Careers, Guest blog

Guest Blog – Finding your cheer team: Maintaining resilience in academia

From Dr Anna Volkmer

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I have recently realised that I am more my own boss than ever before. One of the main factors that has made this possible is my fellowship application. I feel incredibly privileged, but yet, I am not quite used to it yet. It feels a bit scary and a little bit like have been set adrift and I might just get it wrong gah. I have spent quite a bit of time working this out recently, reflecting on boss-like skills and working out that I do actually have a wonderful support structure in place- so I definitely don’t need to panic- right?

I had a conversation with the relative of a person with dementia today that went something like this:

Her: “So you know, this must be a really great grant you have, right?”

Me: “It’s….it’s…erm….well…erm

Her: “Because our son is an academic and so we know, what you are doing is important and you have obviously got a decent grant?”

Me: “Well…um”

Her: “And we know how difficult it is to get grants”

Me:  “Aha, it is”

Her: “And competitive”

Me: “mmm, it might have been a bit of luck”

Her: “I don’t think so, you are doing really exciting research and it is brilliant”

Me: “Thank you”

Her: “No seriously, thank you, we are so inspired to be part of this, it is really positive”.

Me: “But thank you for being part of it!”

Immediately following this interaction I asked myself 1. Why can’t I say out loud that I have a pretty awesome fellowship? 2. I am so lucky to have a cheer team that make me feel I am on the right track!

This conversation outlined above follows a week of lots of similar interactions. On Tuesday I presented at the Primary Progressive Aphasia Support Group meeting, asking for people who might be interested in joining my Patient and Public Involvement Reference Group and Coproduction groups. As I introduced myself and my work I mentioned casually – I have been given a bit of money to do some research. After I had spoken, my colleague and mentor stood up to introduce the next section, Professor Warren, and informed the audience that I was being modest and I actually have a rather large fellowship. A few attendees approached me to congratulate me on this during the refreshment break. All of whom are people I know relatively well, but I hadn’t felt able to tell them about the award.

So why can’t I say it out loud? Perhaps some of it comes from a sense of conflict- I work as speech and language therapist one day a week and don’t want to, nor should I mention this in that world. The NHS is exhausting – clinicians work tirelessly to try to deliver clinical services. This often feels like a bit of a thankless job, especially when you don’t have a permanently funded service, nor enough staff, and yet clients that service. It can be a real battle.

Secondly, I am super conscious that some of my colleagues may not appreciate hearing about it. I spent a fair bit of time applying for grants I have been rejected from. Others have spent a lot more time being rejected. Rejection is hard work. It is tiring. You don’t want other people rubbing your nose in it while you’re still running. You never get finishers walking back down the track at a marathon showing off their finisher medals to the runners that are still going. This would be extremely unsports(wo)manlike!

Hearing other people tell me about my award feels fantastic. It makes me feel that my work has value. It also gives me energy, motivation and importantly resilience. This week has made me think that I need to 1. Surround myself with a cheer team 2. I might need to practice saying it out loud: I have an NIHR ADVANCED FELLLOWSHIP (eek).


Dr Anna Volkmer is a Speech and Language Therapist and researcher in Language and Cognition, Department of Psychology and Language Sciences, University College London. Anna is researching Speech and language therapy interventions in language led dementia and was once voted scariest speech and language therapist (even her children agree).



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