Dr Bec Jenkinson is maternity consumer advocate-turned-researcher, with more than 10 years’ experience as a leader in the Australian maternity consumer movement, advocating for high quality, respectful, women-centred continuity of care.
CRE HiPP sat down with Dr Jenkinson to find out what drives and inspires her.
Q: What keeps you motivated in your research career?
A: I draw a lot of motivation from working closely with people with lived experience. Through them, I get to see and hear how genuinely important the issues we are researching are. As a mostly qualitative researcher, it can be easy to stop at describing the problem, but being connected to people with lived experience encourages me to also focus on using research to drive real world solutions.
Q: What are you currently reading/watching/listening to?
A: It’s school holidays right now, so I’m currently re-watching all of the Star Wars movies with my son (who is discovering them for the first time). We are watching them in order, episodes 1-9. All three of my kids have also recently read the Shadow Hunter series, and I feel a bit lost in the dinner conversation – so I’m reading them too for a bit of escapism.
Q: What is your research specialty?
A: I find this such a tricky question to answer! I’m most interested in using research to increase women’s access to high quality, safe and respectful maternity care. I used to feel a bit insecure about my lack of an “ology”, but now I see that as a strength. It allows me to be pretty methodologically open! The common theme that increasingly runs through all of my work is questions of how to meaningfully and authentically involve people with lived experience.
Q: Why/how did you choose this specialty?
A: After my kids were born, I got very involved in maternity consumer advocacy and representation. I’d always been interested in research, and my volunteer work eventually led me to complete my PhD. However, when I finished, I found it tricky to figure our where I fit in the research world: I’d done a PhD about maternity care, but I was not a health care professional (my undergraduate background was in Education). Looking back, I think I was just ahead of my time! As interest in Consumer and Community Involvement in research has grown, I’ve been able to find my niche.
Q: What talent/skill or interest do you have that’s completely different to your research passion and what do you love most about it?
A: I love to bake and decorate cakes. My designs aren’t always totally successful, but it is always done with love, and the disasters have become the stuff of legend in our family. When my kids were little, they would spend weeks pouring over the Women’s Weekly Birthday Cakes cookbook (passed down to me from my mum!) to choose their birthday cake. We’ve moved on now to fancy birthday desserts (think gateaux, tortes, puddings), but I still make cakes for significant family birthdays and anniversaries. I love surprising people with inclusive cakes – modifying recipes so that people with special dietary requirements can still enjoy the cake.
Q: What has been your career highlight to date?
A: After I finished my PhD, I was invited by Queensland Health to co-lead the development of a statewide Guideline: Partnering with the woman who declines recommended maternity care. This marked the first time Queensland Health had engaged a consumer advocate to lead a project. The Guideline is supported by a comprehensive suite of resources, including innovative clinical forms that are accessible online to women, flowcharts and consumer information. Building on this work, Australia’s national policy, Woman-centred care: Strategic directions for Australian maternity services, now calls for each jurisdiction to develop processes and communication pathways to support women and health professionals to maintain a care partnership when women decline recommended care.
Q: Who/what inspires you?
A: The other mum-researchers I work with! I did my PhD alongside several other women who were also juggling parenting (then) little kids with doctoral study. Since then, I’ve gravitated towards researchers, both as colleagues and mentors, who are also living the juggle. I am grateful for the reassurance I get from sharing their joys and struggles. Together, we’re learning that plenty of the balls we are trying to keep in the air, do in fact bounce.
Q: Top tip for students considering a career in research?
A: Work with people who you admire and who lift you up. Good mentors shepherd opportunities your way and encourage you towards opportunities that will stretch you. Find projects that excite you, and look for ways to carve out a niche for your own passions within them. And when you read, write! Don’t wait until you know what you want to write – figure that out while you write: “write, not necessarily right”. Write everything down and don’t delete anything! Every bit of writing you do, however unpolished and seemingly useless, will find a use one day as the kernel of an idea that didn’t know itself when you wrote it. Plus developing a regular writing practice, sharpens your writing and your thinking.
Dr Bec Jenkinson is a member of the Executive Team in the Body Positive Birth Alliance – one of CRE HiPP’s recently formed research networks.
Dr Jenkinson is maternity consumer advocate-turned-researcher, with more than 10 years’ experience as a leader in the Australian maternity consumer movement, advocating for high quality, respectful, women-centred continuity of care. She is now a Qualitative Research Fellow with the Australian Women and Girl’s Health Research Centre, working on research projects related to weight stigma in maternity care, preconception health, and women’s experiences of intrapartum care.