What happens when things don’t go to plan?

In the run up to the summer, I was feeling hugely prepared. I had timetables and outlines, and clear goals, and I’d bought a notebook to write them in. I had observed in clinics, and contacted a wealth of relevant people. I was pretty sure what I was going to get out of my internship.

Oh how wrong I was! A few weeks’ later things are looking very different.

I was initially focusing on the literature, and what had already been said about my subject. I had a huge list of sources, and a lot to write about. Though somehow it wasn’t really answering my question. After some input from others, it became clear I could achieve something much more relevant and worthwhile asking my questions to real people…not google scholar.

That’s where it all got a little bit chaotic.

My project is based around decision making in cancer patients; mainly focusing on why patients chose to have chemotherapy. One way of achieving this is through evaluating the way in which these decisions are made in clinics, and how patients perceive their decision after the fact.

For a very good reason, in order to ask these people questions you have to go through a whole world of approvals. You need to know what you’re going to ask, what you want to know, and why.  You need more clear goals, and reasoning, and the data that backs you up. There are a number of hoops to jump through, and most of these consist of quite long forms. Yet surprisingly, it’s not even this that is the difficult part, it’s finding the right person to get approval from. I seem to have become trapped in endless email loops.

Despite being a little bit stressful… okay, a lot stressful, I’m now happy with where I am. Objectively, compared to my plan I am off track and things are “wrong.” However, this just doesn’t seem right. I feel I’ve learned just as much about my chosen topic as I have about research in general. There’s so much I thought I knew, and really didn’t. I have spent time in oncology clinics, and in a hospice, and met some truly inspiring people in the process. Every extra place I’ve been, and person I’ve met has taught me something that is shaping my project.

For me, it was initially hard not to feel a little lost in paperwork, and a bit like an imposter in this world of grown up research. Yet, chatting with my supervisor, a consultant, and especially the others doing a project, has reassured me that this isn’t a unique experience. Things may not go exactly as planned, and I may have to adapt, and change, and come back to things. However, that doesn’t mean that things are going “wrong.”

I guess, if things are always going to be exactly as you expect, what’s the point in doing research in the first place?


Best of luck to all of the other interns, I hope it’s going well!
Beth x

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