Saturday, October 23, 2010

Total Blog Fail

 So, as you may tell from the date, I was not able to blog about my China experience! I have long since come back from Beijing and gotten back into the swing of college to finish my last year.

The reason I was not able to blog was because of all the Internet restrictions in China! I could not access anything Google, except Gmail. Thanks Great Firewall of China.

I have come back to America with a research paper called Sexual Reproductive Health of Peking University Students. It's based on a 176-student survey and 3 interviews that I had with experts.

During my China experience, I stayed in the Peking University dorms, lived with a host family for a month, and visited a rural village (yay, my favorite!).

It's unfortunate that I wasn't able to write directly from China when I was experiencing everything.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Almost China Time!

It is a little more than a week until my departure from foggy SFO to Peking University, Beijing, CHINA! Everyone keeps asking me if I am excited, but I'm so busy with research in Baltimore right now that I have not had time to think about it much. Mostly I am nervous because I have forgotten all my Chinese! Yikes! I am borrowing an old Chinese vocab intermediate textbook from my friend Maxi so I can cram-study. Also, the record-breaking snow that we are getting here in Baltimore that has cancelled classes for a FULL WEEK has made me realize that I will need more appropriate clothes for Beijing. When I was riding home on the JHMI shuttle on Tuesday (the only other day other than today that the shuttle was acutally circulating), there was a Beijing native who was talking to his friend in Mandarin, and I overheard him saying that the weather "back home" was even colder than Baltimore! For a California girl, just the thought sends shivers down my spine.

So now I am off to Inner Harbor to find a warm hat, some practical snow boots, and maybe a dress because I want one.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Funds Approval

Remaining Grant Funds: $0

Ami has just approved for study abroad funding! Yes! Although fellowship money is not usually encouraged to be used on a study abroad trip, my project is the main reason I am going, so I was able to get the okay.

Also, my IRB approval finally went through! After a semester of waiting, the hard work has paid off. A huge thank you to Carly Benham, the Director of Homewood IRB for making everything happen. On December 1st when I was at the medical campus doing lab work, I stepped outside to take a call from Ms. Benham.

She said, "So, I just wanted to inform you that...[dramatic pause] you were able to get IRB approval. Your approval forms will be e-mailed to you shortly. Congratulations."

And that was it. It was all over like that. I was expecting fireworks or something.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Dreaded IRB Process

For most Woodrow Wilsons, the Institutional Review Board process should be a cake-walk because they are not dealing with:

1. Underage children (17 and below)

2. Prisoners

3. Non-parental consent

Unfortunately, I am dealing with all those problems, aka, I picked the worse population possible. I've probably made 10 different drafts (each full app have about 8 different forms you have to fill out, many of the forms are many pages), and run into about 20 different obstacles along the way. Despite my frustrations, Ms. Benham, the IRB woman, as I call her, has been really helpful. Although she is new, she is really patient with me. The pre- and post- assessment that I am doing on the youth is still being reviewed, and after being looked at by the IRB chair, they have decided to take the case to full board, aka, the entire committee must see my project proposal. That means I get the joy of waiting until DECEMBER to get my application reviewed (they meet once a month, and not this November, apparently).

Most people also don't run into as many problems like this because they have a Principal Investigator or mentor that they work under who already have IRB approval. In that case, all the Fellow has to do is sign on with the PI's existing file. If only life were that simple.

Things I have learned:

1. IRB approval is never fun.

2. Serves me right for being so stubborn and not changing my project. I will fight to do this project on my own, in my own way!

3. I might have to change the study that I will be doing in China.

So I went to Dr. Zabin again to see if she had any ideas of what I could do in China. She has a few projects in mind, like setting up connections between family planning clinics and schools, and I still want to do my CRASH program, but what to do for my study? I think I will just be doing a literature review and looking at data. I have much to learn!

Anyway, onward, in the face of IRB adversity! I am learning so much about the research process, in just these few years. I am liking research more and more, now that I am doing this project on my own. I am lucky because I have a great balance. At the BME lab that I am working at right now, I get to participate and experience cutting edge research, however, through the Woodrow Wilson Research Fellowship, I am learning about the hardships, obstacles, and hard work that goes into starting, implementing, and finishing an independent project. I love it.

Junior Year: Pit falls and Confusion

An entire summer has past, and an update is long overdue!

Over the summer, Hugo and I finished the CRASH curriculum! Unsurprisingly, it was a mad rush to finish, slapping everything together during the last few weeks of humid summer days, but it is done! Despite the mad rush at the end, we feel really proud of our work. I did extensive research through online sources throughout the summer months, which is why it left little time to actually write the lessons. However, we plan to reedit over winter vacation, or next summer, because I have to study for MCATs in December and January.

Recruitment for CRASH went very well. We had a table at the Student Activities Fair. However, it was really surprising to see how many students would avoid our table (like actually steer as far away as possible when they had to walk past it to get to the next booth), or giggle nervously when they saw what our group was about. At first we had a white board that said "Teach Youth about Reproductive Health!" We also had some great CRASH volunteers who stood on each side of the table with condoms and pills and flyers, and waved them wildly at everyone who came by. While we got a large number of sign-ups, we could see that there were a lot of students who clearly avoided the table because of the sign. SO, we changed the sign to say "Learn More About Tutoring Baltimore Youth." THEN we got about double the people to come over to talk to us. About a fourth of them would book away from us once we told them what we do. A lot of them did not know what a dental dam was, or a diaphragm. This makes me think that if CRASH wasn't teaching teens, we would could just work on campus.

So, we had WAY more volunteers than we expected, even after making them sign a contract saying that they would make all 6 of the CRASH sessions. This was very surprising, and it made me really happy that we have dedicated volunteers on campus. I had to go reserve extra vans (we take 3 8-seater vans, and we could probably still use one more)to take everyone to the Schaefer House. This was a problem because the SAC had run out of vans for some of the weeks. Also, Tutorial Project politely asked for one of our vans, so we politely let them have it, but it left us in a pickle to find two more vans! Luckily, some of our volunteers stepped up to the plate to help us out on those vanless days. Teamwork is essential.

Lost in Baltimore

So, for the first day of CRASH, I was a mess. I was nervous, and I felt like I was going to forget everything. I had just spent 40 minutes the day before getting all the curriculum packets ready. The printing of all the notebooks alone took 30 minutes. That is a lot of trees. Luckily, I remembered everything. However, we got lost on the way to the Schaefer House! Even though the house is only FIVE MINUTES away, the volunteer driver took the ramp onto the highway instead of turning on the Druid Lake Park exit (I should have been better at giving directions!), so we ended up downtown. Usually, this would be fine, but the Baltimore Running Festival was going on, and traffic was at a standstill. Horror! The first day of CRASH, and my poor volunteers had to spend it crammed into a SAC van for a hour, and we never made it to the Schaefer House. I explained what happened to the director, and he just chuckled and said, "See you next week!"

Our second attempt at our first day of CRASH turned out a lot better. However, when we were gathering around for a few last words after the first session, we saw a car crash right across from us, on the other side of the road divide. Not so good.

We are finally finished with laminating all the activity boards, and we are set for the semester! Although we are looking to change the program further down the line, I am happy with the progress we have made.

Some changes from the past nine years:

1. Word-for-Word Curriculum: Our curriculum tells our volunteers what to say. Although almost none of them read directly from the packet, everyone says that it's really helpful. Since most of the volunteers we have this year are new, they find it comforting to know exactly what to say.

2. Allowing flexibility: Although we write out every detail of each lesson, we highly encourage volunteers to hold a discussion with the youth, and educate them in anyway that they feel would be engaging. Our veteran volunteers tend to take the lead on this, so I specifically split them up (we teach in small groups of three) so that new volunteers could see the flexibility of CRASH

3. Building relationships: We require all volunteers to make all the sessions (they have one excused absence in case of an emergency). In addition, they always work with the same boys each time. We feel that it is incredibly important for volunteers to establish a relationship with their boys. This will make the boys feel more comfortable when raising questions they might have. We have only had two sessions so far, but the atmosphere in the room from the first session to the second session was DAY and NIGHT. It is just incredible. After observing the first session, i advised that the volutneers disperse themselves between the youth and arrange the chairs in a circle to break the volunteer-youth barrier. Before, we were teaching with the volunteers standing, and the students sitting in a line. This created a distance between us and the students. Since we are about the same age as the boys, I didn't want to make it seem like we were teaching them. This is a learning experience for everyone!

4. Catering to Individuals: We implemented devices in the curriculum to tailor the boys' experience based on what they already know, and what they WANT to know. We understand that they aren't going to remember any of the information we teach them, unless they are interested. Thus, we have things like question cards, which are anonymous index cards that the boys fill out at the end of the session, where they are REQUIRED to write a question that the volunteers will research and then answer at the next session. This is an elegant tool, because if a youth asks a question during the session, and an inexperienced volunteer doesn't know the answer, or it's a tough question, they can just have the student write down that question at the end of the session, and they will still get an answer the next time. It also helps the boys (and us) think about what things they are interested in learning.

5. Assessing the program: That's the Woodrow Wilson part of this project! More on that later in my upcoming post about IRB approval (ugh!)

Future goals:

1. Working on volunteer bonding

2. Refining the curriculum

3. Adding more sessions that address the underlying problems that promote sexual risk-taking in young adult males (relationships, substance abuse, environment, culture)

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Meat of the Project

I started a CRASH website, mostly for recruiting purposes for the Fall. I chose the "bees and flowers" theme because I thought it would be appropriate if we are teaching about sex. It is also kind of corny. Chhheckkk it out!

I want to turn this small volunteer group around and make it into a health volunteer group that everyone will enjoy, youth and volunteers alike. Last semester, I think we were making progress towards that goal. There were three times as many people who became volunteers, and Spring recruitment is typically supposed to be pretty week.

Curriculum development: At the beginning of the summer, I set up a detailed deadline schedule for me, Hugo (co-president), and Jessica (our advisor, who just graduated from Bloomberg School of Public Health). We just cranked out Session drafts for 2/6 of the lessons we are doing.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

My contact in China, Zhang Jing, gave me the name of the professor who works with women in the the juvenile system, Professor Tong Xin. She will be in contact with her to help me work out the logistics of possibly teaching the teens there.