Whilst researching her PenARC PhD project Emily Taylor won an NIHR Short Placement Award for Research Collaboration (SPARC) with NIHR Applied Research Collaboration Greater Manchester (ARC-GM). In this blog for NIHR’s Your Path in Research Campaign she tells us how her research has led from working in the fast-paced, peripatetic third sector to taking her research out on the road.
Starting out on my research journey
I was working as a carer for older people living in the community in 2012 when my course to research was set. I found that the sentiment, “I’m not living, merely existing”, was shared by many of the people I visited. I qualified and worked as a Physiotherapist and moved into a role in the third sector, at each stage searching for the solution that could make ‘living’ rather than just ‘existing’ a more universal experience in older age.
“I found that the sentiment, “I’m not living, merely existing”, was shared by many of the people I visited.”
The path I’m taking with my research
My research explores the meaning and importance of independence for older people and is the next stage in my journey. “It’s no fun, getting old”, is a familiar phrase from my carer days. It’s a view propagated by society but isn’t the story of ageing shared by many of the people I’ve met. If I could wish for just one impact of my research it would be to elicit greater respect for the individuality of each older person within our society.
What research has taught me
My research has taught me a lot about how wrong my own assumptions and prejudices have been and encouraged me to question existing systems and structures. I hope that my research will help to highlight the extraordinary assets associated with old age and extend understanding of what can be done to make an asset- (rather than deficit-) oriented experience of ageing the norm.
I’ve developed a toolkit in response to my findings which I hope will help to facilitate independence whilst being attentive to individual values and beliefs and make achieving or maintaining independence a unique experience for everyone.
“If I could wish for just one impact of my research it would be to elicit greater respect for the individuality of each older person within our society.”
Taking my research on the road
Recently I headed up to Manchester to spend time with the team at ARC-GM and to deliver two Public and Community Involvement and Engagement (PCIE) workshops. The aim was to understand the relevance of my research results for communities not represented in my original project. It was the first time that I’d worked with a translator, and I wondered how my results would translate for the Chinese and Polish communities that I was working with. I feared that despite my preparation, I might show myself to be thoroughly culturally incompetent.
Fortunately, the discussion flowed, people laughed and said that they enjoyed sharing their views and experiences. I even got the hang of how to engage with the three-way conversations of translation. It became apparent that many experiences were shared but that cultural differences presented these shared understandings with unique frames. For example, whilst the Chinese participants juxtaposed independence against the Confucian principles significant to their upbringing, discussion in the Polish group reflected on the relevance of independence in a context of political transition. Each workshop helped me to look again at my research and to more fully understand both what we know and still need to know about independence from different perspectives.
“. . . the discussion flowed, people laughed and said that they enjoyed sharing their views and experiences.”
“It’s about trust”
It’s important to say that the success of the workshops was testament to the tremendous work undertaken by the PCIE team at ARC GM. “It’s about trust”, said our hosts at the community centre, “that’s what makes people feel comfortable to share”. Through the commitment to developing relationships with community groups and ensuring that engagement in research is always mutually beneficial, ARC GM’s PCIE Forum has laid the foundations for that trust and I have had the privilege to benefit from it on this placement.
“Despite the challenges of a research career, it has, and continues to be very much worth the effort.”
Taking the next steps on my research journey
“For me, research means always learning and, therefore, exciting times ahead!”
Despite the challenges of a research career, it has, and continues to be very much worth the effort. I’ve found collaborating with the research team and working with older people extremely rewarding. Research has created opportunities that I didn’t know existed, such as my exciting new role as Research Support Officer for Cornwall Council. This NIHR funded position is about enhancing research by connecting and resourcing staff from across the Council, NHS and Clinical Research Network South West Peninsula with communities to be research active. It’s about facilitating and enabling collaboration to generate new knowledge which can help to resolve the issues that matter most to us all. Soon I plan to hand in my PhD thesis, share my learning from the SPARC award via visual displays and presentations and deliver a ‘Research Showcase’ within the Council to facilitate research conversations and shared learning. For me, research means always learning and, therefore, exciting times ahead!
Learn more about Emily’s PhD project Using Mixed Methods to inform our understanding of maintaining independence in older people.