Podcasts, Top tips

Podcast – PhD Life and Young-onset Dementia Research

Hosted by Adam Smith

Reading Time: 35 minutes

This week weeks podcast comes from the University of Sydney where Adam Smith spoke to PhD students Michelle Lai and Luisa Krein. We discuss Michelle’s research on Young-onset Dementia and how both approach their work and study, as they enter their final year. We also discuss life in Sydney with tips for anyone thinking of studying in a new country, finding a supervisor, pressures to publish and work-life balance.


Click here to read a full transcript of this podcast

Voice Over:

Welcome to the Dementia Researcher podcast, brought to you by dementiaresearch.nihr.ac.uk, a network for early career researchers.

Adam Smith:

Hello, my name is Adam Smith. I work for a University College London for the NIHR and for Dementia Researcher as well. And today I’m delighted to be hosting this podcast recording for the NIHR Dementia Researcher website. This week, I’d say once again, but I don’t know when this will come out and compared to the other one. But today we’re recording on location from the University of Sydney Susan Wakil.

Michelle Lai:

Wakil.

Adam Smith:

Wakil. School of Nursing and Midwifery. And I’m delighted to be talking to Michelle Lai.

Michelle Lai:

Lai.

Adam Smith:

Lai. [inaudible 00:00:46].

Michelle Lai:

We’re off to a great start guys.

Adam Smith:

This is just bad. I’m just in a walk. I’m so tempted to start again. Maybe it’s just becoming my thing again.

Luisa Krein:

[inaudible 00:00:55].

Adam Smith:

So Michelle Lai and Luisa Krein.

Luisa Krein:

Very good.

Adam Smith:

Who are both PhD [inaudible 00:01:02].

Luisa Krein:

You’ve got this, you’ve got this.

Adam Smith:

From here at the University of Sydney.

Michelle Lai:

Melbourne.

Adam Smith:

Welcome to-

Michelle Lai:

[inaudible 00:01:10].

Adam Smith:

Welcome to both of you. Often in our podcasts we try to focus on specific research topics or areas of study and we often discuss in advance what questions we might ask. But today we’re mixing up a little bit, and going with the flow and we’ve just got some general chat about, life during your research and during your PhD time and a little bit about Sydney and about yourselves and how you cope. So let’s start with some introductions. Hello Michelle and Luisa.

Michelle Lai:

Hello.

Luisa Krein:

Hi there.

Adam Smith:

Michelle, could you start with telling us a little bit about yourself.

Michelle Lai:

So now my name is Michelle. I’m in my third year of my PhD. I’ve got about several months left, I think around there. And my PhD looks at how people of the young onset dementia live in the community as well as their family members on how they make decisions about the future and plan for the future. So, I’m currently writing up my results, my thesis, which is really exciting, slightly stressful as well.

Adam Smith:

Well done. So three, so you’re one of those, I want to say like rare, but I don’t think it is rare that have actually started finished on time, on schedule.

Michelle Lai:

I don’t want to jump the gun and say I’m on time, but I think I’m traveling quite well. My supervisors are quietly positive, so that’s a good sign. I think.

Adam Smith:

And rigorously [inaudible 00:02:44].

Michelle Lai:

It could go down Hill from here as soon as I leave this room.

Adam Smith:

And Luisa.

Luisa Krein:

Yeah. My background is in speech pathology. I’m originally coming from Germany. That’s where I studied, and my is looking at the early identification of language and communication impairment in people living with dementia. And I’m two thirds of the way in. So I’m a little bit behind Michelle. I always feel like we started at the same time, but you actually, you started earlier.

Michelle Lai:

I started earlier.

Luisa Krein:

But we have the same supervisor. So, its kind of like you’re quite linked in that sense and we’re able to support each other’s [inaudible 00:03:27].

Adam Smith:

And how’s it going?

Luisa Krein:

Not too bad. I think I’m on time. I had to reduce my ambitious goal from the beginning. I had to cut down some of what I thought I’d get done. But-

Adam Smith:

Was that because of scope creep?

Luisa Krein:

Yep.

Adam Smith:

Did you suddenly find yourself like, oh my, that’s interesting. I should look at that too and-

Luisa Krein:

No.

Adam Smith:

… that’s interesting.

Luisa Krein:

I think it was more, I had the goal to come up with, an end result that was usable in practice. And I underestimated what it would take to actually, test reliability of research instruments or questionnaires or tools as such. So, it’s just not possible in the timeframe that I’ve got.

Adam Smith:

So that’s a key message for other people to take away then is it to kind of look at-

Luisa Krein:

They’re realistic. Yeah. But I guess-

Adam Smith:

They’re realistic.

Luisa Krein:

… in the beginning you don’t know what’s realistic and you’re relying on your supervisors. But of course your supervisors want you to be ambitious and I guess, I think you always start aiming high. But as you, I think within the first year you quickly know what will be possible and what’s not. And so your research question and your aims will kind of change throughout the PhD, which is good.

Adam Smith:

So sorry.

Michelle Lai:

Did you figure out that your scope was too large or [inaudible 00:04:51]?

Luisa Krein:

Yeah. Well, it was in conversation with the university, with my supervisors and also just realizing myself that I’d over shot off what I thought would be possible.

Michelle Lai:

But you recovered well.

Adam Smith:

And we’re not going to talk too much about your research today. We’ll focus a little bit more on Michelle’s research because of course we’ve just recorded a podcast with you and your friend and colleague, Kathy, on a whole half an hour talking about your work.

Luisa Krein:

Sounds great.

Adam Smith:

So, if this one appears beforehand, you should definitely look through our back catalogue and look up Luisa’s profile to find the previous podcast. And if we haven’t published it yet, you should keep an eye out for that podcast that will be coming out shortly. So Michelle, could you tell us a little bit more detail about your work.

Michelle Lai:

Yeah. So, I interviewed 14 people, young onset dementia and 28 family members. So it’s across Australia. And I covered every single state in terms of the participants, except for the two territories. So there’s the ACT, so that’s Australian Capital Territory where our capital city, Canberra is in, and the Northern territory. So I missed out on those two-

Adam Smith:

Northern territories because it’s too rural in the capital because there’s no people live there?

Michelle Lai:

People live there but-

Adam Smith:

How do you just not like those states?

Michelle Lai:

Well, I haven’t visited. I have visited Canberra but, northern territory is a bit too hot and dry.

Adam Smith:

But you’d have to get a little planes take you around [crosstalk 00:06:29].

Michelle Lai:

Yeah. No. It is a shame that I couldn’t find anyone there. But I guess the reason was is that I wasn’t able to tap into anyone from organizations such as Dementia Australia, tap into their, I guess their network to recruit [inaudible 00:06:45].

Adam Smith:

And there’s such remote communities, particularly in the northern territory, isn’t it?

Michelle Lai:

Well, the capital city, Darwin… oh God, I hope I got that right. It’s Darwin and not Alice Springs?

Luisa Krein:

Mm-mm (negative).

Michelle Lai:

Okay, Darwin. There is a population there, but obviously not comparable to Sydney or Melbourne, that there’s certainly, I’m sure people with young onset dementia there.

Adam Smith:

So you interviewed these populations?

Michelle Lai:

Yes.

Adam Smith:

What were you, why?

Michelle Lai:

What was I, sorry?

Adam Smith:

Why?

Michelle Lai:

Why. Because I wanted-

Adam Smith:

What were you trying to find out?

Michelle Lai:

Because I want to capture I guess a representative, well, as much as possible of Australia, I mean.

Adam Smith:

So was this about how they lived with the disease, how they were diagnosed or?

Michelle Lai:

So how they experience making decisions about future and planning for the future. So, for example, future care, advanced care planning, whether they have their legal affairs in place, such as power of attorney, wheels guardianship and how they approach those discussions with family members, with health care professionals and their extended support network like organizations like Dementia Australia.

Adam Smith:

So these were qualitative interviews?

Michelle Lai:

Yeah, qualitative.

Adam Smith:

Fantastic. And I mean, where does that take you? I mean, first of all, I suppose interestingly, I don’t want to scoop any future publications you’ve got planned, but were there any common themes that came out, any early observations or not early?

Michelle Lai:

Well, yeah. I guess both people with dementia and their family members just really want to focus on the present and not really much about the future. They kind of just want to focus on today, here and now, accentuating the positives about their life and just kind of trying to enjoy things once they can and then they’ll, I guess when the time comes where they will have to make decisions, they’ll make it then and there rather than now or today. So that was really something that stood out to me.

Luisa Krein:

It’s actually really interesting finding because if you’re looking at the topic that I’m trying to, or like what a lot of people say or what the general opinion is in the clinical world would be, we need to try and tackle problems as early as possible. So early identification, early intervention, trying to do all these things. But actually, if people who experienced this disease, say we don’t want to focus on what’s to come. We just want to be here and present. That’s a huge problem.

Adam Smith:

[crosstalk 00:09:16] the people you’d like to capture at currently at the stage of the disease that Michelle is researching, they don’t actually want to talk to people yet because they don’t want to think about what’s coming.

Luisa Krein:

Yeah. And so I guess like, how can you in practice then marry these two opinions of viewpoints? How can you marry those up? Because both points are valid. You can’t make someone go and prepare for the future if they are not ready, if they don’t want to, but at the same time, there’s a whole bunch of other implications if you don’t tackle things early. And I guess, so what is the solution to that complex issue?

Adam Smith:

In young onset dementia are you likely to live longer with the disease or do you have a shorter life?

Michelle Lai:

Generally you do live longer compared with older onset. So I guess if you want to compare it with any group would be older onset.

Adam Smith:

So it’s not necessarily, I suppose, I don’t know, is it, I mean, it’s not necessarily a negative in the long term outcome there if for the first while you’re trying to focus on living the best life you can and not trying to bury your head in the sand about what’s coming, but putting that off until it’s necessary. And I suppose the challenge then is, is knowing is when’s the right time to start.

Michelle Lai:

Yeah.

Adam Smith:

Is that where you’re going next? I mean, obviously having done these interviews, how do you apply what you’ve learned?

Michelle Lai:

I’m not at the level yet where I can say, this would be the right time to talk about the future. I guess, when is the right time? I haven’t figured that out yet, but-

Luisa Krein:

I think it’s interesting [inaudible 00:10:51]-

Michelle Lai:

… it’s when they’re comfortable obviously. I guess the best thing we can do is just give them the support and the information that they and their family members need. But it’s just such an individual thing. Everyone takes, the news of a diagnosis differently. And one of the big issues with young onset dementia is that it takes a quite a long time for the formal diagnosis to be given compared with older onset dementia.

Adam Smith:

Because there’s a reluctance to or even or is it because-

Michelle Lai:

Not necessarily-

Adam Smith:

… it’s not recognising clinicians?

Michelle Lai:

Exactly. It’s not a common thing, like-

Adam Smith:

It’s not the conclusion they jumped to first-

Michelle Lai:

Right.

Adam Smith:

… it’s something else?

Michelle Lai:

They might say, you’re stressed, you’ve got depression. They might, put it down to something else and then, they go through, the battery of tests and scans and all that. So it does take quite a while. And so by the end of that process, when they’ve received the diagnosis, they’ve been through the ringer basically. And it’s just, completely overwhelming or in some cases it’s just they show shot. So, at the end of all that it’s quiet… And then to start thinking about the future in terms of having this diagnosis, it’s quite overwhelming.

Adam Smith:

And you’ve travelled all around Australia-

Michelle Lai:

No.

Adam Smith:

… doing this?

Michelle Lai:

I don’t have the funding.

Adam Smith:

So people came to you, you did-

Michelle Lai:

No. I wish.

Adam Smith:

Were they over the telephone?

Michelle Lai:

Yes. So over the telephone, Skype, Zoom, whatever they were comfortable with.

Adam Smith:

So that’s interesting in itself.

Michelle Lai:

Yeah.

Adam Smith:

Does that present, having to do these interviews remotely, does that present some unique challenges? Do you feel, because did you do some face to face or?

Michelle Lai:

Yeah. So the Sydney, the metropolitan ones, yes. So I’ll either go to their home or they would come to me like to work.

Adam Smith:

And did you find the interviews were shorter, longer, different if you did them face to face over remote?

Michelle Lai:

No, not necessarily. It just all depends on the participant. I think my longest interview was like two and a half hours. Just that participant-

Adam Smith:

I hope there was tea and biscuits involved in that one as well?

Michelle Lai:

No, that was remote. I definitely had two [inaudible 00:13:04].

Luisa Krein:

Did you transcribe?

Michelle Lai:

Yeah. I also had to transcribe every single interview myself. So that’s 42 interviews that I had to transcribe myself.

Luisa Krein:

How long did it take you to transcribe one hour?

Michelle Lai:

I don’t know. I don’t time myself. I’m a very, very fast typer because I used to be a medical coder.

Adam Smith:

So do you say, is transcribing just generally-

Michelle Lai:

Word for word.

Adam Smith:

… shorter or longer than the actual interview itself to do it?

Luisa Krein:

So much longer.

Michelle Lai:

It depends. If they speak slowly, I can go for like half an hour without stopping.

Luisa Krein:

So Michelle is, I would say that’s pretty advanced. So I’ve transcribed myself to a note.

Adam Smith:

So what about yours Luisa?

Luisa Krein:

I’m 10 finger typer and I wouldn’t be so fast.

Adam Smith:

So does it take you twice as long to transcriber as the original interview, or is it less than that?

Luisa Krein:

No, probably like one and a half times as long. Like if the interview-

Michelle Lai:

Not all bad.

Luisa Krein:

… was an hour, an hour and a half or hour and 45 or something. But it’s-

Michelle Lai:

That’s not bad.

Adam Smith:

Maybe I’ve got a view of a leak table here. I can see a leak table on the website on who’s the quickest transcriber.

Michelle Lai:

Power rankings.

Luisa Krein:

That’s good.

Adam Smith:

You could do that or you could certainly earn some extra cash by offering to do this for other people.

Luisa Krein:

[inaudible 00:14:17] that’s what I did for a job actually. [crosstalk 00:14:20] it’s part of my research [inaudible 00:14:21].

Michelle Lai:

Really?

Luisa Krein:

How I first kind of got into. Yeah. I was transcribing interviews.

Michelle Lai:

How much did you earn in an hour?

Luisa Krein:

I can’t remember now. It feels like 30 Australian dollars or something, 35 or something.

Michelle Lai:

Wait. When was that?

Luisa Krein:

Two, three, no, three years ago.

Adam Smith:

And of course you’d be language and everything else. And do you speak other languages too?

Luisa Krein:

Well, obviously German as a mother tongue and then English. I did learn French in school for eight years, so I should be much better than I am. I don’t know. Like I guess being from Europe you have the exposure to a lot of different languages. So I wouldn’t say I speak Spanish.

Adam Smith:

What about you Michelle?

Michelle Lai:

I failed French in year nine.

Adam Smith:

So do you just speak English?

Michelle Lai:

English, Cantonese because I’m Chinese. I really regret not learning Mandarin properly because it has beat me hard right now.

Adam Smith:

So this is an interesting question then. So both of your research studies, you’ve both done these qualitative interviews, now you’re with people with language problems and obviously yours in this young onset population, were they all just English speakers?

Michelle Lai:

Yes.

Adam Smith:

And was that a kind of a requirement of your research or did it just end up like that?

Michelle Lai:

It was a requirement that they had to know how to speak English because that’s the only language that I myself can converse in-

Luisa Krein:

Sufficient-

Michelle Lai:

… fluently.

Luisa Krein:

… conversational English would be the-

Michelle Lai:

Yes.

Luisa Krein:

Would be the [inaudible 00:15:49]?

Michelle Lai:

Well, that was what was written on my participant information sheet. They had to know how to know how to speak English.

Adam Smith:

So that’s interesting as well. Because could that be then a barrier to, encouraging people from other minority groups the kind of black Asian minority ethnic groups?

Michelle Lai:

The thing is I recruited primarily through Dementia Australia and I am aware that they do offer different information in different languages, but because my recruitment poster leaflets are in English, that could definitely exclude [inaudible 00:16:30] backgrounds.

Luisa Krein:

I actually had an interesting conversation with when I was recruiting for my research. I, also wind the, cultural, organization, kind of, what’s called [inaudible 00:16:46], the short term. It’s in Australia. So they’re an organization that helps people from backgrounds other than Australia to integrate into the culture here. And they said, “Okay, well, we’re happy to distribute, but, do you allow for interpreting services whereas your translated-

Adam Smith:

Which it can be a real barrier to participation, isn’t it?

Michelle Lai:

Yeah.

Luisa Krein:

I think it definitely is. The problem that I guess we encounter as early career researchers is definitely funding. I mean, I can’t afford someone to type up my interviews, let alone-

Adam Smith:

So there we go. So call to-

Luisa Krein:

… have someone-

Adam Smith:

… research funders that might be listening to this to suggest that they should make more funding available, not necessarily to perform research that focuses on these other populations, but to-

Luisa Krein:

To actually have them include-

Adam Smith:

… make the other research that’s going on more accessible.

Luisa Krein:

Because especially in Australia and I mean it’s happening all over the world. I mean, people are on the move and, but especially Australia is migration country. And if you don’t include people with migration background, then you’re missing half of it the population probably.

Adam Smith:

So Michelle, coming back to your research studies. So you’ve performed the interviews now. What are you going to do with that information? Are you developing some intervention or are you coming up with some new guidance advice?

Michelle Lai:

See, I don’t have the same initial problem that Luisa had was where her scope was too large. I’ve tried to make it as manageable as possible and reasonable. So I haven’t been that ambitious in terms of, developing an intervention or a tool or anything like that. I think we’re just going to just do the results, do the discussion and then from there if there’s potential postdoc work then I could-

Adam Smith:

Well, yeah-

Michelle Lai:

… do some kind of-

Adam Smith:

… use what you found in your PhD to decide where to-

Michelle Lai:

Exactly.

Adam Smith:

… what direction to go in.

Michelle Lai:

And I think, this is a good springboard to postdoc work and furthering on my research, particularly in the area of health care professionals as well because they are a group that I haven’t interviewed. So getting their perspective as well, I think just getting those three different perspectives really would complete my research work and then I can really build on from there in terms of any intervention or policies, things like that.

Adam Smith:

So when do you both think about your work? When do you think about it? I mean, is this all the time? Is this just in the shower in the morning? Is this 24/7? Is this the last thing you think about at night and the first thing in the morning?

Michelle Lai:

I think it’s always there in the ether of your mind somewhere there, even if you try and convince yourself it’s not there, it’s like a ghost.

Luisa Krein:

I think it’s a challenge-

Adam Smith:

Can you switch off?

Luisa Krein:

Yeah. I mean, but I think you have to do it consciously. I mean, I don’t think I’ve had a holiday except last Christmas actually. So they’re just Christmas 2018 when I got to go home and had two and a half weeks, which is always too short. And I made the conscious decision then that because everything had been going so well in that year, then I just took the two and a half weeks to concentrate on friends and family.

Luisa Krein:

But all other weekend activities, like I usually get up early. I try to get up really early before my partner wakes up and sit there, have my morning two hours or something where I try and do something productive, maybe get something into the afternoon, but just be conscious about them being present for the rest of the time. And also, I mean, you’re working as well alongside the PhD and then I think, finding that balance between, okay, today’s my workday and the other day is my PhD day, so you don’t mix it up.

Adam Smith:

[inaudible 00:20:40].

Luisa Krein:

Would be actually interesting.

Adam Smith:

What about you Michelle? Because you’re full-time.

Michelle Lai:

I’m completely the opposite. I don’t draw boundaries. For me, I like just picking things up, on the go whenever I feel like it, and I can sit there… I can actually sit there for, okay this is really embarrassing. I can sit there for literally like 14 hours and nonstop work. Or I can just like let go and okay, it will sort itself out. I would just go do some yoga, go to the gym, whatever. And so I don’t have, for me, I don’t really draw boundaries. I don’t really have structure as well. I kind of [inaudible 00:21:22] in a PhD.

Adam Smith:

Do you both have a desk you’d go to at the university? Do you have a space at the university or do you work from home?

Michelle Lai:

Purely from home.

Adam Smith:

It’s purely from home.

Luisa Krein:

I’ve got a space here at the university, but I also use the library, which I like-

Adam Smith:

Of course.

Luisa Krein:

… just having this collective silence and just-

Adam Smith:

What about you Michelle-

Luisa Krein:

… [inaudible 00:21:37].

Adam Smith:

… are you a big library user?

Michelle Lai:

So I think I’ve even stepped in the library before.

Adam Smith:

Really? Well, that’s fascinating. I mean, because that shows different ways. There’s no one way, but it’s the right way of doing this, having that space to [inaudible 00:21:50]. And do you take holidays? Have you had a holiday in the last three years?

Michelle Lai:

I went to New Caledonia recently. Because I had the New Caledonia holiday lined up, I had to do like 10 interviews in like the week or two before. And I was just in that kind of Terminator mode. I was like, “No, I’m going to bring my laptop and I’m going to transcribe.”

Luisa Krein:

It’s so good. I love it.

Michelle Lai:

And that’s what I did. I transcribe all my interviews. I watched the new season of Peaky Blinders, all the seasons of Unforgotten-

Adam Smith:

[inaudible 00:22:29].

Michelle Lai:

… new season Victoria. Like I watched it all and I did it all.

Luisa Krein:

While you transcribed?

Michelle Lai:

Yeah. I transcribed… No, not whilst I transcribed.

Luisa Krein:

[inaudible 00:22:39].

Adam Smith:

I mean, that sounds like avoidance techniques. I mean, that’s the, you know.

Michelle Lai:

No, but you reward yourself. So you do, okay, I’ve done this two hour interview. I’m going to watch this whole season of Peaky Blinders.

Luisa Krein:

That’s good. I do that too [inaudible 00:22:50].

Michelle Lai:

Yeah.

Adam Smith:

Well, that’s good. So you reward yourself with… Do you kind of go right, one more half an hour and then I’ll have coffee or one more half hour and I can watch an episode.

Michelle Lai:

Yeah.

Adam Smith:

That’s good. So how did you both arrive at your topics? How did you arrive at your topic, Michelle?

Michelle Lai:

So I originally planned to do PhD on advanced care planning and just people in dementia in general. And then I did a systematic review, looking at the key factors for engagement in decision making and future planning. And I found that no one has really looked at the young onset dementia population. So that’s how I found my gap, which is kind of important because you don’t want to replicate someone else’s work.

Adam Smith:

Well, actually that takes me to my next question because I was going to say-

Michelle Lai:

Excellent segue.

Adam Smith:

… I know this happens to most people at some point, not necessarily just during their PhD, but also afterwards. Have you come across anybody already doing your PhD?

Michelle Lai:

No.

Adam Smith:

So you have a-

Michelle Lai:

Better stay that way.

Adam Smith:

Luisa?

Luisa Krein:

No. Not as such as similarities for sure. But I guess you can always find, not always. I shouldn’t say always, but I was lucky enough to find kind of distinguishing factors in the other research articles that are read to distinguish my-

Adam Smith:

I think we need to start asking that question more because I’m quite interested to see if people just go, well, I’m planning on anyway. I don’t care if somebody already has done this and maybe I’ll find something different. Or if people attempted to go, right, I’m going to slightly tweak, I’m going to refocus.

Michelle Lai:

I think with qualitative research it’s a bit easier to find a different angle if you’re developing a tool or [inaudible 00:24:38].

Luisa Krein:

If this tool is already out there, I’m going to be devastated. No, but I mean, I think it’s also, I think in research, there’s this nice saying, you’re standing on the shoulders of giants and often I always think if there’s someone’s already done it, isn’t it good to do it again and see if you find the same things. I mean, there’s always something that’s going to be overlapping with the vastness of articles being released every day into this worldwide web. I feel like it’s almost impossible to actually-

Adam Smith:

To find something new. I mean, I think people do feel the pressure to find something that’s a little bit unique at the same time and in the last few years particularly, there’s been this massive surge in the amount of early career researchers in dementia. So I think that’s getting increasingly hard to find.

Luisa Krein:

But maybe we need to change our thinking about that, that that’s actually not a bad thing to replicate.

Adam Smith:

Adding to the body of evidence.

Luisa Krein:

That’s right.

Adam Smith:

And obviously I had a question here, which is how your work has developed, but I think you’ve answered this question. It sounds like, Michelle, you’ve been pretty focused in staying on track.

Luisa Krein:

She’s so good.

Michelle Lai:

No.

Adam Smith:

But that’s enabled you to finish on time, stay focused and achieve-

Michelle Lai:

As close as possible. Yeah. Whilst also working.

Adam Smith:

And then also giving you a track for what you do to next. Whereas Luisa, you’ve adapted along the way, but equally then some of the things that you’ve set aside are what you can come back to later.

Luisa Krein:

Yep. So I mean, I’ve still got a year and a bit to go.

Adam Smith:

So there’s no rules here. There’s no kind of, don’t get stressed if you do go off track or change slightly or if you stay onwards. There’s no, you shouldn’t get stressed either way or feel that there’s a right or wrong in this.

Michelle Lai:

I think your supervisor also plays a very important role there.

Adam Smith:

Have you read my questions?

Michelle Lai:

No, I didn’t but, this-

Adam Smith:

Because that’s my-

Michelle Lai:

I had a peak.

Adam Smith:

That’s my next question. So despite your kind of slightly differing areas of research, you both have the same supervisor who is professor Yun-Hee Jeon here at-

Michelle Lai:

Jeon.

Adam Smith:

Jeon. I said Jeon, didn’t I?

Michelle Lai:

You said John.

Adam Smith:

John. I’ve called her that for two years now and she’s never corrected me. Yun-Hee Jeon here at the University of Sydney. I work with Yun-Hee as well on some other initiatives where the UCL and university of Sydney are collaborating over trying to get more people with dementia involved in research and supporting recruitment studies. So how did you both choose your supervisor or did your supervisor choose you?

Michelle Lai:

We didn’t choose.

Luisa Krein:

She didn’t.

Michelle Lai:

So we both received the same scholarship.

Adam Smith:

Did you get [inaudible 00:27:13]?

Michelle Lai:

No, we both received the same scholarship and it’s attached to Yun-Hee as a supervise.

Adam Smith:

So you applied for a scholarship and then it came with a supervisor.

Michelle Lai:

Yeah.

Adam Smith:

That’s-

Michelle Lai:

I know.

Adam Smith:

I’ve read lots of-

Michelle Lai:

So that’s risky, isn’t it?

Adam Smith:

I’ve read lots of-

Michelle Lai:

That’s super risky.

Adam Smith:

… kind of articles and blogs about how-

Luisa Krein:

Choosing your research [inaudible 00:27:32].

Adam Smith:

… choosing your supervisor, the questions you should ask-

Michelle Lai:

[inaudible 00:27:34] unfortunately.

Adam Smith:

… finding the right person.

Michelle Lai:

But I think what we need to add here as a background is also that we both-

Adam Smith:

Is that like an arrange marriage?

Michelle Lai:

Maybe.

Adam Smith:

I mean, they workout.

Luisa Krein:

I don’t know much about arranged marriage.

Michelle Lai:

A very successful arranged marriage. We fell in love actually.

Adam Smith:

Hold on. I know one of your new students brings her cake all the time.

Michelle Lai:

Oh God.

Adam Smith:

Is that you?

Luisa Krein:

That is you.

Michelle Lai:

It’s me.

Adam Smith:

Michelle-

Michelle Lai:

He’s bribing.

Adam Smith:

… so every time you meet Yun-Hee you bring her a cake.

Luisa Krein:

So, she’s clearly the favourite.

Michelle Lai:

Yeah.

Adam Smith:

And to be fair, Yun-Hee loves cake.

Michelle Lai:

I know. I figured that out very early on.

Luisa Krein:

I need to up my game here.

Michelle Lai:

Yeah. Cakes.

Luisa Krein:

No, but I think-

Adam Smith:

So cake works?

Luisa Krein:

Cake works. Definitely little [inaudible 00:28:14].

Adam Smith:

So how has that relationship developed over time? Because that’s an interesting one. I mean, because I assume then Yun-Hee must… Does Yun-Hee have a role in choosing who gets the fellowship, the-

Michelle Lai:

Scholarship.

Adam Smith:

The scholarship?

Luisa Krein:

No, that’s done by an independent board.

Michelle Lai:

Really? A panel?

Luisa Krein:

As far as I know. I think.

Adam Smith:

So neither of you get to choose each other equally then. I mean, Yun-Hee also has the challenge of being presented with somebody who she hasn’t said, oh yeah, I’ll be your supervisor and you’ve not chosen.

Michelle Lai:

You still have to meet with her beforehand.

Adam Smith:

Right.

Michelle Lai:

So we all are I presume you did the same way. You met with her. Mine actually also came attached with a second supervisor as well.

Adam Smith:

Two?

Michelle Lai:

Heather McKenzie, associate professor, Heather McKenzie. So she’s a researcher in cancer. She’s also, I think she’s the second in charge of the nursing school. So she’s academic dean or something like that. And so it came attached with two supervisors for my one. I don’t know about yours.

Luisa Krein:

Not for mine, but I think that the important key information also has a background. Like, I mean, we both worked with Yun-Hee also beforehand.

Michelle Lai:

No. I worked with her after.

Luisa Krein:

You worked-

Michelle Lai:

Yeah.

Luisa Krein:

So I-

Michelle Lai:

After.

Luisa Krein:

I actually, I got to know her through my work as a research assistant and she kind of picked it up and said, “There’s a scholarship opportunity. You should apply for it.”

Adam Smith:

So she encouraged you to apply.

Michelle Lai:

Yeah. I remember.

Adam Smith:

Well, that’s good.

Luisa Krein:

And the kind of the seed was already planted because I had thought about a PhD, but then when she suggested that it almost just kind of came to me to start the [inaudible 00:29:46].

Adam Smith:

But it just had to be the confidence as well, because if you’ve got any self-doubt there having a professor say to you, hey you should apply for this scholarship. You should do a PhD.

Luisa Krein:

And you have that previous relationship. So I actually knew what I was getting into in terms of choosing the supervisor.

Adam Smith:

And that relationships, I mean, obviously so important.

Luisa Krein:

Yeah.

Adam Smith:

Has that developed over time?

Michelle Lai:

I don’t know if develop is the right word because Yun-Hee has been the same since the start.

Luisa Krein:

She’s also quite experienced supervisor.

Michelle Lai:

Very experienced.

Adam Smith:

I saw a little certificate in her room said she got. Did you both make-

Michelle Lai:

Yeah. We both nominated her for super supervisor of the year for the nursing faculty and she beat two others.

Adam Smith:

So in addition to cake, so bribery works.

Luisa Krein:

Yep.

Michelle Lai:

Yeah. I mean, but that highlights how it’s so important to have very good relationship and healthy relationship with your supervisors.

Adam Smith:

So I’m realise where, once again, I’m rubbish at keeping to time. So, I’m going to plough through these last couple of questions. We’re going to go short, succinct on these ones.

Luisa Krein:

Great.

Adam Smith:

So I was reading an article recently that talked about five things successful PhD students refuse to do. So let’s go through these one by one and you can tell me if you’ve managed to refuse to do these things.

Luisa Krein:

Like a yes or no?

Adam Smith:

You can go nuts on it. You can elaborate a little bit if you like. Let’s make it like a quiz.

Luisa Krein:

Quick.

Adam Smith:

There’s no buzzers. So feel like a failure. First one.

Luisa Krein:

I refuse to do that.

Adam Smith:

Do you refuse to feel like a failure or have you?

Luisa Krein:

That never came into my mind.

Michelle Lai:

Wait, is this during my PhD?

Adam Smith:

During the last three years. Have you felt like a failure at any point?

Michelle Lai:

No.

Adam Smith:

No. Good.

Luisa Krein:

So yes, we refuse to do that, feel like a failure. Is that true?

Adam Smith:

You refuse to feel like a failure. Yeah.

Michelle Lai:

This is going so well.

Adam Smith:

It’s not a double negative. Did you refuse? You’ve not felt like a failure. You’ve refused to feel like a failure, even when you’ve kind of, you’ve had a bad week, things aren’t running quite on schedule.

Michelle Lai:

I’m very positive person. So I can’t-

Adam Smith:

You haven’t met your [inaudible 00:31:44].

Michelle Lai:

… see how you [inaudible 00:31:44].

Adam Smith:

You are super. I’ve never seen not-

Michelle Lai:

You’re always smiling.

Adam Smith:

… smiling.

Michelle Lai:

I’ve never seen you angry.

Luisa Krein:

I try to look at the bright side of life. That’s true.

Adam Smith:

So that’s good. There’s been no’s along the way. How about you Michelle?

Michelle Lai:

Sorry, what was that?

Adam Smith:

You’ve positive. You managed to stay positive the whole time.

Michelle Lai:

I’m generally not like a super positive person. I have my downs.

Adam Smith:

I know that feeling. Everybody knows me [inaudible 00:32:09].

Michelle Lai:

I don’t have a sunny disposition. I’m a bit more pessimistic about things. But what was your original question? [inaudible 00:32:21].

Adam Smith:

So how do you stay positive? Any particular things you do to stay positive?

Michelle Lai:

I take the Mickey out of myself. I think I don’t take things-

Adam Smith:

[inaudible 00:32:31] too seriously.

Michelle Lai:

… too seriously.

Adam Smith:

So that’s good advice. The next one. Feeling out of control. Have either of you-

Luisa Krein:

Yeah. Probably at times.

Adam Smith:

… felt slightly out of control?

Michelle Lai:

Many a times.

Luisa Krein:

Yes.

Michelle Lai:

Many a time.

Adam Smith:

And so you just suck it up and-

Michelle Lai:

Go with it, run with it.

Adam Smith:

And is that where your supervisor-

Luisa Krein:

Try and make the best out of it.

Adam Smith:

… can come in and help?

Luisa Krein:

Yeah. For sure.

Michelle Lai:

I was being a bit dramatic. I mean, we both have experience with research prior to our PhD. So I think we know the process and we know that there’ll be hairy moments, and we know that we will get through it.

Adam Smith:

So obviously we’ve talked about supervisor relations, but what about with your peers? I mean, do you have that support network amongst your fellow PhD students to talk to about things?

Michelle Lai:

Yeah.

Adam Smith:

I mean, I’ve often seen you all go for coffee across the way and having a little chat and catch up with each other.

Luisa Krein:

Yeah. [inaudible 00:33:23].

Adam Smith:

So peers are important.

Michelle Lai:

[inaudible 00:33:26] very important.

Adam Smith:

Don’t put yourself off from the community. Have you seen yourself as an employee at any time? [inaudible 00:33:33]

Luisa Krein:

In relation to the PhD?

Adam Smith:

Yeah.

Michelle Lai:

I mean, like see it as a [inaudible 00:33:37]. What do you mean?

Luisa Krein:

See it as a job. Are you being, guess you’re being paid for what you do. You’re an employee. You’re not [inaudible 00:33:48].

Michelle Lai:

[inaudible 00:33:48].

Adam Smith:

Well, because [inaudible 00:33:48] talk about your research is self-driven and once you get to the stage of PhD, it’s not like when you’re doing undergrad and you had to turn up to lectures.

Michelle Lai:

You realise it is more than just a job when you start taking your work to your holidays and transcribing. So of course we take it seriously. And if you were to think of it as a job, I don’t necessarily think that would be a bad thing as well because you can kind of strike that work life balance as well.

Adam Smith:

I think also maybe that comes back to your relationship with your supervisor. Again, I think maybe some supervisors might start to think of their students as an employee, as the people they’re supervising as employees and they’re living through you and helping support you do your research that she’s then under them. I don’t know if that-

Michelle Lai:

Right.

Adam Smith:

Some people work that way, right?

Michelle Lai:

They obviously have the vested interest in you, but at the end of the day, if you’re comfortable with them, then you’re going to be able to tell them, hang on.

Adam Smith:

So that’s good.

Michelle Lai:

I don’t feel comfortable.

Adam Smith:

But you haven’t had that-

Michelle Lai:

I feel like I’m an employee of yours.

Adam Smith:

… challenge. Stress about being published. Are you stressed about getting published?

Michelle Lai:

No.

Luisa Krein:

No.

Michelle Lai:

Because-

Adam Smith:

No question to-

Luisa Krein:

I think I am. I think it depends on which parts you take. You can publish these… sorry. Write your PhD with publication. So if you choose to go down that path, I think you do have the responsibility to publish and to get published is actually incredibly hard these days and to set yourself apart. So, I mean, I don’t know if that has changed. I’m sure it’s always been [inaudible 00:35:18].

Adam Smith:

No, I think [inaudible 00:35:19] a lot of people to feel the pressure to get published during the time of your PhD and not [inaudible 00:35:24].

Luisa Krein:

Actually been rejected, I think it was only once or twice.

Michelle Lai:

I think you had something impress. So you have something impressive.

Luisa Krein:

I’ve got it now.

Michelle Lai:

Congratulations.

Luisa Krein:

But it took a while. So-

Michelle Lai:

[inaudible 00:35:34].

Luisa Krein:

Yeah.

Adam Smith:

Well, is it out?

Luisa Krein:

Yeah. It is online. I don’t think it’s out in the issue yet.

Adam Smith:

You can send us a link.

Michelle Lai:

Plug it. Plug it right now.

Luisa Krein:

Will do.

Adam Smith:

We’ll post a link in the-

Michelle Lai:

Come on, plug it. What journal is it in?

Luisa Krein:

It’s in the international journal of psycho geriatrics, American… sorry. American journal of psychogeriatrics.

Adam Smith:

Well, we’ll make sure we post the link in the field-

Michelle Lai:

I’m going to read it.

Adam Smith:

… to the podcast. And so it wasn’t included in work, but social life. I mean, you haven’t turned your back on your social lives.

Luisa Krein:

No.

Michelle Lai:

No.

Luisa Krein:

I think that’s really important and you’ve got to make the time for it no matter what. Otherwise you’ll go insane.

Adam Smith:

We’re coming to the end of our time. So before we finish, I want to tell you, well, I’ve got-

Michelle Lai:

I like how we’re speaking faster.

Adam Smith:

What advice would you give to anybody else thinking of doing a PhD? Just top one thing.

Luisa Krein:

I think choose your topic wisely and choose something that you feel passionate about or personally connected to. I think they’ll help you keep at it.

Adam Smith:

Good advice. Michelle.

Michelle Lai:

You know what, I don’t know if I’m qualified to give advice because everyone is so different. I won’t give advice. I think, feel your way through it. Surround yourself with people you trust, build a good relationship with your supervisors, and just go with the flow. I prefer a more organic approach. I don’t like saying top five tips for this and that because everyone’s different. Everyone goes through their PhD journey differently. So just go with it.

Adam Smith:

Thank you very much. Well, it’s time to end today’s podcast. I’d like to thank our panellists, Michelle and Luisa. I’m saying ending, because I’ve got another question here because it’s usually at this point that we tell listeners how they can find you on social media and how they can connect and if they have questions about your work and your research, they should reach out through Twitter. But I’m very conscious when you sent me your profiles, neither of you were on Twitter.

Michelle Lai:

That’s because no one-

Adam Smith:

Is that a conscious decision?

Michelle Lai:

… in Australia uses Twitter.

Adam Smith:

That’s so not true.

Luisa Krein:

It is so not true.

Michelle Lai:

I don’t know a single person who uses Twitter.

Luisa Krein:

We have so many followers on our Twitter feed.

Michelle Lai:

Yun-Hee does not use Twitter.

Adam Smith:

No she doesn’t. But we have lots of followers from the podcast who all across Australia and who are on social media [inaudible 00:37:46].

Michelle Lai:

I thought people just used Twitter to like retweet things so they can win like holidays to Hawaii or something.

Adam Smith:

No it’s, wow.

Luisa Krein:

Big misconception. I don’t think that.

Adam Smith:

Academic Twitter is huge.

Luisa Krein:

Can I just like-

Michelle Lai:

Really?

Luisa Krein:

Yeah.

Adam Smith:

It’s huge. But I mean, your area of research particularly, but there’s this whole kind of huge community of people doing dementia. In fact, even has it’s on hashtag. Hashtag den PhD and there’s whole groups of people meet virtually to talk about life research challenges, issues.

Michelle Lai:

I did not know that.

Adam Smith:

Connecting with people with dementia as well through Twitter.

Luisa Krein:

So we’re having a discussion after this. I’m going to educate you.

Adam Smith:

So my questions I heard here was, is this a deliberate decision to stop you getting distracted? But yours is just because you didn’t see the value of it. I’m going to bombard you with links from people that have our blogs and articles.

Luisa Krein:

Great idea. Love it.

Michelle Lai:

No.

Luisa Krein:

I think for me it was more that I actually don’t feel like I have the time to become an adequate Twitter. Like I’ve got a huge social network and we’re communicating via WhatsApp. I’m not using Facebook that much anymore, but with two jobs and the PhD-

Adam Smith:

It’s LinkedIn and Twitter, isn’t it?

Luisa Krein:

I just don’t feel like I’ve got-

Michelle Lai:

LinkedIn.

Adam Smith:

But do you also [crosstalk 00:39:02].

Luisa Krein:

So I’ve got LinkedIn.

Adam Smith:

You got LinkedIn?

Luisa Krein:

I do.

Adam Smith:

Well done. I’m not going to make you feel bad about Twitter, but let’s maybe just try by the end, by the time this book is published, maybe [inaudible 00:39:15].

Luisa Krein:

No. I’m starting to get converted. So hopefully we can edit in a Twitter handle.

Michelle Lai:

Can I just ask you, what have you gained from?

Adam Smith:

Well, lots. So we find lots of people who are going to contribute to blogs and podcasts who go approach us and ask, “Hey, I’d like to do this, I’d like to talk about that.” I find interesting articles that I otherwise wouldn’t have known who published because you’ve got to be switched on all the time otherwise.

Michelle Lai:

Do you use ResearchGate?

Adam Smith:

Yeah. We look there as well.

Michelle Lai:

Have you found that useful?

Adam Smith:

Yeah, absolutely. Particularly if you’re looking for something particular. Also things like the, what’s it called? The ALS forum. Is it?

Michelle Lai:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adam Smith:

As it the ALZ forum where they publish every day, there’s latest articles? I mean, it’s a lot of bench signs in there, but not just, in there too. So no week we’ve… and also as well, I’ve met a whole bunch of community of friends that then when you go to conferences, you meet these people.

Luisa Krein:

That’s great.

Adam Smith:

Building up your profile too. I mean, it kind of helps build up your profile, share and you’ll have people approach you to ask questions about your work and you find out if other people are doing the things that you’re… Your point earlier about nobody else is doing my PhD.

Michelle Lai:

Maybe there is. There are like 10 people in the UK doing it right now.

Adam Smith:

You just, you didn’t know that.

Michelle Lai:

Hit me up, michelle.lai@sydney.edu.au

Adam Smith:

So thank you to Michelle and Luisa. If you’ve got anything to add to the topics we’ve talked about today, please do put your comments in the forum on our website or drop us a line on Twitter using hashtag ECR dementia. If you’d like to come into the studio and join us for a podcast to talk about your own work, please get in touch. Finally, I’d like to thank the University of Sydney nursing school for allowing us to record the podcast here today.

Adam Smith:

And particular mention of course for Professor Yun-Hee, who for Yun-Hee we’ve talked about before, who kindly encourage you guys to come in and amid this possible and help bring it about. Finally, please remember to subscribe, but like share and review our podcast, which is available also on, iTunes, SoundCloud, Spotify and all the other places. And please do tell your friends and colleagues. Thank you very much. Thank you-

Luisa Krein:

Thank you.

Adam Smith:

… Luisa, thank you Michelle.

Luisa Krein:

That was fun. Thanks.

Michelle Lai:

[inaudible 00:41:28].

Adam Smith:

Thank you.

Voice Over:

This was a podcast brought to you by Dementia Researcher. Everything you need in one place. Register today at dementiaresearcher.nhir.ac.uk.

END


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