Briefly, tell us about your background leading to your current program of study.
I am a neonatal nurse, and I have practiced as a Clinical Nurse Specialist for many years in Level III NICU’s supporting bedside nurses in everything from socialization and professional development to the provision of excellent clinical care in partnership with families. I have always valued research and systematic approaches to determining the best possible ways to deliver care for critically ill neonates. I was given the opportunity to collaborate on some clinical research projects with Dr. Blackburn and Dr. Thomas over the years, looking at physiologic challenges (thermoregulation), and neurodevelopmental care (swaddling and hand containment during stressful procedures). I was hooked; I began to think differently about research and about the evidence supporting our care.
How did you know you were ready to take this next step toward your educational goal?
I had known for a good long while that I wanted to go back to school and was just waiting for the right time and space to jump into the PhD program. I did my master’s at UCSF, shortly after I finished my Bachelor’s degree and got comfortable with practice in the NICU. I am one of those people who just loves being in school. I love the environment, I love the stimulation of reading and hearing other opinions, and yes, I even like the part about writing papers (once I settle down to do it).
Why this program, and why specifically at UW?
Why this program—truthfully, there wasn’t even a thought about it. I guess I was lucky to have settled in a city with the preeminent research intensive nursing school. I always thought of it as the program down the street, and luckily, I already had relationships with some of the faculty. I had served as a clinical faculty and given talks for years, I just hadn’t really been in the “school mode” until it was time.
How did I know I was ready for doctoral work? As I said, I always knew I would do it; I just had some major life changes to get through to put me in just the right place. When it was time, I applied. I did take advantage of the GNM (graduate non-matriculated) program for the first year, to get my school head in gear, to find my way around campus, and to get a start on some courses. I found myself in the middle of a three part toxicology series in the health services department that could have been easier had I known to take the first course, and I felt pretty silly and really old when I participated in a seminar with some very bright “kids” in developmental psychology, they were all working in various labs and we talked more about the hippocampus than I had ever known was possible. I think that year was a good grounding for me before I was accepted into the PhD program and launched into my prescribed coursework.
What excites you most about your program?
Right now I am excited to have my own data to mess about with. It took me two plus years to settle on a topic and more time than that to nail down my research question. I then worked with a collaborator on a preliminary study that laid the groundwork in methods for my dissertation. It’s been several years and many stats courses of what I think of as virtual learning. Now that I finally have my own data, I’m much more engaged in how to clean and analyze it, and spend hours learning techniques that I hope will be more likely to stick in my little brain. My study involves time-series physiologic data and a small number of participants, so I can remember each one in detail and I’m thoroughly enjoying delving into this process.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about yourself as a student at UW?
Wow, I’ve learned so much about everything while in the doctoral program. I have learned the extreme value of careful systematic work to solve what might seem like overwhelming problems, be they complicated methods, publication steps, IRB headaches or grant management. If I keep my head, and take baby steps, I’ll make much more progress than if I try to tackle the whole thing at once. I’ve always had a freakish love of process, so I guess this approach suits me well. I am sometimes more interested in how to do something than the end product.
What has pleasantly surprised you about your experience?
I have been a little surprised by the depth and breadth of relationships I have built through my time in the program. I am blessed to be a part of an amazing cohort. I still have the notes from the day we started in the room together. I remember each person and what they thought they wanted to study (many small deviations and course corrections happened over time); I jotted something down about who they were and what they said. I had no idea how much I would come to depend on those people, to befriend and really to love them, and how proud I would be as they each embraced their fields of study and defended their findings. We had weddings, babies, break-ups, cross country moves, and sadly, death over the past six years since we stepped into that room together. We learned logistic regression (well some people actually learned it), we wrote manuscripts, fought battles with our chairs together, and grew in our science each in our own way. In addition to my cohort members, I have made lasting friendships and collaborative relationships with many students from cohorts before and after mine. Becoming a nurse scientist is not something done alone, and I have been pleasantly surprised at the opportunities for collaboration and the mutual support to be gained within our school.
How is your UW education preparing you to meet your professional goals?
My professional goal is to be a nurse scientist, to write and manage grants, to conduct research and to support the nurses in clinical practice with solid and useful evidence. As a student of the UW School of Nursing, I have been supported to participate in a training grant, which led me to write my own individual NRSA grant. I have recently concluded that grant and am contemplating the next steps, likely to include post-doctoral study and hopefully further success with NIH funding. I have learned so much in addition to research techniques, including some basic grant management, how to navigate the University system (at times unfathomable) for financial processes, techniques for successful collaboration, the importance of dissemination of my findings, and planning for the inevitable next study, or next project. I hope that these skills and experiences will prepare me for a successful research career, whether in an academic or clinical setting. I mentioned the time spent in analysis of my data; lately I have been utilizing the tremendous gift of consultation from the Office of Nursing Research to scratch the surface of learning about time-series and frequency domain analytical approaches for physiologic data. I would never have been able to complete my work without access to this resource. I haven’t yet commented upon the faculty or coursework; I have taken classes throughout the six years of my program, some in other disciplines, all building my base of knowledge and challenging my thinking. I have many more credits than required, but I value each as a little brick in the foundation that I’ve been building to support my future career. I have taken advantage of the opportunities to learn from faculty through independent study around a particular topic, or to engage in critique of manuscripts or ideas I was developing. Open doors, challenging questions, and freely offered support were mine for the asking from faculty in each of the departments. My program of study spanned the Family & Child and Biobehavioral Nursing and Health Systems, it was up to me to access faculty as needed, and I found them to be gracious with time and energy regardless of the topic or time of year.
Tell us about your experience with mentors.
I was in a little different place than many incoming students; I had already done small research projects with Dr. Karen Thomas and Dr. Susan Blackburn over the years in my role as a CNS. We also co-authored shared publications as part of our local professional neonatal nursing organization. It was a great setup for me to have an ongoing relationship, Karen is now the chair of my dissertation committee and Susan is a member. I was lucky to be assigned a student mentor that I knew well, (the neonatal world is small in many ways). Georgia had practical insights that I found invaluable about courses, faculty, and funding, she gave me tips about data management and how to get through the biostatistics series. She was the one who convinced me to apply for the T-32 training grant, and I owe her “huge” for that. In turn, I got to be a mentor for another student, and although he didn’t need much mentoring, I loved watching his research evolve and I think I was some support as he finished his dissertation and prepared for his defense. Mentoring is something I believe in and whether formal or informal, I know that students will benefit from relationships with each other across cohorts, within programs, and at different stages. I sought out sage advice from several PhD students who were in their final stages when I was just forming my proposal ideas. One of those informal mentors has become a collaborator and close friend, we meet weekly to work on future grants, manuscripts and now analysis of the data we share. I have learned that research is a team sport and I need all the help I can get on my team.
Never ask a doctoral student about their work, unless you have time and space to live it with them.