Thursday, 12 November 2015

Sublime and ridiculous: the glamorous life of a public health researcher

Guest post by Rebekah McNaughton, Research Associate in Public Health and Lecturer in Research Methods at Teesside University 

They say that variety is the spice of life and that is certainly true in my line of work. When I started my career as a public health researcher I understood that a great deal of my time would be spent reading other people’s research, doing fieldwork and writing numerous reports. That has certainly been true of the last 10 years of my career. What I didn't expect was the huge variety that I would come to love.

Doing fieldwork is by far my favourite aspect of the job. I'm naturally quite inquisitive and I'm really lucky to get paid to do something I enjoy- being nosey! So far, I have worked on projects with children and young people, parents, teachers, public health professionals and patients. You name it: I've probably worked with them. And, to be honest, it has ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous…
Crowd control: Some research participants refused to be quiet for the focus group
Yes, I've done focus groups in schools and community venues. I've sat on people’s sofas having a cup of tea and a biscuit. I've been challenged by young people determined to embarrass me whilst talking about sex and relationships education. All of this I expected as part of the ‘routine’.

What I didn't expect, however, was trying my hardest to concentrate on asking ‘the right questions’ whilst the washing machine was screaming in the background on the extended spin cycle. Or being mauled by a rather ‘licky’ dog and trying to make sense of the tape afterwards. I didn't expect to need crowd control skills when trying to carry out work with 24 new mums and their 28 babies and toddlers, all wriggling on the floor and not one of them being courteously quiet for the tape. However, today took the biscuit. I went to talk to two health visitors, at their place of work. Nothing out of the ordinary, or so I thought. In need of some privacy, I was led into a tiny windowless room (a cupboard), a cupboard lined with patient notes and not enough room to swing a cat. The three of us huddled around a mop and bucket, like women dancing around their handbags in a club circa 1989, whilst I held out the voice recorder. At the same time I was trying desperately not to drop it in the murky water swimming at the bottom of the bucket. Oh, the glamorous life I lead…

Would I change it? Absolutely not! No two projects are the same. Meeting participants is by far the best aspect of my job; it brings obstacles and challenges but most of all it makes my job a lot of fun!

Photo attribution:, Anthony J, 'Six pack', The results of the 'final project' in our childbirth class, (Left to right: Sienna, Maguire, Sophia, Ethan, Claire and Noah)

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