One of the funny things this week about attending all these nursing lectures was seeing and reflecting on academic and professional hierarchies. Nursing in many Russell Group universities (like the one I attend, for example) is very much the poor relation – it was made a degree subject only in the 1990s (prior to that nurse education was done through the health service rather than university), and so there wasn’t an established cadre of nurse educators with degrees and doctorates and academic track records. So even now you’ll find that many of the educators on degree courses have a degree but of those with postgrad qualifications, probably the majority have a masters degree rather than a PhD. Now, I’m not arguing for or against that, just saying that’s the situation. Arguably the most helpful qualification is a healthy dose of common sense and ability to communicate, rather than have an ever-expanding list of letters after your name.
Recently a large nursing school, part of a large well-established (not Russell Group, but not a post-1992) university, closed down. I see this as a worrying trend – large universities attract a lot of funding by undertaking and publishing research, and whilst nursing has a part to play in this, of course the bulk of the focus is on vocational training, and so nursing and similar departments are seen as poor relations and I’m sure there are many nursing departments facing tough situations – it wouldn’t surprise me if in a few years all nurse education is done by the red-brick, post-1992 more teaching-intensive universities. I think this is sad – speaking as someone with a foot in both vocational and academic camps, I think that the discipline of nursing has a huge amount to offer academia, especially in terms of qualitative research. I can think of at least two of my colleagues in my current department, not nurses at all, who have drawn on stuff in the Journal of Advanced Nursing when writing up their research methods, and both said how the nursing literature has a lot of really useful, good quality and practical articles which are helpful for researchers in other fields too.
I started thinking about all this after the first session of the week, when the lecturer introduced me to the class as a PhD student and health visitor who would be sitting in on the week’s lectures. He then said something a bit later about academic and work hierarchies (I forget in which context) and I smiled as I recognised what he meant, thinking to myself about how I am a *mere* PhD student in a department of professors, senior lecturers etc etc. He saw me smiling and said something along the lines of “Yes, exactly – a PhD here, so top of the tree, I’ve just got a Masters”, and it gave me a real “cognitive dissonance” moment – I am used to seeing myself as near the bottom of the academic pile, and here I was being presented as at the top. That was a bit odd, especially as in that particular context I would regard him as much more senior and “up there” than me – he has an academic lecturing post, and has published extensively, something to which I’m still just aspiring.
It also got me thinking about even among PhD students there is a hierarchy. My first couple of years I felt clueless and like I would never reach the heady heights that my more experienced colleagues had reached. That changed when I did my fieldwork – having my own data that I could discuss, rather than just talk about other people’s work, marked a definite move up the ladder. I’ve noticed that the PhD students in my department who have only started in the last academic year or two treat me differently to how they treat each other – I have reached the dizzy heights of post-fieldwork PhD student.
The same thing happened in the nursing dept this week – the PhD thing wasn’t such a big “wow” thing for them (though a number came up to me and asked about what I was researching), but a couple of the students asked me for career advice (hahahahaha, stop laughing at the back). One really wanted to be a health visitor (hooray!) and was worried that by doing adult nursing she was not going the right way about getting into health visiting, so she was very relieved to hear about my own journey to health visiting. The other one though was asking my advice on choosing her final year placement options, despite the fact that I have no experience in the possible areas she was interested in pursuing. Just the fact that I was qualified placed me “up there” as someone credible to give that sort of advice. That was quite sobering.
And yet despite all this, despite all the experience of moving (or being seen to be) up the hierarchy and pecking order a bit, I have to be honest. I still feel like a total blagger.