Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Three questions

Posted by Lynne Stobbart

Editor's note: Earlier this year, Heather Yoeli suggested a little quiz of three questions. This post is another entry for the quiz. If you want to play, just get in touch.

1. In an entirely hypothetical scenario in which time, money and skill were no object and you could research absolutely anything at all, what would you choose?

Much of my research, whether interventional or observational, has focussed on the emergency clinical situation. For example, pharmaceutical and neurosurgical trials in acute brain injury (e.g. STICH), and observational studies in stroke research (my PhD) and the treatment of ischaemic stroke in the hyperacute period (DASH). By definition, these events are unpredictable and occur erratically, making it very difficult for the lone ethnographic researcher (in particular) to be in the ‘right place at the right time’, to undertake data collection. This was well demonstrated during my doctoral research and later, in the DASH study (perhaps trying to observe emergency interactions across three sites in a 20 mile radius was a little ambitious!), where I attempted to observe patient/family/professional decision making regarding the administration of thrombolytic therapy. Given unlimited resources, I would like to expand the ethnographic work undertaken in my PhD to include other emergency research situations, in order to compare and contrast these scenarios and the associated behaviours of clinicians, patients and their families, when faced with a decision about research participation in the emergency environment. However, this would require either a team of ethnographers available to provide 24 hour on-call facility, or a TARDIS for transportation of the lone researcher – a requisition that might not go down well with the finance department!

A TARDIS - essential research kit for the ethnographer?
So, until time travel becomes a realistic and affordable possibility, I would love to replicate, in the UK, the ethnographic work undertaken by Lesley A. Sharp in the U.S., and presented in her book, Strange Harvest: Organ Transplants, Denatured Bodies and the Transformed Self. I hope that my current work developing funding applications for social sciences research in transplantation will support and facilitate at least some part of this.

2. If you could poach a piece of research from one of your colleagues, which and whose would you pick and why?
For the purposes of answering this question I have chosen to interpret the word ‘colleagues’ in its broadest sense, i.e. other researchers. Apart from the aforementioned work by Lesley Sharp, I also covet the work of Roberto Abadie, who explores the emergence of ‘professional guinea pigs’, individuals who have made a ‘career’ out of serial participation in clinical trials for financial gain. Again, a TARDIS would be useful to take me back to the period immediately prior to the now notorious Northwick Park incident (TGN1412 – ‘We saw human guinea pigs explode’), to enable me to explore the existence and experiences of ‘professional guinea pigs’ here in the UK, before and after this unfortunate event.

3. If you could study and/or work at any university in the world where would you go?
I confess to being something of a ‘home bird’ and therefore thought that I would struggle with this question, however, a couple of places might lure me out of my comfort zone. Purely for personal reasons, and based on a sense of familiarity, I would love to live and work in either Edinburgh or Glasgow. I have no familial or historical links to either as far as I am aware, but always feel a strong sense of belonging when I’m there – hardly an ‘academic’ basis for upping sticks though.

My other choice however, would be much more rooted in my academic interests – research and clinical ethics. In 2007, as part of my doctoral training, I attended a week long intensive bioethics course at The Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University, Washington D.C. The Institute is renowned as the home of the 'four principles approach’ to medical ethics, sometimes referred to as ‘The Georgetown Mantra’. During this course I had the opportunity to listen to presentations by the authors of this work, Tom Beauchamp and Jim Childress (during which, I should make clear, they emphasised that they had never intended that autonomy be privileged above the other principles!). I attended seminars, lectures and workshops with other eminent ethicists, familiar to me from my reading including Ed Pellegrino, Bob Veatch, Madison Powers, Maggie Little, Ruth Faden and John Keown and would love to return to further immerse myself in this fascinating topic.

Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University
Academic pedigree aside, aesthetically also, both Georgetown and Washington itself, are fantastic locations with splendid attractions. More practically, the grid system (consisting of letters and numbers and thus even simpler than other states), means that even the most geographically challenged individual (i.e. me!) can run, walk and generally mobilise without the need of a Hansel and Gretel style trail of breadcrumbs – quite important for someone who can (and indeed has) get lost in the next street!

Now all I need is my Fairy Godmother, with her “I’ll give you three wishes” routine….

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