Tuesday, 14 October 2014

First week as a public health researcher

Posted by Christina Cooper

The week begins with a feeling of curiosity and excitement; looking forward to new challenges and working alongside new colleagues; and, a healthy dose of 'imposter syndrome'! It has been nice over the summer, telling friends and family that I am undertaking a PhD in public health, but now the day is here I am fairly sure they will realise very quickly, they have made a mistake, and I will be sent back to the job queue.
Broadly speaking, the Dunning-Kruger Effect is defined as "a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is accurate.

I am housed within the Early life and adolescense branch of Fuse, investigating prevention straegies for risky behaviour in adolescence. The first step is attendance at the Fuse members meeting, where academics, students and other practitioner guests come together to discuss issues from the current ongoing research. It all sounds very intelligent and I am convinced that as a newbie I will stick out like a sore thumb! On arrival I feel a strange mixture of comfort from the familiarity of being back in Newcastle at my old university, and fear of the unknown, the realisation that I am an independent research student and nobody is going to tell me where I should be or what I should be doing over the next three long years.

I am thrilled to see one or two friendly faces amongst those gathered; fellow research students I met during orientation, lecturers from my previous course, and my supervisor among them. Fairly early on in the proceedings it transpires that it is not just my first day, there are many of us beginning this journey together; PhD students, postgraduate research associates, supervisors, program leaders and a new director. All of us finding our feet and settling in to our new role together. Each of us are welcomed as members of the ‘Fuse family’ and, by the end of the day, that is just how it feels, an extended family ready to reach and lend support to any one of us.

Following this well-timed glimpse into life as a public health researcher comes the first day proper. Meetings with supervisors and fellow students; finding our way around the university buildings; and receiving the coveted student cards, fob keys, and other small necessities which say ‘this will be your home for the next three years’. Go!

In the post graduate research room I find a desk, and take a seat. There is a quiet hum of concentration from second and third year students as they work. I turn on my computer, register my name for postgraduate induction and check my emails. I open the web browser and stare at the white screen in front of me, the cursor flashing patiently, and waiting for instruction. I feel a little overwhelmed and wonder if I will ever get to the stage of my colleagues around me. One of them looks over, knowingly and says ‘don’t worry, the first day is always like that’. I’m so grateful.

Today is the beginning of my second week and I have so many ideas I don’t know where to start.

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