Facebookers Anonymous… is it time?

LSHTM logoOver this weekend I was musing to my husband about my days studying for my final exams at high school.  My high school years had prepared me reasonably well in terms of instilling study habits and an ability to just sit and concentrate, get away to a space that would ensure I wasn’t distracted etc.  I’m not sure how well I would have done at school were I studying these days. Between Facebook and emails… and having the screen right there (“Well, I need it for webinars and the rest…”)… it’s no wonder ‘young people these days’ (and older people… and well, loads of us, I suspect) struggle to concentrate like we used to.  With absolutely no solid evidence beyond anecdote to back up my claim (because I’m too lazy to go hunting for it right now!), I really do think my capacity to concentrate and put aside distractions is much more tested these days, and perhaps weaker than all those years ago when I ploughed my way through for those final exams.  Granted, back then I had a mother lovingly cooking me dinner each night (thanks Mum!) and I wasn’t growing a baby (more protein?! Already?! We just ate…) but I’m not sure that’s a the whole story when it comes to my relative self-discipline.

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Paradise lost, but a new journey beginning

LSHTM logoI remember our final year class trip to Thailand. My friend Mike and I were watching the sun come up over Koh Phangan from the sea, a tropical island paradise and home to the famous full moon party.

We were floating there in the early hours of the morning contemplating the weeks and years that had just gone by; the intense study, the hours of lectures and tutorials, the sheer number of patients we had seen and the histories we had taken. We had just finished our final year exams in medical school and we were passing the time to graduation and starting work as doctors.

We discussed how we had entered medical school with a naive impression that we could change the world around us. We agreed that we were probably amongst the best educated in the world. (We theorised because we were in that type of mood). But, we concurred that after six years; we were no wiser.

Koh Phangan

Koh Phangan

We lolled up and down on the rising water, staring back at this beautiful Thai island being ruined by westerners here to throw around some expendable income on alcobuckets and cheap thrills. Drunken us-sprawled on this hedonistic paradise-lost. The flashing lights and fire skipping ropes faded to the mooring sunrise.

As we floated up and down in the water Mike said something to me that I think about everyday: ‘We live in a world where 95% of a car’s energy goes into driving the car itself and not the person in it.’ Go figure. We live in a world obsessed with unsustainability.

I became very disillusioned over the course of my first year working as a doctor. I became saddened at the state of medicine: ordering unnecessary tests that were unlikely to change an outcome, working in hospitals that haemorrhage money, working in a healthcare system brought to it’s knees by big pharma, working with the lingering expression ‘we need to cover ourselves’. Once sensibility is lost in medicine care deviates from the patient.

I needed to leave this environment for a while. None of it seemed reasonable or patient centred. I decided to do a Masters in Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and practice part time.

Best. Decision. Ever.

Vinnie is a doctor in his first year of the MSc Public Health, studying by distance learning. He is from Dublin, Ireland.

Here’s a mistake I prepared earlier…

LSHTM logoThe other night I was Skyping with my husband as he sat in Kabul and I sat back at home in Bangkok (did I mention, we moved? Yep…hello Bangkok).  I was telling him about a book that just arrived in the mail…a book called ‘Oh Baby! Birth, Babies and Motherhood, uncensored‘ (ah, did I also mention, I’m 16 weeks pregnant?! Yahoo! Yup, I’ll be the one looking like a beached whale on exam day…replete with snacks and special dispensation to have more toilet breaks than all the rest of you non-pregnant suckers, muahaha!)…and I leaned across the table to grab the book, knocking over my glass of water in the process.

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Beyond the Textbook

LSHTM logoIt’s odd: in some ways I feel I really haven’t done enough studying since I came to Jordan. I work more than a full time job, often for example catching a work car to commute to Zaatari [a refugee camp in Jordan for Syrians] at 6.45am and not getting back home until 6.20pm, at which point I still have work to finish off. In addition, I have to do work most weekends, the combination of which doesn’t leave a lot of room for studying.

Children in Zaatari refugee camp. Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Children in Zaatari refugee camp. Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office

On the other hand, I am now two thirds of the way through my online statistics courses and have finished the two textbooks for my other two courses (Introduction to Epidemiology and Environment Health and Sustainable Development). This has led me to a conundrum – what to do next? Should I be memorizing everything in them? I have decided on the alternative route which is to start just looking for related articles online.

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WARNING: This post contains traces of blatant self-promotion!

LSHTM logoFrom what I’ve gathered so far about life in the academic world, the aim of the game – let’s be honest – is to get published, as many times as you darn well can.  To publish your little heart out… oh, and to make sure, I guess, within reason, that what you publish is sound evidence, keep neutral and keep the policy makers happy (there shouldn’t be an ‘and’ between those phrases, right?) and, ya know, advance the cause of humanity and all…yada yada…

So, to that end, I thought I may as well skip all the exams, assignments, the blithe textbook reading and the rest…and just GET PUBLISHED!  As of International Woman’s Day last weekend, myself and a couple dozen other women around the world officially became authors as ‘Chasing Misery: An Anthology of Essays by Women in Humanitarian Responses’ hit the proverbial ‘shelves’ on Kindle, Amazon and other online literary outlets and spammed itself all over Facebook and Twitter (@chasing_misery).

Twitter cover for Chasing Misery

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The ‘thrill’ of really knuckling down, and thumbs up for flexibility

LSHTM logoI get a fair few questions from people about studying at the University of London.  And it’s always a bit of a mouthful to explain that I’m studying at ‘the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine through the University of London’s distancing learning programme’…

But, it does give me ample opportunity to remind myself why I chose this path to begin with.  More on that in a moment.

Free range humans road sign, New Zealand

While having a good break back in New Zealand, stumbled upon this great road sign.

To start with, I have to echo several of the other UoL Student bloggers.  To say that my own study plans got mildly side tracked in the latter part of 2013 would be an understatement.  My work with St. Joseph’s Hospice really took over but a new year, a fresh new perspective, and a month back home in New Zealand have helped me figure out how to find the balance.

It also means it’s really time to knuckle down!

But surprisingly, I think it gets a whole lot easier when I can really knuckle down, or get ‘get in the groove’ as another blogger alluded to.

Having almost got through an initial read of all the course materials, a little bit like reading the recipe right through and prepping your ingredients before getting cooking, I can now get stuck in to mixing, stretching and testing (in a proverbial cooking sense!).  Perhaps a stretch to make a cooking metaphor out of exam prep, but hey, whatever gets you through!

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Depressed but still studying

LSHTM logoThe last month has been overshadowed for me by the terrible violence ongoing in South Sudan, which was my home for over two years.  There’s not really a good way to explain how it feels speaking on the phone to your friend who is living as an IDP (internationally displaced person) in a UN base, terrified of leaving for fear of his life due to his ethnicity, and you stuck in another country unable to help.

Map of Yida, SudanStudying has been at times a necessary distraction from being hypnotized by the Twitter page marching on with horrific news. Having finally received my books and Stata CD, I have been ploughing ahead, and am now about halfway through the course textbooks for two courses, and a third of the way through the statistics modules for my statistics course, so I feel like I’ve caught up despite my slow start.

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Distracted by putting theory into practice

LSHTM logoI’ve a really good excuse for not writing for over a month. Really good.  I’ve been too busy putting into practice the theory I haven’t even had time to learn yet. I told you all last time that I’d chosen Health Services Management as my specialty stream for my MSc in Public Health.

Well, admittedly to the detriment of my study, I’ve felt for the last month or so that I got thrown into a very long and realistic classroom scenario exercise in health services management, save for the fact that it’s not just exercise but real life.  As I mentioned last time, I got involved with St. Joseph’s Hospice in Rawalpindi, Pakistan a few months back on the premise that I was apparently young enough to help ‘rev up’ the Facebook page.  That benign suggestion was the beginning of one very long rabbit hole, that I admittedly let myself get pulled into.

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Linking studying to the real world

LSHTM logoSo it’s one month on and sadly/happily this student has now left South Sudan, after two and a half years living there.  It was a pretty hectic last month, trying to get everything finished before I left, and of course full of a lot of emotions, and goodbye parties. In amongst all that I must admit there was not a lot of time for studying, although now I am safely arrived in Cairo and have my own room to study in, this trend is changing. I had a lot of fun being massively culture-shocked going into a supermarket to buy stationery for studying :). I am trying to be philosophical about the small amount of studying I’ve done recently and hopeful that I can catch up.

'Smoking Kills' book coverOne thing I did read over the past month, however, on a day when the internet wouldn’t allow me access to my textbooks, was the excellent article by Sir Richard Doll which outlines the causal link between smoking and lung cancer.

I found this pretty amazing because, of course, it’s a knowledge I’ve always had, for as long as I can remember. Yet this article really does clearly start from a position of merely having a hypothesis that is then stringently tested, nothing is assumed. As could only be necessary in a former era when this was not necessarily something that all people knew or believed, and a desire to show facts in a purely scientific matter was also paramount. I thought he did so in not only a convincing but also an elegant way, addressing every possible riposte to his conclusions.

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Housekeeping from the new PH Kiwi in Pakistan

LSHTM logoKia ora and Asalam-oualikum to the University of London student blogosphere. *Awkward wave* As this is my first post, it’ll be pretty much housekeeping: who I am, where I am, why I’m studying and what else keeps me out of trouble. ☺ I promise it’ll get more interesting after that!

I’m a Kiwi (New Zealander) currently residing in Pakistan with my Irish husband and just starting the MSc in Public Health. I made the decision to head back to graduate study actually largely thanks to the nudging of my supervisors during a recent consultancy with UNICEF – and after umming and aahing I finally settled on Public Health for a two reasons…

1) Everyone, everywhere needs to think about health…and there are so many different things you could focus on, I’ll never get bored! (Commitment issues perhaps?!)
2) I studied social science and business as an undergrad, and have found myself enthralled in the humanities in recent times…and firmly believe that we need these sorts of perspectives alongside the ‘scientific’ paradigm to adequately deal with the physical reality of our bodies, and minds, that simply don’t always work the way we’d like them to and can also do incredible things that we can barely imagine.

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