I just realised why I’m filled with constant angst these days. After being a physiotherapist for 15 years and am now half way through a PhD, the clinician and researcher in me have drawn battle lines! I’m quite new to the academic and research world and let me tell you that it has been an extremely steep learning curve.
While I am learning and growing in my research skills I am also beginning to see all the flaws in research design and analysis. Planning a robust research design often means controlling variables to allow for comparisons. Depending on what variables are considered to be important or not will dramatically impact the results. Unfortunately, we often go into study with our own biases or take on those from previous studies. I know for sure my clinical experience biases my research and how I interpret other researchers results.
Another factor when designing studies with humans is being able to create something that is feasible for not only the researcher but also the participants. I know that I started my PhD with grand plans but have had to modify the study design to something that is realistic and manageable from a financial, time and human resource point of view.
The third thing I’m learning is that even though I have discovered very interesting findings some of these results can’t be reported because they weren’t an outcome from the research design. Let me give an example of this. During my fieldwork in Nepal, I visited four remote health outposts. In each of these facilities there were posters on the wall about pelvic organ prolapse (my research topic). These are standard government issued posters and the images illustrated the causes and treatment options for a prolapse. What I noticed was that the image showing how to do pelvic floor muscle exercise was wrong and could in fact make a prolapse worse. This was one of the reasons I started my PhD. The other thing I noticed when speaking to the local health workers was that they were all teaching pelvic floor muscle exercise to the community women the wrong way. Both of these points are so interesting and important but because they were mere personal ‘observations’ I can’t report these findings while writing up the journal article. I have tried really hard to find literature, evidence or policy to back up these observations but it has proven impossible.
As a clinician, the process of collecting data has been so interesting and has filled me up with the most beautiful stories from the Nepali women I have met. I am bursting to tell these stories as they are inspiring, challenging and should be considered by both clinicians and policy makers. I feel like the research world doesn’t allow for the story telling behind the data collection process. This is both frustrating, sad and disappointing. There is so much to learn from the process of conducting research (sharing our mistakes and victories) and from the experiences of the participants. In what forum can we share these lessons and stories?