Moving from Clinical Work to Academia: a Researcher Physiotherapist’s Experience
I hung up my uniform, put away my stethoscope, and said farewell to the on-call pager – the time had come for me to move from working as a physiotherapist in a busy acute hospital environment to the world of academia! Perhaps this is something you've considered before and wondered…what would it be like to leave your clinical role and return to university life in pursuit of an MSc or PhD? One year into my PhD, I want to share with you, in very general terms, some the main changes I've noticed in my work life…
1. You will learn so much, starting from day one
I went from being an experienced senior therapist to a novice researcher overnight.This was like the usual 'new job' feeling multiplied by ten.It was exciting to be exposed to this much information, but also a little daunting - needless to say the learning curve for year one looked a tad like this:
2. The pace of work is completely different
Hospital work is usually fairly non-stop from the minute you step in the door until the end of the day. It took a long time to get comfortable with operating at a more relaxed pace and to not feel guilty if I wasn’t run off my feet or multi-tasking. For example, sometimes you just need to spend a morning quietly reading papers – and this is perfectly legitimate! (Note: it gets hectic here too, just on a less-routine basis!)
3. Switching off from work can be more challenging
Papers, presentations, deadlines - gone are the days of leaving work at 5pm and being able to step away from work until the alarm rings the following morning! A PhD researcher is responsible for the success of their project, and this means you can find yourself putting in longer hours or working weekends to get something completed. But we’re still entitled to our holidays, of course!
4. Flexible working hours are a huge bonus
Having the freedom to control my work schedule is a blessing! To a certain extent, you can design your day around how you work best, or what your needs are – if you want to start an hour later so you can hit the gym in the morning, or to work from home one day, it’s all possible - but staying on track with your goals is key – at this stage, I imagine you can guess that the ability to self-motivate and be self-disciplined is essential for this type of work!
5. The internet is a double-edged sword
It can be your best friend - enabling you to work from home/abroad, but also your worst enemy, as it facilitates 24/7 connection to work-related matters and, more to the point, can be a huge distraction if you're not careful! There’s plenty of apps and time-management tools to help with this - I use a Chrome plug-in called Stay Focused - if I try log onto certain time-wasting websites during work hours, I get this message plastered across my screen:
...That usually shocks me back into working again!
7. Opportunities are there for the taking
The new work domain brings many possibilities, and I've been lucky to get involved in projects that would have been out of my reach prior to starting this PhD. At times it could be tempting to question my abilities or achievements. The term ‘Imposter Syndrome’ is often used, but I try to take a different perspective - a little self-doubt is normal, it's best to acknowledge this feeling and then shake it off and carry on. If we are humble and open to learning, we can be secure in the knowledge that we deserve our achievements. And always remember this graph:
8. The academic lifestyle can be fairly sedentary…
As much as it pains me to admit, I spend many hours at a desk, in front of a screen. It’s a huge departure from the active job of a physio, and this change in lifestyle could have negative consequences on our health, and even stymie our productivity. Health care professionals are, of course, great at problem solving, so we find ways to fit activity into our day, like a lunchtime run, an active commute or walking meetings. More resourceful researchers could take inspiration from the intrepid folk in the photo below!
I hope this blog post has shed some light on the experience of moving from clinical to academic work. I’m writing this because I believe clinical experience is incredibly valuable in producing meaningful research projects that will be impactful and directly translate to practice - so I would highly recommend any health care professionals who are interested in a research career to go for it!
I claim no credit for any images included in this blog post. Images in this blog post are copyright to their respectful owners.
Images credit: 1. Shutterstock; 2. Google; 3. Videoblocks; 4. Dreamstime; 5. Astrakan / Plainpicture; 6. Stayfocused; 7. @rundavidrun; 8. Thinkgeek / Rob Godshaw / wahoofitness / reddit