“I didn’t choose the research life; the research life chose me.”

Or at least that’s what I often say when I get asked how I ended up in research. People are often puzzled over how I could possibly choose a “boring” research career over clinical nursing. Clearly they don’t understand how awesome it feels to work in a hospital as a nurse and be allowed to wear stilettos. Plus research is far from boring. But I didn’t always feel this way about research. My first job as an RA should have stood for Researcher Accidentally – not Research Associate – because my pathway to becoming a researcher started with a delicate series of unexpected events.

My journey to becoming a researcher starts well before the medical conferences, publications, and getting academically backhanded by peer reviewers. It starts with an injury. In second year I had injured both of my wrists, and by fourth year they had become chronic injuries that were often debilitating. By my final preceptorship in obstetrics, it was excruciatingly painful to merely assist women with breastfeeding. After a particularly difficult night shift I walked into the daylight, eyes welling up from pain and frustration as I asked myself, “How much longer will I be able to do this?”

Not much longer.

By this time I had already applied (and been accepted) for my Masters, but my intention wasn’t to go into research. I found my research and stats classes to be mind-numbingly boring. I really only showed up to class because I adored and respected the heck out of my professors. Plus my best friend was the class smarty-pants, and I couldn’t let her down on group projects. Nope, I wasn’t going to become a researcher. I was going to suck it up and keep practicing as a clinical nurse in British Columbia until I was qualified to work as a Nurse Educator.

Now at this point my BC friends are probably thinking, “But Rachel, that never happened. You ditched us and moved to Ontario!”

Dear interrupting BC friends: stop getting ahead of the story.

I ended up in Toronto for graduate school because of a delay in receiving notification of acceptance from my first choice for graduate school. However, in the end this suited me just fine because Ryerson University allowed me to do a practicum instead of a thesis, and a thesis sounded like a horrible way to spend two years. Then an unusually long process to transfer my nursing license from BC to Ontario thwarted my plan to practice clinically during graduate school. But this was all okay because at the end of my first year I met my soul mate: interprofessional education and collaboration (IPE/C)

In an IPE/C course taught by Dr. Sherry Espin and Dr. Joanne Goldman I discovered that many of the things I complained about in undergrad – like power imbalances and hierarchy – weren’t just the rants of a disgruntled nursing student. They were real, and there were whole theories on them! Armed with this new set of vocabulary and theories, I raced to CINAHL to find the answer to all the world’s problems. But there were no answers to my questions. No one had done the research yet.

At the end of the course I approached Joanne about doing a practicum placement with her so I could learn more about IPE/C. This slowly (and unintentionally on my part) morphed into a research practicum with her and Dr. Simon Kitto and, well, here we are three years later! I haven’t managed to solve all of the world’s problems yet; I think for every answer I find, I come up with three more questions. Now all day, every day I get paid to systematically obsess over issues I’m passionate about. In the “real-world” this would get me a restraining order, but in research it gets me a salary.

Now obviously I just glossed over the last three years, but this is just the story of how I got involved in research. I figure I have the rest of this blog to share some of the trials and tribulations of being a Research Associate. Accidentally.