Inspiring People: Wendy Mitchell

Another post late in the day… this Blogtober thing is no joke! I feel like I’ve been busy all day, and yet it’s currently 9.45pm and I’m only just getting to writing today’s post.. Anyway, it’s been over a week since I’ve written an ‘Inspiring People’ post, and today is the turn of Wendy Mitchell.
Wendy was diagnosed with young onset dementia in 2014 at the age of 58, and after being shocked at the lack of awareness of the condition, she set up her blog; Which me am I today?

Picture: Lorne Campbell / Guzelian
Wendy Mitchell of York, North Yorkshire, who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at the aged of 58. She is pictured with her daughters Gemma (left) and Sarah.
Why does Wendy Mitchell inspire me?

After Wendy was diagnosed with dementia, she was forced to retire early from her job as a non-clinical team leader in the NHS; people didn’t know what to say or how to modify her role so that she could continue to work – even those that had extensive clinical experience (she worked in the NHS for goodness sake!). That in itself is both shocking and upsetting, and I say that as someone who has limited experience with dementia. Older members of my family have had it, but I’ve never been a carer for someone with the disease, and I’ve been distanced from those individuals by physical location rather than emotion. It’s difficult to say what you’d do if you were diagnosed with dementia; surely no one really knows until it happens to them. That said, I don’t think I’d deal with it very well. Honestly I can only just visualise myself doing everything that Wendy does now, as a healthy 26 year old, but I can’t imagine deciding to start a blog, contributing to support groups, travelling around the country to be involved with research projects, and giving talks to student nurses having been diagnosed with dementia.

I read and reviewed Wendy’s book, Somebody I Used To Know, in March this year, and her work continues to inspire people as she spreads knowledge and awareness of life with dementia; last month Wendy’s words featured in The New York Times, yes, the actual New York Times.

One day I would love to write a book, and I would be stunned if I was ever able to write for The New York Times; but Wendy demonstrates that these things are possible. She raised her two daughters, she had a brilliant job within the UK’s health service, and then life threw her a curve ball. Instead of collapsing and admitting defeat, Wendy make a new career for herself. She is an author, a public speaker, an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society, and an active research partner. She has found her own way through Alzheimer’s disease, compiling her own tips and tricks to help her live with the condition in an independent and comfortable way. She shares these tips so that others can continue to maintain their independence too – see the video below that she filmed for the Alzheimer’s Society.

Find out more

If you’d like to find out more about what Wendy is up to, I would recommend that you follow her blog and Twitter page. I’d also recommend reading her book, which you can get here (it’s currently reduced to £11.49 so grab it whilst you can!).

Other articles I’d recommend reading:

Wendy Mitchell’s 5 tips for supporting somebody with dementia
I had Alzheimer’s. But I wasn’t ready to retire. (The New York Times article that I mentioned earlier)
I have dementia and I take part in research: Here’s why
Dear Diary, I know I can live well with dementia
Dear Diary, I want to talk about public perception of dementia
Don’t call us sufferers – it makes us lose all hope

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Inspiring People: Jess Wade

Blogtober is going much more quickly than I anticipated! It feels like I was only posting my last ‘Inspiring People’ post a few days ago, but that ode to Margaret McCartney was in fact over a week ago.. anyway, on to another hugely inspirational women! This post is about Jess Wade. Jess is a physicist and early career researcher based at Imperial College London, she also does a huge amount of fantastic public engagement work, a lot of which aims to promote physics to girls.

Why does Jess Wade inspire me?
Jess Wade

I was first introduced to Jess (I say introduced, I’ve never actually met her – I’ve just done a lot of admiring from afar..) on Twitter, after her campaign to create Wikipedia pages for overlooked women in science hit the mainstream news. This campaign involved Jess creating Wikipedia pages for one woman who has achieved something impressive in science every single day. Now, Blogtober has been going for the grand total of 12 days now, and I’m writing this posts later and later in the day.. it’s currently after 10pm and I’m sat in my dressing gown with a decaf tea (I am so rock and roll). I cannot imagine how much work that this campaign has involved; some of my blog posts don’t take very long to write, others take a long time because they require research – for to make a Wikipedia page requires a significant amount of time and effort. Jess’s enthusiasm doesn’t stop there though, she’s been quoted saying I had a target for doing one a day, but sometimes I get too excited and do three.” Let that sink in, she writes at least one Wikipedia page a day, but sometimes she write three. THREE. This is a woman on a mission, and I absolutely love her excitement, drive and determination.

In more recent months Jess has also started another campaign along with fellow Scientist Claire Murray. Just a warning, this is another large campaign that will make you question what on Earth you’ve achieved in the past 2 months (my excuse is that I finished my PhD – if it wasn’t for that I’m sure I’d have raised thousands of pounds for an incredible cause… yep…). Jess and Claire have so far raised over £23,000, which will be used to buy copies of Angela Saini‘s book Inferior (I reviewed Inferior last year, you can read that review here) for every state school in the UK. ISN’T THAT INCREDIBLE?! Publishing house 4th Estate have also agreed to match the donations and manage distribution – this is no small thing, and as far as I know it was started by Jess and Claire on Twitter.
Not only is Jess aiming to ensure that girls across Britain know that they can do whatever they want to do (i.e. that it’s not science that’s holding them back, it’s society), but she’s inspired other brilliant women around the world to start these types of campaigns in their own countries. Jess is now working on a further campaign alongside Maryam Zaringhalam which aims to get the book into New York City’s middle and high schools.

This video from BBC Focus is brilliant, it includes Jess Wade along with Angela Saini, Suzie Imber and Aoife Hunt talking about why there aren’t more women in science and STEM subjects more broadly. I would really recommend watching it to get a vibe of how humble, intelligent and funny Jess is.

She’s also a brilliant doodler:

Image taken from https://makingphysicsfun.com/
Find out more

If you’d like to find out more about Jess Wade’s work, I’d recommend starting with the sources below:

Jess Wade’s outreach website, her Twitter page and her staff profile at Imperial College.

A day in the life of a physicist at Imperial College London
Meet the scientist working to increase the number of underrepresented scientists and engineers on Wikipedia
Interview: Dr. Jess Wade does it all – from clever LEDs to increasing diversity in STEM
This physicist wants female scientists to get noticed. So she wrote 270 Wikipedia profiles.
Institute of Physics blog – Interview with Jess Wade

As an early career researcher, I love Jess’s positivity and her can-do attitude. She inspires me to be proactive in the way that I push forward the things that mean something to me – whether that’s public engagement, scientific research, or diversity and equality.

Inspiring People: Margaret McCartney

Margaret McCartney

A few months ago I decided to start a series of blog posts called ‘Inspiring People’. The idea was triggered by the death of Doug Altman; I wanted to tell you about the people that inspire me. Some of them will be researchers, some clinicians, some artists, some patients, and everything in between – hopefully the blog posts will give you an idea of how I approach the research that I do, where I get inspiration from, and who I respect and admire. You might even find a few new sources of inspiration for yourself too!

Today’s inspiring person is Dr Margaret McCartney; she’s a GP based in Glasgow, former columnist for the British Medical Journal, broadcaster for Radio 4’s Inside Health programme, and a fierce advocate for the NHS. She’s also the author of various books focussing on patient health and the NHS – including The Patient Paradox that I’ve read and recommended here.

Why does Margaret McCartney inspire me?

In the post about Doug Altman I talked about the first conference presentation I gave, and how Doug’s laughter and encouragement from the audience settled my nerves. At that same conference, I saw Margaret McCartney speak for the first time. Her presentation was absolutely brilliant. She talked about death, about how we as a society need to accept the inevitability of death, and how we should be working to make death a more dignified process rather than working to keep people alive at any cost. It’s weird to think that listening to Margaret’s talk caused me to really think about death for the first time; we will all die, we have all known someone who has died, and yet we avoid the subject. I left that talk feeling inspired, humbled, and ready to buy every book Margaret has ever written.

Aside from the fact that she talks about really important, and often taboo, subjects, she talks about them in an accessible way – it’s a no holds barred approach, provocative without being actively confrontational. Listening to her, you can tell that she doesn’t take any shit, but she is so honest, intelligent and eloquent, that it’s difficult to pick any holes in her argument.

The video below is one of Margaret’s fantastic talks – this one from 2014 at the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine at the University of Oxford. In this talk she’s discussing screening tests and how the process of having a screening test should not be something that patients go into without knowledge – screening tests have implications and therefore need thought and consideration before the decision to have one (or not) is made. People need to have information available to them in order for them to make the decisions that are right for them.

Find out more

If you’d like to find out more about Margaret McCartney’s work, I’d recommend starting with the sources below:

Margaret McCartney’s blog, her Twitter, and her books

Articles from the BMJ:
Medicine must do better on gender
A new era of consumerist private GP services
If you don’t pay for it you are the product
Can we now talk openly about the risks of screening?
If screening is worth doing, it’s worth doing well
The NHS shouldn’t have to pick up the bill for private screening tests
Hiding and seeking doctors’ conflicts of interest
We need another vote

If you only have time to read one thing, make it this:
A summary of four and a half years of columns in one column

As a researcher, I appreciate her brutal honesty; as a patient, I appreciate her ability to communicate; and as a tax payer, I appreciate her constant push for transparency in the way that our healthcare system is funded, skewed and tainted by industry influence and political games.

Inspiring People: Doug Altman

Doug Altman

Today whilst scrolling mindlessly through Twitter I saw a post that began, “So sorry to hear of Doug Altman’s passing.” At first I didn’t really believe it – it was like the first time someone told me that Michael Jackson or David Bowie had died, I didn’t think it was real. I scrolled a bit more and saw more posts echoing the same sentiment. Today, we lost Doug Altman.

I was sat in my Mum’s kitchen when I found out. I told her and she asked who Doug Altman was, and I found it genuinely difficult to put into words, ‘Er.. he, well he’s a statistician, a really good one. A lot of the work that I do has his ideas entrenched in it. He’s a big deal, medical-research-wise.’ Shortly after that conversation I left my Mum’s to drive back to my home in Aberdeen. The journey took about 4 and a half hours, and between podcasts and Jon Ronson’s audiobook of ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed‘, I was thinking about Doug Altman and how I wished more people knew who he was. Clearly, in the medical research world we know that we’ve lost a giant, but there are people in other areas of research and in other walks of life that haven’t yet had the joy of discovering Doug’s work. So, Doug Altman is my first entry in a new blog post series called ‘Inspiring People’, where I’ll be sharing details of the people that inspire me – whether in my working life or in my personal life.

So, where do I start with someone like this?

According to Wikipedia..

Douglas Altman FMedSci (born London, UK, 12 July 1948) was an English statistician best known for his work on improving the reliability and reporting of medical research and for highly cited papers on statistical methodology. He is professor of statistics in medicine at the University of Oxford, founder and Director of Centre for Statistics in Medicine and Cancer Research UK Medical Statistics Group, and co-founder of the international EQUATOR Network for health research reliability.

Why did he inspire me?

On the first day on my PhD, my supervisor furnished me with a large pile of papers, links and books to get my teeth into. He drew particular attention to the Testing Treatments book, and a paper titled ‘The scandal of poor medical research‘. I read that paper multiple times, I’ve cited it multiple times in my thesis, and it’s something that I frequently refer to when constructing arguments about the work that I do. Medical research can be done better, and my PhD is taking a tiny, tiny piece of the medical research landscape, and working to improve it. ‘The scandal of poor medical research’ hasn’t just inspired me, it was voted as the paper that the British Medical Journal should be most proud of publishing.

He wasn’t only a ridiculously intelligent man and a brilliant writer, he was a brilliant colleague. I’ve never worked directly with Doug Altman, but everything I’ve heard about him suggests that he was a fantastic person to work with; down to Earth, funny, sarcastic, kind and supportive.

My first big conference presentation was at the Evidence Live conference in 2016. I was presenting work from the Trial Forge group (the wider group that my PhD is set within), but it wasn’t entirely my work, so I was pretty nervous. Before I got up to the lectern I saw Doug Altman. I knew it was Doug Altman, I knew he was about to watch me give my first ever conference presentation, and my nerves escalated. A few minutes into the presentation I remember looking out into the audience and seeing Doug laugh at one of my ‘medical research is not doing it’s job’ related jokes (I know, major nerd alert), after he stopped laughing I saw him nodding along with my points. That tiny interaction is something he likely didn’t even note, but it boosted my confidence more than anything else had when it came to giving presentations. I still think about it now when I get nervous before a talk, I tell myself ‘well if Doug Altman got my joke and liked what I had to say, I must be doing something right’.

I won’t ramble on any more, I’ll just leave with you a list of further reading so you can find out about Doug’s ideas from the man himself.

Doug Altman’s Google Scholar Profile – detailing the papers that have so far earned him 360,483 citations
Practical Statistics for Medical Research (book)
Research Methods for Postgraduates (book)
Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence
Evaluating non-randomised intervention studies
Methodological issues in the design and analysis of randomised trials
Importance of the distinction between quality of methodology and quality of reporting
Better reporting of interventions: template for intervention description and replication (TIDieR) checklist and guide
A history of the evolution of guidelines for reporting medical research: the long road to the EQUATOR Network
The COMET initiative database: progress and activities update (2014)

Doug Altman – Scandal of Poor Medical Research (filmed at Evidence Live 2017 – I blogged about Doug’s talks at that conference too, see here and here)

We’ve lost a brilliant, inspiring mind today.
In the words of NDORMS (the Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics, Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Sciences where Doug worked), ‘Thank you, Doug, for all you gave to research and the world.’