Today we have a guest blog from our visiting PhD student, Jackie Ryan.
I recently had the pleasure of a four-month study term at the DART from September to December 2019. I am an autistic PhD student from the University of Alberta, Edmonton. I am studying Rehabilitation Science (a field that includes occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, and physical therapy). My research interests are autism, self-determination, and participatory autism research. While participatory autism research is happening in Canada, it rarely, if ever, includes autistic adults as collaborators. Because I am interested in finding ways to increase participatory autism research in Canada, I reached out to Sue to ask if I could come study with her and in return do a project for her. Luckily, she said yes and had a project that fit with my experience and background. I was very fortunate to have contacted her before she started her year of saying no! The project was to create a “nuts and bolts of research” training course for autistic people who wanted to learn more about being a consumer of research, being a participant in research and/or being a collaborator in research. You can read more about the project here. This blog is about my time in Edinburgh and the DART lab.
I spent a couple of days per week in the lab working on the training project. The rest of my time was devoted to my own PhD research and getting to know Edinburgh and area. My husband and youngest son, also autistic, came with me. We rented a flat in Morningside and we were very happy with that choice. We found Edinburgh to be a very walkable city and the transit system was efficient and timely when we did not want to walk anymore. We also signed up for a car share service and took a few day trips. We packed in a lot of sight-seeing including trips to Ireland and London, where we have family, while getting a feel for the culture of Edinburgh as residents. We felt like residents of Edinburgh rather than visitors, which was what we were hoping to achieve.
All the members of the DART lab are friendly and welcoming, in addition to being brilliant. I was fortunate to meet a few members of the lab at the INSAR 2019 conference in Montreal, Canada. This opportunity was helpful to reduce my anxiety prior to coming to the lab. However, any anxiety I may have felt was quickly dispelled by the warm welcome I received. I was assigned a desk and computer in a shared office with windows overlooking the Pentland Hills. I settled in quickly, becoming familiar with the building and support services.
The team at the DART lab consists of post-doctoral fellows, PhD students, Master’s students, and research assistants. It was truly a pleasure to be part of this team! I had many learning opportunities, both formal and informal. I had bi-weekly meetings with Sue to plan the training course and discuss any questions I had. I attended monthly lab meetings where I learned about the research that others were doing and I had the opportunity to present on the training course. I attended a workshop on Mental Health Data Science and the Scottish Autism Conference 2019. I met and learned from some people from Autistica. I attended a talk that Sue gave for the Salvesen Mindroom Research Centre. I was exposed to new online platforms for conducting surveys and asynchronous focus groups. And of course, I met many autistic people from various backgrounds, from whom I learned many things. Meeting them really felt like I had found my tribe. There are some wonderful autistic-led organizations in Scotland, and I found myself inspired to build something similar in Edmonton.
I was also included in the social life of work. I was always included in lunch breaks. I had a couple of dinners with colleagues and was included in the Christmas parties and gift exchange. I had great fun with this group!
This was truly an experience of a lifetime, one that I will always remember with great fondness. Sue is a wonderful leader, in addition to being a forward-thinking, cutting-edge researcher. It was an honour to work with her and her team!