing my slides. That is when you want your research team there with you, supporting and guiding you, and that is exactly what they did. A pep talk, a glass of wine, and a couple of rehearsals with the team, and I felt prepared. To read more about this conference click here.


The present

In these last four years, at first, I struggled to understand what it meant to be a doctoral student… and then struggled trying to be one! At times, I have felt uneasy and insecure about what I am doing or who I am becoming. However, every time I have felt like this, it has not lasted long. When I come to our monthly team meetings, my uneasiness and insecurities melt away. I see what I am a part of and why I am doing what I am doing and it all becomes much more meaningful.

I am now the Research Facilitator and am more embedded into the daily working of the BRIGHTLIGHT team. I am broadening my research skills, working on the website and social media (follow us @bR1GhTLiGhT) and working on other projects, even leading analysis on one project. I am starting to move beyond ‘the PhD student’ and it is challenging but brilliant.

The future

So, as the finish line of the doctoral studies gets closer, and I settle into my role as a Research Facilitator in the BRIGHTLIGHT team, there is more excitement in store. I am lucky that I have a role in which I have the opportunity to continue to contribute to BRIGHTLIGHT and to future projects that we are taking on. In December, we are packing our cases and jetting across the globe to the 2nd AYA Global Cancer Congress in Atlanta. We are all getting excited to share more of the BRIGHTLIGHT results and this will be my first conference abroad with the team.

As part of the doctoral ‘experience’ and a member of the BRIGHTLIGHT core team, I have been crafting a new identity: a learner, team member, an academic, and a researcher. I am finally starting to see that I am in the process of becoming these things. It has taken a long time to get here. My advice to anyone undertaking a doctorate is to forge a support network. Whether you naturally have one around you, or you have to work to find and build one, it is incredibly valuable.

So, as team BRIGHTLIGHT we have lots of exciting things in the pipeline. Keep an eye on our website and twitter to see what we are up to. What will I be up to next…. who knows? But one thing’s for sure… the future is BRIGHT.