Today’s blog is from Rachel Allen, a PhD candidate form the Alzheimer Scotland Centre for Policy and Practice at the University of the West of Scotland. Rachel talks about the PhD journey and the process of research.

My name is Rachel Allen, and I am in my second year of PhD study at the Alzheimer Scotland Centre for Policy and Practice (University of the West of Scotland), and this is my current crochet ‘WIP’ (Work in Progress). While crochet is an activity that gives me a creative outlet and something I find relaxing, I’ve been thinking about how similar crochet and research are.

Firstly, doing a PhD is a bit like having a three to four year WIP! The longest crochet projects I attempt are usually a few months at most, and part of the joy in creating is seeing that creation come together. In crochet, every stitch and row matters and it’s similar in the PhD, all the bits of learning, reading and writing that come together in a thesis. As I practice crochet and improve, so it is with the PhD. I am learning how to become an excellent researcher and develop skills I hope to use for the rest of my life. Sometimes you make a mistake in following the crochet pattern and you have to unravel and begin again, or innovate and use your mistake to make something different from what was originally envisaged. When I started using this pink cotton I had in mind what I would make, but as I progressed I decided that didn’t feel right and the cotton was better suited to something else. As my ideas started to come together for my PhD project, I needed to do some unravelling of plans and innovating so it felt right (like using case study as a methodology and adopting reflexive thematic analysis instead). I am about to start the data collection phase of my project so I still don’t know what the finished thesis will look like, but I am definitely enjoying the challenge.

Secondly, the PhD and crochet are both important parts of my career. The PhD is important because I am developing both personally and professionally through the process. Crochet is important as it helps to keep my mind healthy and is a happy distraction. I’ve had to think a lot about what career means, because my PhD project is about young-onset dementia and career development. Paid work can often be part of career, but it is not the only part, so in my project career is defined as life and work. Very soon, when ethical approval is granted, I plan to interview women living with young-onset dementia about their careers.

Finally, the PhD journey can involve a lot of pressure, and I sometimes feel that with crochet too; this WIP has to be ready in time for a friend’s birthday, and that’s very soon… Neither crochet or PhD projects progress according to plan all of the time. There are no short cuts, both have to be handmade and original. Most of the things I crochet are far from perfect, and I will probably never be the perfect researcher, but I am learning that perfection is not the aim. And while I hope my crochet brings smiles into the world, I hope my research will do so much more and make a positive difference in the lives of those living with young-onset dementia.

I will post the finished WIP via X (@researcher_rach) and instragram (@researcher_rach) when ready if you’d like to see how it turns out… And if you’d also like to know more about my PhD project I’d love to hear from you.

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