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9. November 2018 Le Thu Tran

How did I become a part of a research team

My second year at Sheffield started off with a 6-weeks research attachment. My project was about the mental health of postgraduate students at our university. Studies from all around the world conclude that these students suffer from stress more often than undergraduate students. These findings gave rise to the development of the STEP tool (https://thinkaheadsheffield.wordpress.com/2018/05/30/a-step-forward-in-smoothing-pgr-transitions/) which promotes photography as a mean to self-reflect and to think about one’s mental health. After attending two workshops in the summer, the PhD students were asked to take photos for specific topics and then upload these on a shared Padlet (an online platform where one can post photos and others can like or comment on them).

What I had to do specifically was to evaluate the STEP tool – to identify what the students liked/ disliked about it and how they would improve it. The first two weeks were spent by getting familiar with the project, reading through relevant studies and deciding which interview method to use. At the end, six individual interviews were carried out. I was working with two other medics and we wrote the interview questions ourselves and conducted the interviews without supervision as well. Transcription was the lengthiest part of this research but while we were doing that, we could already look for common themes and get the general feel of what the PhD students thought about the STEP project. Last two weeks consisted of analysis and finishing our reports. Our supervisors returned our work a few days later and we passed with flying colours. The short sum up of our findings are as follows: 1) postgraduate students experienced a lot of pressure and stress since it was probably the first time they were being academically challenged and there was nobody to properly guide them through their studies, 2) students felt quite isolated as it is hard to find other PhD students around the campus and nobody else could relate to their lifestyle, 3) the STEP tool helped them to socialise and provided the sense of community where students could discuss their PhD in a safe environment and 4) everyone found photography to be an excellent way to reflect on their mental health and some admitted it made them realise they were not feeling as well as they thought.

This placement enabled me to get a real feel of research which I am very grateful for. Prior to this opportunity, I saw research as something only being done in laboratories while wearing white coats. My project showed me that research is a very diverse sphere where one learns how to effectively work in a team and how to compromise. Running the interviews allowed me to be the interviewer for the first time and to direct the conversation flow. Who knows, I might come back to research at some point during my medical degree.

And what now? Our supervisors will write up a proper study using our reports as a basis and when they are finished, they will send their paper to several research journals and hopefully, some editors will like our work and will publish us. If the study truly ends up being published, my name will be mentioned as a co-author which to me is quite exiting.

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