Saturday, April 22, 2006

Addressing health issues

In response to my last post, ‘m-h’ revealed the impact of recent nasal surgery on her doctoral practices. The relationship between PhD candidates’ health and their research would appear to be a relatively unexplored issue in contemporary research. When designing our online national survey of doctoral candidates in 2005, Kevin and I had an initial interest in exploring the impact of candidates’ studies on their health and vice versa. However, while we resolved not to construct an item on personal health for ethical and other reasons, we did include one pertaining to disability.

During my semi-structured interviews with doctoral candidates, it was interesting to observe that a number of interviewees volunteered information about personal health issues, and the extent to which these had affected their doctoral research. In at least two cases, physical ailments were identified as having a significant impact (e.g. a capacity to undertake doctoral research had been limited by chronic pain or serious illness to this point in their candidature). While I didn’t pose any specific questions about personal health, it was interesting that this issue emerged, although none of the interviewees made reference to the impact of the PhD on their physical, emotional or mental health.

Addressing a serious health issue during the doctoral experience became a reality for me in February 2006 when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Each year, around 10,000 men are similarly diagnosed in Australia, and around 543,000 world-wide. As a result, I suspended temporarily from my studies in April, and after spending five days in hospital, expect to resume full-time study in mid-May. Thanks to early detection, advanced screening and a skilled team of health professionals, the outlook appears very positive at this stage. While I missed this week’s QPR conference—and am indebted to my colleagues who delivered presentations on my behalf—I am confident that this particular health issue will constitute a ‘blip’ rather than a major impediment to my doctoral research.

I would be interested to learn of any research—and/or receive responses from currently enrolled candidates—concerned with significant physical, mental or other health issues occurring in the context of contemporary doctoral practice.