Thinking in Visuals – creative research communication

Last year I completed a research internship with CLAHRC Greater Manchester. I carried out a small investigation (looking at practice nurses doing dementia screening and referring to memory service), but for me the project was only a tiny part of my experience. Since the internship finished, I’ve struggled to write about what it has meant to me. Ask me and I will go on (and on, and on), waving my hands around and lighting up as things occur to me. None of this comes across when I try to write it down in a formal way.

One of the huge parts of my internship is that one experience has led to another which has led to another which sparks another interest and this goes on to something else. For example, I’ve been more engaged with research on social media, so…

  • following Trish Greenhalgh on Twitter led me to…
  • Petra Boynton’s brilliant book (The Research Companion) which led me to…
  • joining the book’s facebook group which led me to…
  • seeing this blog post about creativity in research which led me to…
  • mentioning it at my Trust’s R&D interest group (which I was only at because I am now familiar with our R&D department and the internship gave me the confidence to say “what about having an interest group?”) which led me to…
  • getting an email from our R&D department about R&D North West’s events with a note to say “there’s even one with wool in for you!”.

And all of this led me going to Thinking In Visuals – a one day workshop about using textiles to communicate creatively about research.

And what a day it was. There were five of us from various healthcare/research backgrounds (speech and language, OT and nursing) creating something that could be used to communicate about our research. As I heard about some brilliant projects from people who described themselves as “expert clinicians but novice researchers”, I felt a bit of a fraud. If anyone could claim the novice title it definitely was me. Normally this would send me into a tailspin of self-doubt and panic, but it dawned on me that this was an opportunity to reflect on my internship.

The course leader Jana was brilliant at teasing out what stories people wanted to tell, how these could be represented and how each participant might do it. There were suggestions from the whole group and the day was punctuated with “ooooohs” and “aaaaahs” of appreciation and moments of genius. Jana was also wonderful at unlocking a slightly freer approach to creativity from one participant who tends to over think things and whose primary school reports remarked that she needed to worry less about the finished product.

I was sent to work on the floor with the instruction to find four different ways of representing my story.


As you can see, this definitely made me more free than sitting down with a blank page of A4 would have done…


My finished piece was the most abstract piece of craft that I have ever made at any kind of workshop and I do think that it tells my story. The background represents the events and experiences of my internship, these are connected (sometimes coming full circle), and some of them are explosions of ideas and the lightbulb moments I had. The balls of wool are me. I start small (and a bit dull), but as I encounter things during my internship I become a little bit bigger, a little more interesting and a little bit more sparkly. It is this giant ball of enthusiasm that now bowls into work going “I’ve had an idea…” as my boss sighs, contemplates keeping her Do Not Disturb sign on her door permanently and then lets me run with whatever bee is in my bonnet.

So what have I learned from the workshop? Well, I don’t feel that I was taught on the course, I was coached into finding my own way to tell my story. This is testament to the skill of the course instructors – at times (as I was covering myself in PVA glue and wool fluff) I just listened to the magic of stories being told, heard and interpreted. I can’t see me knitting my next Powerpoint presentation (maybe the one after), but I will be tucking the course away in my research toolbox for sometime in the future. Best of all though, I have been properly (and freely) creative for the first time in a long while and I think that’s making me a little bit braver – fetch me more sequins!


Spring has sprung – Bluebell 10K

I’ve been neglecting my blog for a variety of reasons, not least the fact that MiniGinge stood on the laptop and I have been without the Z, X and spacebar (which is more annoying than you would think). Anyway, due to popular demand (hello sis), I have dusted things off to write about this weekend’s Bluebell 10K.


Since January I’ve been trying to find a race that floats my boat, but have struggled with logistics and a general feeling of “meh”. I’m not sure if I’ve not been motivated because I haven’t got a race to aim for, or if I’ve not been able to find a race because I’ve not been motivated. However, a bit of a twitter chat with the lovely @RunningGaynor drew my attention to the Bluebell 10K. A trail run, less than 2 miles from home, with the prospect of a near drowning attempting to cross a river without the aid of a bridge. It seemed to good an offer to turn down.

So I signed up. And then ignored the fact that I had signed up until the night before the race. I was driving home in the sunshine and thought “yeah, I’ll do it, it’ll be great”. And then I looked at the weather for the next day. Sunshine did not feature. At all. But still, I was going to get wet anyway so what the hell (just to be clear, I took the photos on a return trip in much nicer weather – I had a fear of taking technology through a river).


I arrived in plenty of time to collect my race number and, despite going to the loo a million times before setting off, joined the toilet queue. And queued. And queued. And queued. It was a bit like waiting for a theme park ride – ever so often someone would pass you and comment “oh, I was waiting for another 20 minutes from there”. It turns out that the pub that acted as HQ had withdrawn access to the main part of the pub 48 hours before the race. This left us with access to one toilet. For everyone. With less than ten minutes to go, we were asked to go to the start and I put a lot of trust in the hope that my brain was actually shouting louder than my bladder (I relied heavily on the fact that when I set off on my marathon, I was convinced that I would need the loo at the end of the first lap. I ended up running for 5 and a half hours before needing to stop).

The toilet queue had given me lots of opportunity to marvel at/become fearful of the number of running club vests and hoodies at the race. This sight is guaranteed to fill me with fear as I am convinced that I will be lumbering along at the back behind this herd of speedy gazelles. As a result, I tend to hide from races that are dominated by club runners.


The course itself was a squelchy, slippy mudbath interspersed with steps, stiles and slopes that required a little of bit of hanging onto branches to get up and down at some points. I soon realised that the more tentatively you approach these things, the more likely you are to end up on your bum. It didn’t take long for me to be dismounting bridges with a two-footed jump. This policy only bit me once, when the mud was slightly colder, wetter and deeper than I had expected…Luckily I retained both shoes.

At 4 miles, my calves and shoes were completely covered in mud, but it was ok because I had to run through a river (twice) before the finish. When I first heard about the autumn version of this race a few years ago, I imagined the river crossing to involve some gentle splashing across a rippling, pebbled brook. When I looked at photos, I realised that it was somewhat deeper. When I plunged into the icy water, I was slightly surprised to find the water reached my bum. Sensibly, the race organisers position the photographer at the river in order to capture the look of shock and delight as you wade across to the other bank (this is one race photo that is definitely going to be ordered).


Even though I am normally horrendously clumsy, I managed to cross the river and navigate the mud whilst staying on both feet. Perhaps I got too cocky, but with less than 0.1miles to go, on a flat, dry stretch of path, I caught my foot on a tree root and crashed onto my side. Not embarrassing at all. I picked myself up, shook off my embarrassment and trotted round the next corner to see the finish line, my medal and a rather fetching blue t-shirt.

Despite my last minute tumble, I was grinning. I’d been grinning like an idiot all the way round (I’m going to have to find someone to run with me next year just so that I don’t look quite so strange), I just couldn’t help it. I drove home sitting on a carrier bag (and grinning). I was grinning while I hosed the mud out of the bath after my shower. I was still grinning when Ginge got home from work in the evening. I had just about stopped grinning by the time I went to be. This should give you an idea of how much this race lifted my spirits and left me feeling totally exhilarated (hint: it was quite a lot).

The daft thing is, the start of the race is only a couple of miles from home and the route itself took me less than half a mile from home. Part of the race was along my “zen route” (when I need a run to clear my head and stop to smell the ducks) – it’s where I ran to take in the news that I was pregnant and where I waddled when I was heavily pregnant (and with hindsight, when I was actually in labour). And yet, I am shamefaced to admit that I’ve never run (or walked, or waddled) around the majority of the route (I stick to the flat bits of the valley) and you know what? It’s really lovely, even on a miserable, grey, wet Sunday morning. I am now trying to ride this wave of excitement in order to squash my fears about running a 10k in the other local valley (I finished 3rd from last when I ran it 4 years ago).

Janathon 5&6/31: parcels

 Yesterday I was supposed to do my Magic Plan’s 6 minute assessment run (basically warm up, easy run, walk, run as far as I can in 6 minutes, collapse, easy run, obsessively check how this has changed the plan). However, I was still feeling grotty, we had a Christmas tree to take down and my new trainers were cruelly snatched away from me and taken back to the UPS depot. In no mood to put some effort in,  I rescheduled (which is why I love TrainAsONE) and just did my strength stuff. I also happened to be flipping through twitter when I spotted another hip flexor exercise from Kinetic Revolution and tried that out as well.

Today was another matter. Mini Ginge blessed me with a rare lie in til 8 and I was feeling a lot more human this morning. We had a lovely adventure with Gran doing the big shop at Morrisons and then tramping around the park where we fed the ducks…

  And spotted some remarkably early snowdrops. 


Then we had a brew and one of us fell asleep in the car on the way home. This gave me chance to do my strength stuff without interruption and answer the door to the nice man who brought me these beauties.   

They are the girliest trainees that I have ever owned but were the only ones available in clown size. 

It seemed rude not give them an outing, so I pottered off for my run and came home to discover that my 6 minute run was exactly the same pace as in October. This gives me a bit of optimism that I haven’t lost that much fitness whilst having a very lazy December.

But that is only one parcel and the title of this post is the plural. Well, even though I didn’t get my trainers yesterday, the postman did bring me a belated Christmas present from Ginge. And then today, I received the lovely sparkly Winter 10k medal from Pow Virtual Running, which looks like a rather splendid way to start the new year’s bling.


Janathon 4/31: snuffle

Today the magic plan said not to run and I was happy to oblige. 

I have had our office cold since before Christmas and struggled to sleep because my nose suddenly blocked again. What’s weird is that I now feel as if I’m at the start of a cold, which either means that my existing cold has regressed or I now have two colds at the same time. 

I did my various fitness challenges and core strength stuff, which already seems to be helping as my hips are less achy and I feel less creaky when I get out of bed in the morning. 

Janathon 3/31: action!

By nature I am a procrastinator, but not today. Oh no. Today the plan was dictated by the weather; get out early, take Mini-Ginge to a playground before the rain set in for the day, have a rainy afternoon mooching around at home, run in the evening hopefully catching the brief window when the rain was ‘light’ (according to the Met Office). It all went according to plan until about three o’clock when I suddenly thought why wait until it’s dark, when even the light rain would seem heavy and I’d get all sulky about going out. I might as well just get it done, so I got changed and did the 47 minutes that my plan asked from me. 

Of course it rained for all 47 minutes. But it was mostly daylight (which helped) with the streetlights coming on at the halfway point of my run. And then the rain became even heavier, but I didn’t care because I was on my way home by then. So yay me for just getting it done.

It was slightly harder doing my strength exercises though…