About Niina Kolehmainen

I am a senior allied health professional (AHP) clinician academic. For a lot of my time I work from a university doing research with local, national and international partners. I also work in healthcare, as a consultant AHP, with children. I support and mentor nurses and AHPs, and sometimes medics, to develop as clinician academics.

Start that journey today

Nine years ago I attended a big professional conference at which I met a pair. That pair changed my life and career in profound ways, and today has in many ways been a culmination of that change.

I’ve told this story many times, but never this publicly. Now it feels apt to tell.

I still remember that Autumn of 2010 very clearly. Chile, my first occupational therapy international conference. OT World Cup they call it (it’s every four years). Ceremonies like the Olympics they said. It was all true.

But what really stuck out was this pair. Two people who appeared on the stage. They had strange accents I could not place. And their presentation was just wonderful. They stood out in the quality of their reflective thinking, on humbleness, on analytical rigour. They did not claim to be science but OMG were they making a contribution to thinking.

Later that day I saw the pair sitting on a bench, approachable for a lone out-of-place weirdly challenging person like me. I sat down, we chatted, they invited me to join their crew for dinner. We chatted more over dinner. We followed things up after the conference. Met teams. Worked together on some big studies. Supervised projects. Ate curry.

As of today, both people in this pair are now my amazing clinical academic PhD colleagues. From that encounter, and your kind offer to include me in your group, developed a decade long partnership.

It hasn’t always been easy – I am sure each of you have firmly cursed your involvement with me at times. But that’s ok. I’m happy to live with that for the journey and outcomes we’ve gotten.

My point is. We sat in a pub 9 years ago. With hopes, plans and aspirations about how we would change the world. My realistic head says we may not have changed the world that much – yet. But we have changed ourselves. We’ve learnt, developed, acquired knowledge and skills. And for that we are much better placed to advance our aspirations.

My point is. It pays to think long term.

It may seem like the end goal is far away, but perhaps that just means we better start now so as to get there as soon as we can.

Are changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.

From as soon as one goes anywhere near the clinical academic step ladder one is told that funders look for leaders, and that one needs to start to become one. From there on it becomes a case of developing one’s leadership skills, competencies and roles. Yet, ironically, I never expected to arrive to the point of actually being one.

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“PhD? Nice! (But what is it?)”

I feel we’ve sold PhD as an idea to AHPs. I also feel the next challenge is for AHPs en masse to figure out what a PhD is, and what to do with people who have them. 

I feel that seeking to do a PhD is now largely viewed positively among AHPs, and there is a genuine acceptance that having a PhD is (somehow) a positive thing. I still do hear some occasional mocking, and some unwelcome comments, e.g. about people with PhDs having a different brain size than the rest of the humans, but in my experience people making these comments are now a minority and are seen as making a fool of themselves more than representing a condoned majority view.

What seems to have changed much less is how AHPs understand what a PhD is (what does it make the person competent for), and how we can make use of people with PhDs to advance our practice, knowledge and impact. 

Over the next 12 months I’d like to take further steps to change this. To move more towards a point where people actually understand what PhDs are good for (and what they are not). To this end, I will run some dedicated posts to explore the question of “What do people with PhDs do once they finish their PhD – and what more could they do given a chance?”.

I am particularly hoping to publish posts by people who are at least 4-5 years beyond completing a PhD (but pre-Professors). That is because I want to focus on the experiences of people who are in full swing of hard core crafting of contributions to AHP practice, science and future (and skip the early post-PhD haze phase….).

If this is you, and you’d be willing to write a post – please do email/tweet me and let’s make a plan for your contribution!

Happy, and very exciting, 2017 to everyone! ☺