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Caroline Rond is originally from Durban, South Africa. She completed her PhD at Oxford Brookes in April 2017 and her thesis title is ‘Imaginary Companions: An Exploration of Adult Memory Narratives'
I was in the USA at the time, found Brookes online, had a look at the curriculum on offer and registered for an MA in Childhood Studies.
I completed my MA Childhood Studies through the School of Education in 2012 and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Immediately thereafter it was suggested that I apply for research studentship. My application for partial funding was successful and I began my Doctoral journey in September 2012.
Prior to my move to England I worked as a Psychotherapist with inner- city youth in Philadelphia. I live in Bristol and to keep involved in the mental health sector I have been doing some part-time counselling work.
For me, it is a fairly isolating experience. I reside in Bristol so am geographically unable to commit to a life on campus. Being disengaged from other academics and working solo on a research project is a lonely endeavour but I am fortunate enough to have two wonderful supervisors who always seem to be available. When I do visit campus for supervision meetings I make a point of spending time in the cafeteria. Adorning works of art, an espresso in hand and the jibber-jabber of students all makes my trip to Brookes worthwhile!
The idea for the study grew essentially from an interest in children’s imaginative play. Having worked in psycho-educational settings (clinics and schools) in Southern Africa and the USA, I observed children irrespective of circumstance using their imaginations to express themselves through play. I could see, as a bystander, how children used their imaginations to construct meaning about their worlds and their place in those worlds, transforming themselves and their surroundings. Clinical settings, schools and playgrounds revealed an authority of the imagination, permitting children to move beyond the actual into a place of projected alternatives. In 2013 I completed a literature-based study (my dissertation at Brookes) on imaginary friendships. Theoretical findings pointed to a developmentally meaningful relationship between children and their imaginary friends. The study considered links between the emergence of imaginary companions and theory of mind (Taylor, Cartwright & Carlson, 1993; Taylor & Carlson, 1997; Taylor, 1999; Taylor, Carlson & Shawber, 2007) links to cognitive flexibility and mental displacement, levels of self-knowledge and richer narrative ability. The emergent picture was one of children benefiting personally and socially from these relationships.
My PhD thesis is an extension of this, exploring how adults make sense of these early imaginary relationships. Nine students volunteered for the study and were interviewed. I have employed a phenomenological methodology and used IPA (Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis) to interpret the narrative transcripts.
One is afforded a fair amount of freedom as a research student. There are obviously ethical and academic parameters but one is pretty much left to get on with the project. This is not a taught course so there are few deadlines or yardsticks by which to measure progress and no classmates to assist in the navigation of obstacles. This can certainly feel scary at times. One of the ways to overcome this would be to make an effort to engage with other research groups and to attend the workshops and seminars which the university organises. Regular supervision meetings have been imperative to my progress.
I wish with hindsight that I’d taken advantage of all that is on offer. I think Oxford Brookes has a strong and formidable research community which serve to support one another through this journey. As far as staff members go, there are some very experienced researchers on board who seem willing to assist wherever they can. Socials and research student gatherings are organised to facilitate inter-departmental networking opportunities.
I will either continue my work in the mental health profession or, if an opportunity presents itself, be involved in academia.