Taking the Road less travelled: My journey to becoming a PhD Student, by Edel Burton

If you asked me five years ago what I wanted to do when I qualified as a Pharmacist, I would have said “a PhD”. Now five years later, having completed a Bachelors and Masters of Pharmacy, here I am doing just that. My PhD journey is beginning. The hard work has paid off. My dream has come true. My prayers have been answered.

Why do I want to do a PhD?

My passion for research has been there from a young age. I have always questioned why things are how they are, or how could they be improved upon. I was Chairperson of a national allergies and anaphylaxis campaign at the age of 16, inspired by my brother’s multiple food allergies, and from then on doing a PhD was my primary career goal. I realised first hand the difference research can make to the lives of everyday people, and that led me on the journey I am pursuing today.

In essence, I have always been motivated by helping others. Identifying a problem and striving to find a solution. A PhD will allow me to answer questions society needs answered. I will be able to invest time into potentially making a difference both nationally and internationally.

Across the 3sectors I have worked in: community, research and hospital Pharmacy I have seen how research has shaped practice and vice versa. I have witnessed how patient outcomes have been improved due to evidence based decisions and evidence based programs and policies being applied by a multidisciplinary team. It is my goal to be part of this process, and to be involved in this type of cutting edge research.

How did I go about doing a PhD?

Everyone’s PhD journey is different. In my opinion you need people, perseverance and preparation to secure a PhD position. I was lucky enough to have the support and guidance of outstanding academic mentors from early on in my Pharmacy career. People who opened doors for me, reviewed applications and directed me towards opportunities. I spoke to current PhD students, and those who have completed PhD programmes I applied for. I also relied on my family for support, and interview preparation. That leads me onto the process of applying for a PhD. Depending on the PhD you are applying for, and the associated discipline, the application process for most PhD positions involves a written application and an interview for those who are shortlisted. PhD interviews, like all interviews require prior preparation. My interview varied from academic questions, to personal questions to those based on statistics, and was on Zoom, reflecting the times we live in. I say perseverance is needed, because there are a lot of applications, there is a lot of work to acquire a PhD position, but it is so worth it. They say it is your own motivation and passion for the subject that gets you through a PhD, but that is also true for getting you to the PhD!

What will I be doing for the next four years?

I am now a SPHeRE (Structured Population and Health- services Research Education) Collaborative Doctoral Programme in Chronic Disease Prevention (PhD) Scholar (CDP-CDP). I am one of six scholars accepted onto this programme nationally. The programme focuses on prevention of chronic disease across the lifespan and across the spectrum from wellness to disease, using the most common chronic diseases in Ireland as the research focus. This programme aims to make graduates future national and international leaders in evidence – based chronic disease prevention research, research implementation and policy development. I will have the opportunity to complete a national placement relevant to my research in Year 2 and an international placement in Year 3. I will also complete mandatory and elective SPHeRE modules, educating me on topics from statistics, to health policy to systemic reviewing. The programme also advocates presenting at 4 national and 3 international conferences during my PhD. It also advocates for each PhD student to publish at least 2 open access publications over the 4 years.

There is an emphasis on transdisciplinary teams within the CDP-CDP consortium. I am very fortunate to have a highly skilled and highly regarded multidisciplinary supervisory team, who have years of both academic and clinical experience. I have seen the importance of effective multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary teams in practice, and look forward to working within a consortium of directors, partners, associated partners and trainees from varied backgrounds and areas of expertise. I look forward immensely to the next 4 years.