|Collage image of PhD moments provided by Karly Edgar
I’m coming to the end of my PhD research, having started January 2020 and I am due to submit soon - fingers crossed!
I have been researching the Biography Program that Eastern Palliative Care Association Inc. (EPC) offers as part of their volunteer services. EPC provides specialist care to palliative patients in their homes, and any patients can participate in the Biography Program. If they do, a volunteer will visit them in their home, or meet with them online/over the phone if they prefer, and record them telling life stories. The volunteer then transcribes their stories and works with them to produce a written life story.
I hadn’t heard of an industry scholarship before applying for one and didn’t understand what it meant until after I had begun. It means that a business/organisation (in my case, EPC) has partnered with La Trobe to provide a scholarship to research a particular subject (the Biography Program). It ended up being a fantastic opportunity and, if they were all like my experience, I’d highly recommend it!
|Flyer for Karly's EPC talk in March 2023
As with most things as a doctoral researcher, though, I think a lot comes down to the people around you. I was fortunate. My supervisors, Drs Bruce Rumbold, David Azul, Fiona Gardner, and previously Susan Furness, all came with similar yet varying areas of expertise, and each offered unique and valuable perspectives. They were all very open in encouraging me to follow where the research and my interests led. Just as important as this supervisory support was that my industry contact was wonderful to work with. My primary contact at EPC was Krystal Wallis, their Volunteer Services Consultant. She ensured I received relevant training and access, connected me with appropriate people, and helped me understand and navigate EPC’s structure and operational dynamics.
As the student researcher, I became the lynchpin between La Trobe’s focus on research and EPC’s on healthcare. As La Trobe and EPC each had established operating modes, I had to work between my supervisors and Krystal to ensure I met the expectations and followed the correct protocols for both. I had to submit research plans, ethics applications, and ongoing reports to both and I gave presentations each year to groups from each organisation - so, there’s a bit of administration to manage!
One of the wonderful things about industry research for me was that there was a ready-made research participant pool and plenty of volunteers, which eliminated, or at least reduced, any issues with finding research participants. In addition, while I understand the significance of publication, I felt it was important to produce research that was relevant and easily accessible for those for whom the research directly makes an impact. I’ve given a variety of presentations (you can see a selection of them here), which culminated recently in a detailed presentation at EPC, with the video of the presentation now available - check https://www.epc.asn.au/once-upon-a-research-story. As well, Bruce Rumbold secured a grant to make a six-episode podcast series a reality. We’re currently mid-production, with the first three episodes available at https://onceuponastorypodcast.podbean.com/ and more about to be released.
If I were to offer any advice for doing industry research, I’d say you need be proactive.
You are working between two distinct organisations so it is essential to learn how each works (which can take a while). This relies on clear communication and asking many questions to discover the questions you need to be asking! There is also the work of ensuring understanding from the industry partner of La Trobe’s requirements as the academic partner. It includes figuring out what the research expectations are of the industry partner and perhaps offering some education on what the vast landscape of research can look like, as La Trobe has far more experience in this than any industry partner is likely to. I am not sure EPC was expecting the narrative research I’ve provided when they started this process but, so far, I’ve only received positive responses. Each relationship and dynamic will differ, which is why good communication is so vital.
Overall, it has been a great experience and, even though I - as we all - had to adjust to the COVID-19 context, I could still continue.
I would do some things differently if I were to start again, but mostly because I now understand the processes better. They would be things like adjusting how I manage the dynamics, information, and administration between the two organisations. I certainly wouldn’t change the research subject, or the people!
Although, if we are talking about changing things, I’d change COVID-19 lockdowns. But, unfortunately, we can’t control everything - something we all learn when undertaking any research!