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My Journey with the DRG; DSMS and the friends I have made

Samantha Francis

Department of Social Work and Social Policy

Photo courtesy of Jack Hovell

When I started my PhD in October 2020 amid COVID lockdown, I soon realised that the already isolating experience of embarking on a PhD could easily become unbearable if I did not reach out to the PGR community. Fortunately for me, during the induction process I heard a talk from representatives of the Doctoral Researchers Group (DRG) and as they say, the rest is history.

I decided to dip my toe in the water and attended a monthly meeting. Things quickly evolved until I was swimming alongside friends. I became a member of a subcommittee that was planning that academic year’s Doctoral School Multidisciplinary Symposium (DSMS 2021), an online conference. I gained skills in peer reviewing, chairing sessions, and how to organise events. My confidence grew, so this year I decided to do more. I wanted to not only help organise but also take part and present my own research.

To do this I needed to write the dreaded abstract. How could I possibly explain my research in so few words? How could I make it understandable and interesting to all and in line with the theme of Changing People? The short answer was lots of drafts and then a final review by my very helpful supervisor before getting to the point of “that’s it that’s all I can do, so that’s what they are getting”. So, I sent it in and waited just like everyone else was doing.

Things moved on with me and my new friends organising the event and co-managing the Buddy scheme and before I knew it DSMS 2022 was happening, an actual in person event! With other people from the PGR community, new people to meet and new people to talk all things research with!

I presented my research in the late afternoon of the first day, supported not only by my friends from the DRG but also my friend and fellow 2nd year, Laureen, and the friends that I had made from my master's course in 2018, who are at different stages of their PhD journey By the end of it, I was really proud of all that had been achieved.

But then I discovered during the closing ceremony that my new friends had worked very hard to keep a big secret from me. You see I had won the prize for best abstract submitted! To say I was shocked was a big understatement. Even though the quality of the other presentations which I was privileged to hear was very high, the peer reviewers thought that the abstract I had got to the point with of “that’s it that’s all I can do, so that’s what they are getting”, was actually really good!

So, looking back to the beginning of October 2020, when I was isolated and feeling scared and alone, I am so very glad that I dipped my toe in the water and reached out to the DRG, made a friend in my department and had the lasting friendships from my master's course to get me this far. I am sure the new friends I have made will also stay with me as our careers continue.

Yes, doing a PhD can be isolating, stressful, and full of hurdles to jump through; but for me, having friends who understand, and I know I can reach out, makes it so much better. What’s next for me? The confidence I gained from submitting my abstract and presenting my research has led me to apply to an international conference on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and this week I heard it has been accepted, so I’m off to Norway!

Below you can read on and have a look at the “that’s it that’s all I can do, so that’s what they are getting” abstract I submitted to DSMS 2022. I hope you like it too.

How is resilience identified, defined, and measured within families impacted by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD): A mixed method narrative systematic review.

Samantha Francis, Social Work and Social Policy, University of Strathclyde

Key words: Resilience, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, Family, Lived experiences, Systematic review.

An ESRC funded Supervisor Led Collaborative Project between the University of Strathclyde and the FASD Hub Scotland managed by Adoption UK Scotland.

Background: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a lifelong developmental disability arising from prenatal alcohol exposure. Alcohol that passes through the placenta can cause neurological and physical deficits within the foetus that have a lasting impact throughout the life course of the child. Prevalence rates of FASD in the UK is estimated to be between 3% and 5% of the general population, three to five times higher than that of Autism (Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines, 2019). Children with greater exposure to prenatal alcohol are also more likely to be placed in the care of the state, Gregory et al (2015) reported that 75% of care experienced children had medical histories that include prenatal alcohol exposure. Caring for a child with FASD has a significant impact on the family, disrupting everyday family life and placing increased demands on the family's time, energy, and resources (Petrenko et al., 2019). The parental stress of raising a child with FASD can lead to family breakdown, placement disruption, and low levels of wellbeing (Doak et al., 2019). However, not all families raising a child with FASD experience these difficulties.

Aim: This systematic review aims to understand how and why some families impacted by FASD can be resilient despite still experiencing the challenges associated with caring for a child with disabilities. The following three specific review questions will be explored:

How is resilience identified, defined, and measured within families affected by FASD? Does this change depend on differing family demographics?

What are the individual and structural mechanisms or factors associated with gaining resilience in families affected by FASD?

Do the mechanisms or factors of resilience vary depending on the demographic characteristics of the families?

Methods: Four databases will be systematically searched using relevant keywords, the many articles found will be reduced using a predetermined inclusion/exclusion criterion. Within this mixed-method review, the qualitative data will be synthesised narratively with the use of tabular presentations of the corresponding quantitative data. The tabular presentation will include any effect measures originally reported where available and the quality appraisal of the qualitative articles will be substituted for measures of effect.

Results: The systematic review is currently underway; therefore, no results are available at the time of writing. Preliminary findings will be included within the presentation. The findings identified will note the repetition of key findings, concepts, and themes found across the multiple papers and designs.

Impact: This review will inform the collection of primary data in the planned interlinked qualitative study and the later quantitative study to build a model of resilience in families affected by FASD. This study is ideally situated to inform both policy and practitioners regarding the long-term impact of both FASD and early childhood trauma whilst providing a model of FASD family resilience that will be a valuable guide to forming interventions and placing vital support structures in place. FASD is the most common yet mostly unknown neurodevelopmental disorder in the UK. The Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines, 2019 for FASD is just one example of how the Scottish government is now deeming FASD a priority policy area. It’s time to change the outcome for families, raise awareness, and reduce the stigma and isolation families are facing.


Doak, J., Katsikitis, M., Webster, H., & Wood, A. (2019). A fetal alcohol spectrum disorder diagnostic service and beyond: Outcomes for families. Res Dev Disabil, 93, 103428-103428.

Gregory, G., Reddy, V., & Young, C. (2015, Oct). Identifying children who are at risk of FASD in Peterborough: working in a community clinic without access to gold standard diagnosis. Adoption and Fostering, 39(3), 225-234.

Petrenko, C. L. M., Alto, M. E., Hart, A. R., Freeze, S. M., & Cole, L. L. (2019). “I’m Doing My Part, I Just Need Help From the Community”: Intervention Implications of Foster and Adoptive Parents’ Experiences Raising Children and Young Adults With FASD. J Fam Nurs, 25(2), 314-347.

Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines, N. (2019). Children and young people exposed prenatally to alcohol: a national clinical guideline. SIGN.

Author retains copyright to text. Image courtesy of Jack Hovell.

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