On the road again

Two years ago I moved house for the 8th time. It was the fourth time I’d moved for a job and the second time I’d moved overseas.

As an academic, moving is an occupational hazard. Almost every academic I know has moved at least once in their career. Some have moved states to do their PhDs, others have moved countries for postdocs. Some have moved to big cities for promotions, others have moved to small towns for tenure.  Moving allows us to collaborate with new people, develop new skills, and explore new ideas. And, depending on where you end up, it can make for holidays in some pretty cool destinations!

Overseas or interstate moves, however, are not for the faint-hearted. If you’re contemplating making a move, here are my Top 10 Tips for making it there without sacrificing your physical or mental health.

(1) Talk to as many people as you can, at every stage of the process. Don’t wait until you’ve been offered the job to find out about the place you’ll be living and the people you’ll be working with. Visit if you can and make the most of Skype & Google if you can’t. Things to consider include the climate, the language or culture, and whether you can pursue your hobbies there (swimming pools and yoga studios were important to me). If you are moving with a partner or children, employment opportunities and schools will also need to be considered, as will access to doctors if you have a medical condition.

(2) Accept that you will need to put your research/teaching/supervision on hold while you move. Advise colleagues, industry partners, and students of your plans as early as possible and work with them to minimise disruptions to ongoing projects and ensure continuity of supervision for ongoing students.

(3) Back up all your data and review ethical and legal requirements for the storage and movement of data. Depending on the nature of your research you may have to leave hard copy data behind and if you’re taking it with you it may take time to make all the necessary arrangements.

(4) Ask for and accept help. This piece of advice was given to me by the wonderful Dr Kylie Smith, who made the move from Australia to the USA. When I asked Kylie how she survived the move, she said “This is not the time to be shy or proud. This is the time to ask for help and accept it when it’s offered.”

(5) Make lists. From visa applications and mail redirection to finding somewhere to live and getting your hair cut for the last time, the number of things you need to do before you leave is overwhelming and you will not be able to hold it all in your head. Make lists and work through them systematically. If you are moving with a partner or children, delegate. If you’re moving alone, breathe!

(6) Have a farewell. If you’re an extrovert this might be a given, but it’s also important if you’re an introvert. The idea of a party where I’m the centre of attention is my idea of hell. I’d much rather slip quietly out the door, while no-one’s looking, after a nice dinner with a few friends. But it’s not about me (or you!). A party is an opportunity for the people who care about you to say good-bye and to feel acknowledged for the role they’ve played in getting you to where you are or, more importantly, where you’re going.

(7) Engage in plenty of self-care. Moving is exhausting, both physically and mentally, and it’s important that you find time to rest, relax, and care for yourself. In the craziest week of my move (a week in which my old job ended, I moved out of my house, I moved in with friends, I put tenants in my house, I flew to another city for Christmas with my family, and I applied for my British visa), I did 7 yoga classes in six days. Although this presented a small logistical challenge, it was essential for keeping my body strong and my mind calm.

(8) Throw money at the problem. If you can afford it, pay for help. Whether that’s paying the moving company to pack your belongings, or paying someone to clean your house, out-sourcing a few jobs can really take the pressure off. If you can’t afford to pay professionals, invite your friends around for a working bee. If you supply the beer and chips, they’ll supply the labour. Trust me!

(9) Reduce, recycle, re-gift. As you pack up your office and your home, you’ll discover a mountain of things you no longer need or can’t take with you. From staplers to mattresses, almost everything you don’t want can have another life and throwing things into landfill should always be a last resort. Charities will welcome donations of good quality clothes, books, furniture, and household items. Most cities will have a company that recycles mattresses for a small fee, with the majority returning any profits to charities. Craft or sporting supplies can be donated to local childcare centres or schools, while food and toiletries can be donated to organisations that support refugees, homeless people, and families doing it tough. Your colleagues will happily take your stationery and your friends will gladly accept those two bottles of rum you claimed were for baking.

(10) Have fun! In the busy-ness and craziness of moving, it can be easy to misplace your excitement. Take a moment to stop and reflect on the wonderful opportunity you’ve been given and the fabulous new adventure upon which you are about to embark!

 

Have your recently moved for an academic job? Got other tips? Share them in the comments!

What’s care got to do with it?

I haven’t posted anything here for a while. But it’s not because I didn’t have anything to say. It’s because I’ve been trying to practice what I preach.

I spend the vast majority of my professional life talking about care – who gets it, who doesn’t, why it’s important, what happens when there’s not enough, and what happens when there’s too much. And although my research generally focuses on care for others, this year I turned my attention to self-care. Because the great irony of doing good research on the care of others, is that it often comes at the expense of caring for yourself.

Co-written with my Australian colleagues Sarah Pinto and Sharon McDonough, my latest paper explores the the importance of self-care for academics. It is a call-to-arms for academics who’ve neglected themselves in the pursuit of their work and a critique of the neoliberal systems that demand this kind of self-neglect. It is a to-do list for rediscovering self-care and a reminder that resistance comes in many forms. It’s also a poem. Because why the heck not!

You can read it here, or contact me for a copy. And then forgive me for not posting. I’ve been doing some much needed self-care.

Non-Required Reading: Redux

A few years ago I wrote a post about the importance of reading for pleasure in academia and suggested a non-required reading list for PhD students. The basic premise was that although great writing comes from great reading, great reads are rarely found in academic journals. Instead, if students want to write well, they need to immerse themselves in quality fiction, narrative non-fiction, essays, feature writing, memoir, and poetry. In short, phrasebanks are not the answer to poor academic prose, Shakespeare is!

There’s been a lot of interest in my Non-Required Reading List recently, so I thought I would revisit it. But rather than making the list prescriptive, as I did last time, I thought I would offer a simple framework and a list of resources. This would give students and supervisors more flexibility in how they approach the list and allow the resources to grow over time as I discover and remember other great reads (or you suggest them!).

Framework
Every month you should aim to read four long-form articles of your choice from Long Reads, The Atlantic, or Mosaic, and one quality work of fiction, non-fiction, or poetry.

Resources
Fiction:

Non-Fiction:

Poetry:

 

Can you recommend other great reads that should be added to the Resources? Or have you got feedback on how you or your students have used the Non-Required Reading List? Leave me a comment!

 

Care: A Reading List

There’s a piece of street art in my home town that says “The more I think about it, the bigger it gets”. I was reminded of it during a recent visit to Keele University when a conversation with colleagues turned to recreational reading. I always have a book on the go and I’ve written before about the importance of good reading for good academic writing, but the conversation at Keele made me realise how much my recreational reading overlaps with my professional interests, particularly my interest in care. And it’s not deliberate, it’s just that once you start thinking about care, you see it everywhere. The more you think about it, the bigger it gets.

Not everything I’ve read, however, has been good. I’ve read many books that, while undoubtedly cathartic for the author to write, should never have been published for general consumption. So I wanted to celebrate the good books. The books that are both beautifully written and true to the experiences of carers (both family & professional). The books that expand your mind and tear at your heart. The books that I regularly recommend to friends, strangers, students, and colleagues.

I hope to continue to add to this list over time, as I read new books and remember old ones, but I’d also welcome your suggestions. What’s the best thing you’ve read that explores the concept of care?

Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink

Home is Burning by Dan Marshall

Shtum by Jem Lester

The Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Bettyville by George Hodgman

The Spare Room by Helen Garner

The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum

 

And the beat goes on

The findings from my first collaboration with European colleagues were published this week. This is a significant milestone for me, because it’s exactly the kind of collaborative, international research I was pursuing when I packed up my life and moved to the UK just over a year ago. More importantly, however, it’s a significant contribution to a growing body of research on suicide and homicide risk in people caring for family members with dementia.

My previous research showed that 1 in 6 carers had contemplated suicide in the previous twelve months, that only half of them had ever told anyone they felt this way, and that 20% of them were likely to attempt suicide in the future. This research also found no difference in the rate of suicidal thinking experienced by carers supporting a person with dementia at home, carers supporting a person with dementia in a nursing home, and carers who had been recently bereaved. These were ground-breaking findings and they generated significant interest from the community, the media, playwrights, and other researchers. But there was still so much we needed to understand.

In particular, the research was cross-sectional, so we were only capturing suicidal thoughts at one point in time. Consequently, we didn’t know how thoughts of suicide changed over time and whether carers who thought about suicide after the person with dementia moved into care, or after they died, had also thought about it while caring at home.

This new research addresses that issue. The article has been published ‘open access’, which means you can read the entire thing here for free, but to summarise briefly:

  • The study followed almost 200 carers in the Netherlands for two years, none of whom had depression or anxiety at baseline
  • Over the 2 year period, 40% of carers developed depression and were assessed for thoughts of suicide
  • 12% reported thoughts of suicide, with one third of those reporting suicidal thoughts at multiple time points
  • Thoughts of suicide were seen in various patterns, including only before the person with dementia was admitted to a nursing home, before and after the person was admitted to a nursing home, only after the person was admitted to a nursing home, and after the person with dementia died.

These findings support my previous research and show the incredible toll that caring can take, particularly at key transition points such as institutionalisation and death.

What they also show is that thoughts of suicide are not unique to Australian carers, but rather appear to transcend social, cultural, and political boundaries. Although more research is required to understand how the health and social care policies of different countries might influence suicidal thinking, this is another important step toward understanding and preventing suicide-related thoughts and behaviours in family carers.

It is heartbreaking to do research that shows, time after time, how little the world cares about carers. They are the invisible scaffolding that holds up every part of our society and our communities would crumble without them. This research is only a small contribution to efforts to recognise and support the wonderful work of family carers, but, added to my other work and that of my colleagues around the world, I hope it is a meaningful one.

As ever, nothing good is done alone. I am indebted to Dr Karlijn Joling, Professor Cees Hertogh, and Professor Hein van Hout, who conducted the research that provided data for this study. I am particularly grateful to Karlijn, who led the analysis of the data and was a joy to write with. Karlijn, Cees, and Hein share my passion for research that cares and I look forward to our continued collaborationsl

 

Kapow!

Last year the lovely folks at Australian Ageing Agenda asked me to write an Opinion piece about family care. As well as advocating for carers, I used the opportunity to confess to the world my deep and abiding love for the Batman films. After originally appearing in the AAA magazine, the piece has now been posted online and you can read all about the wonderful work that carers do (and my shameful secret!) here.

Cake & Collaboration

The last line of my academic bio ends with the sentence “Siobhan believes the path to good research is paved with cake”. It’s an attempt to bring some lightness to the all too serious world of academic research, but more importantly, it’s a values statement. Because cake – unlike Freud’s cigar – is never just cake.

Brought into the tea room of a University, cake tells my colleagues I value their company, their contribution, and their compassion. Brought into a meeting with industry partners, cake tells community organisations that I value their time and their expertise, and I can be trusted with the vulnerable people they represent. Brought into interviews with research participants, cake tells carers and people with dementia that I value their stories, that I’m a person too, and that I understand how nerve-wracking it is to share your darkest thoughts with a complete stranger.

Of course the cake must be home-made. There’s no value in a store-bought cake. The value comes from having spent my own time and energy to create something just for my colleague, my partner, or my participant. That’s how people know I care.

And I care because I recognise that I cannot do good research alone. We often think of ground-breaking researchers as single entities – Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, Neil deGrasse Tyson – but all research is the product of collaboration. My own collaborations span departments, universities, states, countries, disciplines, languages, and sectors. And my research is richer for it.

But in the early stages of a research career it can be hard to build collaborations, and part of my goal with this website and Shut Up & Write Tuesdays is to support emerging researchers. Which is why I recently became a Social Media Correspondent for Piirus, an academic networking website that helps to facilitate research collaborations across the world. The team at Piirus share my values and have good research – not profit – as their primary goal.

As part of my role at Piirus, I’ll be using my own social media and online presence to encourage researchers – particularly those in the early stages of their careers – to join Piirus. You’ll see that I’ve added a link to Piirus on the sidebar of this website and in my Twitter feed you’ll see the occasional Piirus-related tweet or retweet.

Piirus doesn’t offer cake, but it certainly offers collaboration. And when it comes to good research, that’s the next best thing!