This blog is written by John Robinson, ex-radiographer, who, after a little encouragement from Professor Peter Hogg, recently returned to the profession in a research capacity. Here he reflects on this enlightening experience.
When I was 63 years old, three years after retiring, I did something I have never done before. I undertook a research project.
“Hi, John. Fancy doing a research project?”
“Eh? What? Me? Er…. OK. Great! Thanks Peter.”
(But why? I haven’t been in radiography for over 20 years, and I’ve never done a research project, at least not in radiography.)
TLDs? Phantoms? Digital radiography? Well, yes… I had heard of them.
Surprisingly, though, I still remember clearly such things as gross anatomy, exposure factors, collimation, positioning and Crookes tubes (well… no, I lied about the last one). Funny how such things remain clearly in the memory even when not used for years.
Literature search? That was something new too, but with the advent of the internet and Scopussy things it is far easier than locating (and cheaper than buying!) books and ploughing through them. Of course, I had to obtain access, but Peter kindly arranged for library membership and IT services access. I found very little previous research and nothing with direct comparison to what we had proposed, thankfully.
TLDs are fiddly little things, aren’t they? My first attempt with an infant-sized phantom resulted in a number of the 135 prepared TLDs falling out when I tried to lay it down to screw the arms on. Of course, I then had no idea of which calibrated group each had come from. Doh!
Anyway, the infant phantom was unsuitable for determining effects on ages from 20 to 80, so out came the adult phantom. Much more impressive, and too heavy to pick up (unless you’re the Incredible Hulk, and look how he got to be that strong!)… but now there would be 271 TLDs. Bearing in mind the length of time needed to position that number in the phantom, take them all out again, and the fact that reading the charge on each one takes at least a minute and a half and… well, yes, it was a long job!
Whereas the TLDs were calibrated in groups of similar sensitivity, each may be slightly different in that respect and I thought that, for consistency, it would be a good idea to ensure that each TLD was placed in exactly the same location within the phantom for each exposure. Unfortunately though, as TLDs are not individually numbered, that could only be achieved by storing them in a numbered grid at all times whilst not in the phantom. Some may consider that a little ‘picky’, but I don’t think anyone else has gone to that trouble before. That also contributed to the time factor of the job!
Positioning and collimating accurately was no problem, though I took a number of exposures in order to determine exactitudes. Still, no problem as phantoms don’t suffer from radiation-induced cancer. This, too, brought back memories and the most welcome difference to what I had done in the past was that phantoms don’t fidget.
An enjoyable exercise, and very informative especially as I had not used digital radiography before. What a step forward: no messing about in a darkroom (not that I ever actually messed about in there, of course) and you can look at the image straight away. Of course, you can also ‘make improvements’ to the image too (not that I did that either – honestly).
Doing calibration exposures on the TLDs was new as well, and yet another new skill I seem to have acquired. In fact, as well as enjoying something new I have also had the good fortune to learn a great deal… and, unlike PhD students, I didn’t have to pay either!
Then came the writing up. Fortunately, I’m not bad at writing, although there are conventions to be followed of course. Not only the text, but also photographs, radiographic images and numerical tables. Again, new learning processes involving such things as Excel spreadsheets which I had used before, although not quite to the same depth and complexity. The write-up, of course, was then passed to my co-authors who examined it closely and offered much help and advice, especially Peter who, unlike myself, had experience of putting together millions (well, maybe hundreds) of such texts.
Eventually, it was suitable for submission to Radiography, where it was subject to review. The norm is for two reviewers to check the text for accuracy and they must have really gone to town on it because this procedure took the best part of four months to accomplish, whereas I was expecting something closer to four weeks. Perhaps there was a bit of a glitch, because when I received the reviewers’ comments there were some from ‘Reviewer #1’ and ‘Reviewer #3’. What happened to ‘Reviewer #2’, I wondered? Perhaps ‘Reviewer #2’ was so appalled by what s/he had read that s/he flatly refused to take any further part in the proceedings… or maybe s/he had fallen asleep. As it was, apart from a number of suggestions for relatively minor changes, it was deemed acceptable. These were made and the publishers eventually announced that it was acceptable, and that it was scheduled for publication.
I’d like to thank my co-authors, Raed M Ali, Andrew Tootell and especially Peter Hogg for their invaluable help. My thanks also to Chris Beaumont who provided some very important technical assistance. I also enjoyed meeting Maily Alrowily, PhD student from Saudi Arabia, who instructed me in the handling and use of TLDs and provided the essential initial calibration and grouping of the TLDs, and also gave me the opportunity to reminisce about my time working in Riyadh.
In return, I was very happy to pass on advice and information about the practical procedures I had done to Matt Bowdler, Faisal Alrehily and other students.
Above all I must thank Leslie, my dear wife and Senior Lecturer at Salford, who has been an absolute tower of strength and inspiration, not only over the past year, but also for the thirty years in which we have been very happily married.
I should be very pleased if, having read this, others have been encouraged to undertake their own research. If I can do it, anyone can!
If you’re not too sure what on earth I’ve been talking about, and I can well understand that, you can read the article here