Advice and inspiration for postgraduates
Alana James reports on the advice given to PhD students at a workshop organised by PsyPAG, held at the CogDev 2013 conference, University of Reading
Over 30 postgraduate students attended the pre-conference workshop on ‘Getting Published and Planning your Career’, organised by Beth Law (University of Reading), Samantha Reeves (Canterbury Christ Church University) and Katie Rix (University of Greenwich). For those who couldn’t attend, here are some of the key points.
Margaret Harris (Oxford Brookes University, Editor of the British Journal of Developmental Psychology) and Robert Johnson (University of Kent, previous Editor of Visual Cognition) gave advice on the what, where, how and when of getting your work published.
Choosing what to publish
The first step is to choose which study to publish. This means remembering that not everything is worth publishing, and focusing on publishing something that will make a significant contribution. It may be tempting to try to publish as much as possible, but it is better to publish fewer papers of higher quality than many papers that will not get citations. One suggestion made during the workshop was to ask supervisors or other senior colleagues if they have any research waiting to be analysed or written up that you could help with, in return for being included in the authorship. Being third author on a good paper may be more worthwhile than being first author on a poor one.
Choosing where to publish
Once you have identified the study you want to publish, find the most appropriate journal to submit it to. The trick is to balance finding a high-impact journal with one where your research will be read by your target audience. Looking at journal impact factors (an average of how many citations each article published in the journal receives) and other bibliometrics (such as journal rankings) can help identify high-quality journals. However, a paper on a specific topic may get more citations if it is published in a specialist journal with a low impact factor than a more general journal with a high impact factor. A tip is to look at your references list to see where other research in your area has been published.
Writing journal articles can be very different from writing a PhD thesis. The readership is much larger, and the number of pages cannot be as many. Thinking about what the article’s ‘big idea’ is and how this will draw readers in can be a good starting point; remember that the title and abstract may be the only chance you get to convince someone to read the paper. To make sure that it is well written, ask as many people as possible to comment on drafts. Finally, make absolutely sure that you don’t make simple spelling and grammatical errors, and that you follow the journal’s instructions for authors. It is better to be critiqued for what you have to say than the way you have said it.
Possible outcomes Once you have submitted your article, don’t hold your breath, because the reviewing process can take some time. Don’t immediately crumple if you receive a rejection as this can just mean that the article wasn’t right for that journal at this time. The holy grail is to have an article accepted as it is, but more likely options are to have a conditional acceptance dependent upon minor revisions or to be asked to revise and resubmit. If you are asked to make revisions, consider them carefully and don’t feel that you have to make every change requested by the reviewers. It is more important to be clear about any changes you have made or have not made, giving thorough explanations rather than being argumentative.
When to publish
The sooner the better! Try to start publishing your work as soon as possible. However, it is still worth waiting to make sure your first publications are high quality. In some research areas where studies tend to be longitudinal, particularly in developmental psychology, publishing before the end of a PhD may not be possible.
Planning your academic career
Any delegate hoping to pick up a step-by-step plan to developing their academic career would have been sadly disappointed. Instead the workshop provided a look at the real world of academic careers. Five speakers* at different stages of their career, ranging from postdocs to associate professor, gave an insight into how they got to where they are today. Each speaker had taken a unique path, but there were some common threads in the advice they gave for postgraduates looking to make the next step into academia.
Don’t ‘panic apply’ It is a tough job market out there, but don’t make the application process even harder by applying for everything and anything. No matter how desperate you feel, don’t be tempted to apply for a role you wouldn’t realistically be willing to accept. It will only give you less time to spend crafting strong applications for the jobs you really want (and add extra work for the people having to sift the applications). Make sure all the applications you submit are tailored to the particular position, and clearly address all of the advertised criteria.
Be aware of all the possibilitiesTo get ahead it may well be necessary to take up short, fixed-term positions. Whilst these don’t offer stability, they will broaden your experience and could lead to opportunities for longer-term work. A relatively new development is the creation of teaching promotion streams, with an increasing number of teaching-only or teaching-focused roles; this could be a better option for those who enjoy teaching and an alternative way of securing a longer-term contract.
Remember all of your skills and experience
As well as gaining research experience, a PhD involves developing a range of skills such as self-confidence, resilience, and determination. You may also have acquired experience of teaching or public engagement. It is just possible that you will have had a life outside of the PhD, or at least before the PhD, where you developed other skills. When applying for positions, remember everything you have to offer and don’t feel that you can only apply for roles directly related to your PhD topic.
Take advantage of all opportunities
A theme that came through in the different presentations was the need to be flexible and make the most out of what is available. This could mean taking up work abroad even though you planned to settle down, taking on extra work to gain experience and losing precious free time, or doing research in an area you weren’t planning to. Your academic career path is unlikely to be a straight road, but the diversions could be interesting.
* The speakers were: Daniel Lamport, Bhismadev Chakrabarti, Nicholas Holmes (all University of Reading), Claire Monks (University of Greenwich) and Alana James (Royal Holloway, University of London).
Making the most of our unique skillset
Beatrice Chapman talks to health psychologist Vanessa Bogle
Dr Vanessa Bogle is an experienced health psychologist who has worked in a range of applied roles. She works part-time as a Senior Public Health Strategist in the public health department of a local authority in London. She has over 13 years experience of NHS experience. She is also currently the Acting Programme Director of the Health Psychology Doctorate at City University London. In addition, she is a member of the Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers (MINT) and regularly delivers training to a range of health professionals and students.
As a psychology doctoral student at City University and a trainee health psychologist and research/project manager for a private healthcare company, I was particularly interested in the role of health psychologists in applied settings. So I wanted to ask Dr Bogle to share her thoughts on her varied career and experience.
Tell be about your experience as a public health strategist?Within my role as Senior Public Health Strategist I provide expert psychological advice and leadership on behaviour change interventions and training. Examples include the commissioning of behaviour change interventions – for example, social marketing, Health Trainer/Champion service and physical activity programmes, which often involve developing new service models. I am also responsible for the development of the infrastructure of the NHS Health Check programme, a national programme that aims to prevent cardiovascular disease amongst people aged 40–74 years. My key areas of work include men’s health, obesity, physical activity, cancer prevention and brief intervention training. Health psychology is very much ingrained in the work of health trainers, and the national core training was developed in collaboration with a team of health psychologists. Further examples of work include conducting an evaluation of the NHS Health Check programme and developing service models to increase physical activity levels amongst sedentary populations. On an ongoing basis I roll out motivational interviewing training to a range of healthcare professionals to support the delivery of the NHS Health Check programme. Those eligible for a check, irrespective of their risk of CVD, should receive a brief intervention to support health behaviour change.
The training is designed to enhance the quality of the interventions delivered.You are saying this is very much a health psychology role; however, your title at work is not Health Psychologist. Yes. Although my title does not reflect that I am a health psychologist, I use my skills and knowledge in applying health psychology theory and evidence to address major public health concerns, such as obesity and physical activity, and to address health inequalities. This contributes towards changing and understanding health behaviours and in developing more effective interventions and services.
One of my key areas of work is physical activity. I sat on a physical activity steering group where we were looking to develop a physical activity care pathway. The initiation and complexities of behaviour change were overlooked and simplified, so with my health psychology expertise I was well placed to support this piece of work. I introduced motivational interviewing as an approach to facilitate behaviour change; and as a result this now underpins the approach used within the physical activity care pathway, namely ‘Let’s Get Moving’. I delivered the motivational interviewing and physical activity promotion training for healthcare professionals for the London pilot, which supports health professionals to deliver brief interventions.
Have you got any examples of novel projects you have used your health psychology skills in? It is necessary to used targeted approaches in health promotion as we know that one size does not fit all. There is the need to use theory and evidence base when delivering health promotion; however, I strongly feel that we should be innovative and creative and think outside the box, particularly if we want to engage with clients who tend not to utilise healthcare services. For example, we know men use healthcare services less frequently than women, and tend to present late with symptoms of ill health, or when the disease has progressed, which can negatively influence health outcomes. Having reviewed the evidence for using the performing arts as part of a health promotion strategy, for the past few years I have been looking for an opportunity to use this approach. An opportunity arose in June 2013 in my role within public health to address the men’s health agenda. I developed an initiative aimed at black African Caribbean men aged 40+ living in a deprived area of a London borough that was run during national Men’s Health Week.
The rationale for targeting this population was that black men are three times more likely to develop prostate cancer, and due to ethnicity are at increased risk of developing certain long-term conditions, such as diabetes, stroke and hypertension. The event used comedy as the vehicle to raise awareness about serious health issues. The line-up included a BBC London radio presenter (cancer survivor), a four-time Olympian, a prostate cancer specialist nurse from Prostate Cancer UK, and a range of stand-up comedians who were very credible with the target audience. A well-known DJ and some high-profile singers also helped to attract the target audience. The aim was to raise difficult topics and to challenge hegemonic masculinity – for example, erectile dysfunction – and linking it to health behaviours such as healthy eating, physical activity and not drinking alcohol to excess. The use of comedy was effective in delivering these messages in a way that may be more challenging using a traditional approach such as leaflets. The event sold out; extra seating was added, which sold out a second time. It was a somewhat risky project as it was not scripted; I gave the cast key messages that I wanted to be communicated, which they did ‘free style’. Feedback from the audience was extremely positive.
Due to its success, I put on a further event independently in November – during ‘Movember’ month. The event was video recorded and was evaluated using three methods (1) direct observation, (2) questionnaires and (3) semi-structured interviews.
Do you think there are many other health psychologists in roles such as yours?No. However, I believe that health psychologists are very well placed to offer skills to complement and support public health, given that much morbidity and mortality associated with long-term conditions has a behavioural aetiology. It is important for health psychologists to promote the discipline and our unique skillset so that potential employers understand what we do and what we have to offer.
One of the things people might not realise, especially those who are looking for jobs in applied settings, is that you might need to look for jobs that are not necessarily advertised as Health Psychologist posts. Absolutely! I always encourage trainee health psychologists who are coming to the end of their training to look beyond the title, because if they just search for jobs solely using the term ‘health psychologist’ they are few and far between and they may be disappointed. Look at the job description/specification, and if you meet the competencies, apply for those roles. It is really about health psychologists broadening their minds and thinking about their skillset and competence and then looking for jobs. You might need to spell out to potential employers what you can bring that is over and above other applicants. Our skillset is unique!
Do you think there is more that can be done to inform up-and-coming psychologists of the opportunities that are out there?
A lot of health psychologists naturally enter into teaching and research positions, which is obviously important. However, I think it is also important to highlight applied areas that health psychologists can work in as there are many opportunities out there.
How do you see health psychology developing in the next five to ten years?Given the rise in long-term conditions, I think there is a clear role for health psychologists. We need to raise our profile as we are well placed to address these issues. If we look at help-seeking behaviours and primary prevention, this is an important area in terms of helping people to stay well. Informing policy is also crucial important. Health psychologists need to have a voice, and it is pleasing to see that we are making inroads within this area.
Unlike clinical psychology we have to self-fund our training, which may be a limiting factor, and in addition fees are on the increase. If we do more to raise the profile of health psychology and make organisations aware of our unique skillset, this could result in more organisations funding or part-funding trainee health psychologists.
What advice would you give to someone who is looking to start a career in health psychology and would like to work in an applied setting?
Do not restrict yourself to looking for jobs within the NHS or those with a ‘Health Psychologist’ title. Think broadly!
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