In class today, we ended up talking about communicating our research to people. One person said she wanted to learn how to talk about it in a way that other people understood and jokingly mentioned blogging. I interjected with just to actually explicitly talk about the article I read a few months before coming down here that suggested doctoral students do just that - blog as a means of not only honing their own voice/craft, but also as a means of practicing that translation.
Someone else then made a counter argument that she didn't necessarily think that was something that should fall onto her to do; that she felt better suited to be that complex thinker (sic) and let the people specializing in health communications worry about translation for lay audiences. The professor then cosigned this, talking about how she's not naturally an off-the-cuff paraphraser of her research and she is definitely more comfortable in that more deliberate and methodical realm of scientist-to-scientist communication.
My initial reaction was one of surprise and confusion. Why wouldn't you want to talk to broad audiences about your research? Shouldn't the public matter in public health??
Pump the brakes there, self. Your research interests lie specifically in that science-society interface. Of course you think that's important, you want to make your home there. Not everyone is focused on that. More importantly, not everyone needs to or should be Focused on that knowledge translation. For some people, that's not a strength or even a handy skill. And that's ok. There's plenty of work to go around both at that public-meets-health-researcher boundary and miles away from it in either direction for it to not be a necessary part of everyone's doctoral journey. Just like not everyone needs to learn qualitative methods and not everyone needs to learn demography, this is another thing that is specific to your biased researcher perspective. It's just not that serious.
Kudos, school. I hadn't thought about the fact that translation, interpretation, and communication are not within everyone's top 10 list of things to care about. Well, I did say that I wanted to use doctoral study as a way of consciously considering my own biases when conducting research... I guess part of the question for me then is why should my research matter? Obviously, I think it does in an intuitive way, but it's...not...actually...intuitive. Hmm. To me, this kind of knowledge translation matters because it informs how we develop health education curricula, the kinds of health messages we should (and already do) put out there, the health perceptions as social norms that we as a field help to co-create. The more we know about our impacts on health beliefs, perceptions, norms, and behaviors, the better we can tailor health messages to create the kinds of outcomes we want and the better we get at minimizing the unintended consequences we don't want.
Hmm. That's better than I've ever been able to articulate my research interests (and motivation behind it) I think
Assumptions shattered in PhD school so far: 1.
Not so bad for halfway through my second week.
Orientation ended a few hours ago and the start of classes is a few hours away. I've officially begun. And I can't sleep in part because I'm still trying to process the fact that I now carry with me this PhD student label. It was present in orientation, where it colored introductions and conversations with master's level students and faculty. It was present this entire past year back around friends and family I grew up with in a world far removed from the one that I've entered into now. And I don't really know what to make of it...
I can't sleep in part because I'm trying to a) come to terms with the fact that this new label colors people's perceptions of me, b) figure out what that means for how I perceive myself, and c) think about how that all plays into how I will approach the coursework, training, and research here.
During lunch at orientation, I was asked two different things that have me up with the crickets and darkness right now - how my experience at the private school differed from public institutions that I both went to and am not at, and what my research interests are. The first one should be easy to answer, right? I can easily say sexual and reproductive health or sexual health communications. But neither of those rings true. I'm currently conceptualizing it as the intersection between health communications, sexual/reproductive health, and social justice.
But what does that even mean?
That description feels both very niche and very nebulous. And as someone who thinks a lot about how information is conveyed, it makes me uneasy to not be able to clearly define my research interests. But I can't leave out social justice any more than I can leave out communications. Yes, I'm interested in the sexual and reproductive health of populations. But saying just that feels disingenuous. I can't even say reproductive justice because I've known people that work in RJ and they're amazing people who have a singularity of focus that just isn't what I want to spend the rest of my life researching and talking about. I'm interested in how health professionals help to co-create social norms around sexual and reproductive health - how we talk about SRP, how the biases of public health color our messaging, how we unintentionally convey judgment, blame, and disempowerment in our health promotion campaigns. So my social justice and communications sides require me to sit in the tension of not having but really wanting that tagline/proverb/slogan to answer that question - what do you want to research?
Which brings me back to the other question of the day that has me wishing my dog could respond when I talk to him - how was my private school experience different? During lunch I said something about how there was less diversity, there were administrative things that were done with good intentions that I fundamentally disagreed with because I saw them as culturally incompetent. But immediately after (and probably in part during) that discussion, I couldn't help but think about how that response was colored by what I was thinking about - my current institution's intentionality about diversity and inclusion, what those differences mean, and what I'm excited about when it comes to the current endeavor. I also said in the beginning of my response that I had a great experience, in part because I had a really great cohort. I wish I had also talked about the importance of being in that privileged private school environment and how being fully present in that tension between the culture of school and my own personal world views was a vital part of my learning experience. I wish I had talked about how part of what made my cohort so great was that I was surrounded by people that also felt that tension and were willing to engage with it and one another in a way that I wouldn't change for the world. I also wish I had talked about the faculty that helped open up my ways of thinking about it and health as social justice - the ones that gave me tools and resources for engaging in that tension and its implications for scholarship in a way I never would have on my own and changed the direction of my research interests in a way that makes it hard for me to answer simple questions.
Public health has become problematized in my head now, which is both great and scary because that places me as part of the problem.
Classes start in a few days. I woke up this morning generally pretty excited about finally starting, increased interaction with other humans, and, you know, life. I even made a Target run bright and early. AND Ikea should finally be delivering some more furniture tomorrow! #winning
Somewhere during the day, it occurred to me that I should read through this article for the assistantship since its supposed to form the basis of a call center performance evaluation report I'm going to have to fix. Ok, I can do this. It's a biostatistics article, so not my area of expertise per se, but I know things. I understand call centers. Some have even said evaluation is my thing. SAS and I are generally on good terms. It's cool, I got this.
I had to nap about halfway through. Calculations are hard.
After said nap, I woke up ready to plow through the rest of the article (and possibly take copious notes and make a list of questions). I will win, article, just watch. While I was drooling on the couch, I got an email from the advanced research methods instructor.
Or... umm... really? ALL of that for just the one class? <insert sad/worried face>
The title of one of the books: Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Designs for Generalized Causal Inference.
(pause for effect)
Now don't get me wrong, I know what all these words mean and can even guess at the general content of the book. I've even told one to two people that I like study design. But MAN, I've been out of school more than a year at this point - don't just throw things like this at me right after a nap. I wasn't ready. My biggest concerns over the past year have been where to go for happy hour and if orange really is the new black...
So I took to the texts. A fellow starting doctoral student laughed because, well, we've all been there. Granted, we should all laugh at my freak outs, but where's my positive reinforcement??? In my sister, obvi. She's kind of magical and reminded me that I told her not so long ago that fear in the beginning is a good thing - it means you're trying something a little bigger than you think you can handle, hence you're taking on just enough.
Hmph. Using my own words against me...
Then again, this is why I love her and the rest of my support system. Equal parts mocking and positivity, they give me just enough nudge/shove to keep me from running and hiding under the covers (that my dog has likely snuck under at this very moment). I often say I'm really just regular, which at times makes me wonder about my ability to take on new challenges since I keep expecting to reach the limit of my capacity to learn. Maybe I'll hit the ceiling one day. Maybe they'll keep nudging me through to the end of this journey. For now, there's really nowhere to go but forward.
Epilogue: I stand corrected. The dog had not snuck onto the bed. This time.
It simultaneously feels like I've been in my new apartment about 15 minutes and far more than the roughly 15 days that I've actually been a resident of this state. While I thought I had given myself more than enough time to get settled (and even get a little bored), the beginning of the semester is barreling toward me like a runaway train. I secured a tuition-paying assistantship (THANK YOU BABY JESUS) and am trying to get the paperwork completed and submitted before next week's tuition payment deadline. Everyone except me is handling the small time frame all nonchalantly like its no big deal.
NOTE: incoming doctoral students are not the most laid back people in the world. We will repeatedly call, email, text, or otherwise borderline harass you if we don't find out information we need in a timely manner. Its just in our nature.
Speaking of next week, though, orientation is about eight days away...
And then it all starts to happen rather rapidly. I'll be a doctoral student.
That's a thing... After all this time wanting it, it'll actually be... real. Eventually, it might even start to feel regular. Then I'll be over it. Then I'll graduate. Nope, not scary at all.
Maybe for now, I'll just let myself be excited/scared/nervous/anxious/all-the-feels about this new adventure in this new little college town where I know approximately 3.4 people so far. And work on finally making it to the farmer's market.