Hello! I am Abbie, I am 33-year-old, and I am just starting my 3rd year of my PhD at the University of Bath, UK. As PhD programmes vary worldwide, it is important to note that I am in the UK, and my PhD programme is fairly standard for the UK. I have 3 years of funding, and a maximum of another year to complete my write up. My PhD is in psychology and explores the social developmental challenges faced by adolescents who have chronic pain conditions. This blog gives you an overview of who I am, where I am in the journey, and what I am doing. Find me on Twitter @abbiejones86 where I tweet about PhD life, Psychology, and general bits and bobs.
My work history
I finished my psychology BSc at the University of Warwick in 2007. For a few years I had various jobs, mainly working in mental health, but was unsure about where to take my career or what I wanted to be “when I grew up”. In 2013 I looked into MSc courses and realised that Health Psychology was the one that matched my interests. In 2014 I graduated from the University of the West of England with my Health Psychology MSc, and started a job as a clinical studies officer in an NHS mental health trust. I started my PhD in October 2017.
How my PhD came about
My NHS research job gave me a valuable chance for networking and meeting useful contacts. One of these contacts put me in touch with a colleague of hers who was writing a grant application for a PhD studentship and needed a prospective student for the application. We decided it was a good match, and later that year after the grant was awarded, I started my PhD. My story shows the advantage of networking, but I am aware that it is pretty unusual. Another unusual aspect of my PhD journey is that I had no previous interest in one aspect of my topic (chronic pain). Overall, the topic fits in with my Health Psychology interest, it uses methods that I like, and I am interested in adolescent development. However, it was a risk taking on a topic which I hadn’t previously researched. I spent some time reading up on it and thinking carefully about it, and in the end, I decided to just go for it! I am very aware that I took a risk, but for me, that has paid off as I am now doing a PhD I love and overall I am very happy.
What my PhD is about
My PhD explores social development in adolescents who have chronic pain. To explain this, it is helpful to break that down into the individual areas:
Social Development – this is a fairly nebulous concept, and so I have had to clearly define what areas of development I am exploring. I decided to explore autonomy, identity, and peer relationships. These are areas which are important in adolescence, and they appear related. There are other areas I could explore (such as education) but choose not to either because they have already been studied and/or I have to be realistic as to what I can do during my PhD.
Adolescence – this is a term that is often used in everyday language, and we have a general shared understanding of what it means. However, when we come to academically define it, it becomes more complex, depending on what criteria you use. This is a debate in the literature, and not one I will go into here. However, I have put links at the end to relevant papers, and I am using a wide view of adolescents as ranging from 10 to 25. This is especially important when considering populations where there may be some developmental delay (such as those with chronic pain), or who may face additional challenges with the legal shift from child to adult (such as those under health services).
Chronic Pain – this covers all conditions where pain can either be considered to be the disease, or is the prominent symptom, and the pain has lasted more than 3 months. The definition of pain can be found through the links below, but please be aware that this is in the process of being updated. There are a wide range of diagnoses which are included in my research, with the most common ones being Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Idiopathic Pain Syndrome, Sickle Cell, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome etc. There are also many people who may simply have a diagnosis of chronic pain. While for some people, their diagnosis provides them with an explanation and suggested treatment for their pain, many people find their diagnosis hard to accept or feel uncertain about it. So, it is a complex but very interesting area. For more info, see links below.
To study these areas, I am using many qualitative methods, although I have one quantitative study. I will cover methods in another post
Sawyer, S. M., Azzopardi, P.S., Wickremarathne, D. & Patton,G. C. (2018). The age of adolescence. Lancet Child and Adolescent Health. 1-6
Christie, D., & Viner, R. (2005). ABC of Adolescence: Adolescent Development. British Medical Journal. 330. 301-304.
Eccleston, C., Wastell, S., Crombez, G., & Jordan, A. (2008). Adolescent social development and chronic pain. European Journal of Pain. 12(6). 765–774.
Forgeron, P.A., King, S., Stinson, J. N., Mcgrath, P. J., Macdonald, A. J., &Chambers, C. T. (2010). Social functioning and peer relationships in children and adolescents with chronic pain: A systematic review. Pain Res Manage. 15 (1). 27-41.
King, S., Chambers, C. T., Huguet, A., MacNevin, R. C., McGrath, P. J., Parker, L., & MacDonald, A. J. (2011). The epidemiology of chronic pain in children and adolescents revisited: A systematic review. PAIN. 152 (12) 2729-2738.
Find me on Twitter @abbiejones86