Why I care about research

This week by the #whywedoresearch campaign on Twitter is celebrating its second birthday. From humble beginnings it has grown into a global phenomenon linking health researchers who are passionate about making a difference. Where I work in the School of Health Sciences at the University of East Anglia we have formed an ambassador hub to share the campaign even further and to tell the world about our own ground-breaking discoveries.

The blog below shares my individual thoughts which have been published along with my colleagues here: http://whywedoresearch.weebly.com/guest-blog-new

“I am a qualitative researcher, mainly because I’m nosey and like to find out what people really think and feel. In health research the lived experience of service users is vital knowledge in making people’s lives better. As an occupational therapist my passion is to help people to get the most out of life and to have every opportunity to participate fully.

“I teach qualitative research to students who are studying on our pre-registration programmes in occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech and language therapy at both undergraduate and Masters level. I enjoy facilitating their curiosity about what helps people and what doesn’t. I like to push them to be really critical about what they read in research papers. I also supervise student dissertations in my main areas of interest, mental health, combat injury and occupational science. I often remind students that although we might observe that certain interventions have benefit, what we don’t know is whether people would have improved anyway over time, or whether something else would have worked more effectively. We can’t spend vital public funding on interventions just because we think they help.

In 2015 I received a UEA Community Engagement Award for my voluntary work with military charities providing free consultancy on digital media and occupational therapy. I currently work with The Baton; supporting the military family – http://www.thebaton.co.uk and Surf Action; providing evidence-based interventions for people who have served in the Armed Forces and their families – http://www.surfaction.co.uk. We need much more research to help us to understand what really works to support people who have served in the Armed Forces, particularly people living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There’s a lot of charities and organisations that mean well and they are providing opportunities for people to participate in wonderful activities, but we don’t really know, especially in the long term, if this funding is being spent wisely.

Why I teach research; to inspire the next generation of healthcare professions to be the very best evidence-based practitioners.

Why I do research; to ensure that people who have served their country get the very best help and support to have a good life free from the trauma of combat.”




Pain is weakness leaving the body…

I have become expert in making excuses not to exercise; too busy, too tired and I walk the dog anyway. I am also fortunate not to have any health problems and it was easy to become complacent. Then a Christmas spent eating and drinking too much, feeling tired and grotty made me start to question what I was doing. New Year is probably a rubbish time to make resolutions and most are broken by the end of January, but a couple of things happened to motivate me to change.

My good friend, and founder of The Baton charity, Alan Rowe came up with the idea of supporting the Row2Recovery team by rowing one hour a day on a rowing machine. R2R is a team of four men, serving and ex-military, and they are currently half way across the Atlantic rowing in the Talisker Atlantic Challenge in their boat called Legless. An extraordinary feat of bravery and endurance for anyone and these guys are all amputees. They have a Baton with them on the boat and Alan wanted a way to show support, hence the hour’s rowing. We kicked off a social media campaign #Row4Legless and were amazed and humbled by the response.

So, what was I going to do to join in? As these things go, something turned up out of the blue. I was tagged in a tweet about a keep fit class in my village, led by someone who has recently left the Forces and just five minutes’ walk from my house. I didn’t even have the excuse that it was during the day while I was at work. It is held at 19.00 hours twice a week and I ran out of reasons not to go. So I found myself in a chilly village hall on Tuesday this week, in a baggy pink T-shirt resembling Mrs Blobby and looking in panic at the torture chamber. Mats on the floor and weights! Lovely, slim young girls in Lycra! For a person of my size and age getting up from the floor can be a big deal. Before I knew it I was running round, doing sit ups, press ups, sweating and nearly crying.

The next morning, however, I felt great and even parked my car so I got a good walk in my day. I was feeling very smug. Then, as the day wore on, the pain kicked in; thighs and shoulders started to hurt. I even had twinges in abdominal muscles I’d forgotten existed in my body. Thursday was no better and walking up the stairs was slow. There was another class in the evening and I really didn’t know whether I could turn up again to feel old, fat and useless. The news from the Atlantic was sobering though, almost half-way across the ocean, the lads were rowing into a storm with huge seas, but they had heard about #Row4Legless and were grateful for the support. People were tweeting their pictures of rowing and exercising every day. I had to get over myself.

The second Forces Fitness class wasn’t as bad as the first though. I only stopped once to catch my breath, but I had a go at everything and pushed myself past the point of thinking ‘I can’t do this’ for the full hour. Some of the exercises I had to adapt and make easier, but it was still a good workout and gave me a sense of achievement. And yes, it really hurt when I woke up this morning, but I walked the dog and reminded myself that the pain meant that I was moving again and starting to get stronger. Encouraging words from friends and family really help and in comparison with the psychological and physical recovery challenges that so many face as a result of serving their country, my little battle is nothing.

I’m keeping my goals modest; going to the fitness class twice a week and walking more, eating more salad and veg, drinking more water. My strategy is to focus on what I’m adding in, rather than taking away, but drinking less alcohol also has to be a part of the plan. I’m not focusing on losing weight, I love my curves, but I’m setting my sights on feeling fitter and stronger to enjoy life more. People face the challenges brought on by illness and injury with strength and dignity, so I will honour them and respect myself by making these small changes in my life.


http://www.thebaton.co.uk – also on Facebook and Twitter, see #Row4Legless

http://www.row2recovery.com – also on Facebook and Twitter, see also @leglessrowers for tweets from the team


A beautiful morning to be alive and walking the dog:

Blog pic Jan 16



Eureka! Another week in The Shed

Week 2 of the FutureLearn Enterprise course has been all about ideas and inspiration. At the beginning of the week I enjoyed a series of TED Talks asking, ‘where do ideas come from?’ For someone who worries about finding that truly original idea it was refreshing to be introduced to the notion that ‘everything is a remix’. Not only that, the best ideas come about through sharing and collaboration. Indeed, as a species humans evolved because we shared i.e. traded, the things we made. Unlike the Neanderthals, who were quite clever, but they didn’t share between tribes and look what happened to them. Unfortunately the tribe mentality can still prevail in the human race and success is used to exploit others in our inequitable and unjust society. If we worked together the world could be a better place. It sounds idealistic but the ‘collective brain’, that vast network of total human knowledge that we have increasing access to via the internet, could hold the key to real progress.

Even important discoveries and inventions did not come about in sudden ‘Eureka’ moments. Even the proverbial light bulb was an idea that evolved over time and from a variety of different sources. Maybe the successful inventor or entrepreneur rides on the crest of a wave of ideas and thinking. They might add a novel twist or find a way of making an idea practical.

I love the idea of the enterprise shed that this course team have developed. It’s good to hear how it came about collectively through group discussions in the team, which we are learning, is how great ideas happen! I just love the whole ‘shed’ movement that has been growing recently. I’ve read about a lovely project for older men to support their health and well-being that exploits the concept of the shed. They gather together to make stuff, have cups of tea and natter. Men’s mental illness is a growing health concern and this is a creative and ‘manly’ solution.

I don’t have an actual shed. I do a lot of my thinking when I walk the dog and I have created a virtual shed. I have an Instagram account and post my photographs there, I write a journal, I started this blog and more recently my kids bought me a beautiful art book for colouring in. It’s awesome! I’m creating psychological space rather than an actual space, but it feels like somewhere ideas can grow. One of those little Shepherd’s Huts in the garden would be rather wonderful too…

I get inspiration from all over the place but I was prompted this week to think about people in particular who have influenced me. I have had the very great privilege throughout my career as an occupational therapist to support people at the most challenging times in their lives. I am constantly amazed at the human spirit to face adversity and overcome challenges. Over the past four years I have been a volunteer with military charities and the courage and sacrifice of people in our Armed Forces really motivates me to play my part in making the world a better place. One of the most inspiring parts of working with military people is their sense of humour and, as entrepreneurs, we must never, ever take ourselves too seriously.

Is inspiration enough for success, or are some people just lucky? In my opinion, anyone can be lucky; luck comes from being open to possibilities and seeing as many connections as possible between people and events. I work really hard all the time and make lots of little discoveries along the way. I constantly borrow and apply ideas from elsewhere especially in my teaching to keep it fresh and inspired. I’ve also learnt a lot about digital media from observing and working alongside others. Inspiration comes from such a multitude of sources; conversations, books, digital media, the news, history and, I mustn’t forget, my students who are endlessly creative.

The week ended with more TED talks and I listened again to Brene Brown on vulnerability. If you haven’t listened to this, you must. My mantra has been for some time; ‘have courage’ and now I will add ‘I am enough’.

TED Talks ‘Where do ideas come from?


TED Talk Brene Brown ‘Vulnerability’


The charity I support as a volunteer:  http://www.thebaton.co.uk/

Follow the course on twitter using #FLentshed and find the course and others at www.futurelearn.com

Some of my pictures from this week:

Easter Blog 2 1 Easter Blog 2 2 Easter Blog 2 3 Easter Blog 2 4

The power of social media: connecting colleagues who care about veterans, crossing oceans and disciplines

It’s been a week since I hosted the #OTalk on twitter with Dr Nick Caddick and I’m still a little in awe of the whole event.

The topic was surfing to support the recovery of combat injured veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We acknowledged the devastating impact of PTSD on the lives of veterans who struggle with it and their families and we all had a commitment to offering support to those who have served.

Nick, a sports psychologist from Loughborough University has carried out extensive qualitative research with the charity Surf Action in Cornwall. Joining in the OTalk was Carly Rogers, an occupational therapist from California, who has carried out research with veterans on an occupational therapy programme using surfing or ocean therapy. There are strong connections across their findings.

We also had OT experts from Combat Stress talking about their work. They also told us that engaging with the physical activity and the natural environment was beneficial. There are many benefits of sport; achievement, motivation, respite and relaxation. Carly noted that being in the sea could give an adrenalin rush, but was also at times calming and helped to nurture mindfulness.

One of the main themes that I recall from the chat was the importance of being a part of a close-knit group. Nick used the term ‘band of brothers’ to describe this. A veteran talking with us confirmed that was true for him.

I was anxious about making the twitter chat work and keeping track of everything, but it all went well and the hour flew by. The statistics are quite impressive. We had: 54 Participants, 409 Tweets and 775,491 Impressions. I felt proud of my profession and enjoyed working with such a knowledgeable, lively and passionate group of people. It was a privilege to be a part of it.

Background information is available here, including Carly’s TED Talk, Nick’s web site link to his work and a full transcript of the tweets:


Photographs from Surf Action’s resident photographer Paul Gillard, showing the power and beauty of the Blue Gym.

surf 6 surf 7