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.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Contacts, Contacts, Contacts

Last summer, I had an AMAZING time in rural China teaching kids. In the process, I met many Chinese college students. My group leader, Zhang Jing, is a senior at Bei Da, or Peking University (China's version of Harvard). I contacted her through facebook to tell her about my research project, and whether or not it would be possible to find a teen population in the juvenile system. I didn't think much of it because I just happened to ask her while catching up with what is going on in her life.

Two days later, I got her reply. She said that she just happened to be taking a class with a professor who studies adolescents in the prison system. AND Zhang Jing said that she would be more than happy to help me if I went to Bei Da.

While I originally wanted to go to Harbin, China with CET, I think I may have to change plans (for the better?). I need to make an appointment with the Study Abroad Office to go over my options.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

All in the Family

As I was doing my ab work-out this morning, my mom explained to me that she called up an old professor friend of hers in China who studies rural women's health. She said that with a few connections, I may be able to get in touch with a juvenile delinquent population. She also rattled off a few universities that had strong research programs in Chinese reproductive health and education.

Awesome! This is a great jumping off point! I have been wondering what my comparative population would be, and this might be the answer! I could work with an adolescent popuation very similar to the CRASH one. OR I can even compare the Chinese university population with the younger juve cohort.

The professor said that a great place to start looking for the Ford Foundation, which has funds just for research in sexuality and reproductive health and rights. Here are a list of foundations I will be looking at:

National Population and Family Planning Commission
Renmin University of China
Adolescent Health and Information Project, West Africa
Advocates for Youth, New York
Yunnan Health and Development Research Association: For preparation of a volume on 30 years of sexuality and reproductive health programs in China
Zhejiang Academy of Social Sciences: For a reproductive health and empowerment program at the women's re-education center in Zhejiang
Youth Coalition, New York
The Brotherhood/Sister Sol, New York
Capital Normal University
Center for the Integral Support of the Adolescent, Brazil
China Sexology Association: To publish Green Apple, a popular bimonthly sexual and reproductive health magazine for adolescents, and to upgrade the magazine's Web site
University of Michigan, Public Health in conjunction with China Family Planning Program's Quality of Care initiative
Party School of the Central Committee of C.P.C.
Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, Inc.
Reproductive Health Matters-Magazine
San Francisco State University
Shaanxi Research Association for Women and Family

The goal right now: to read my eyeballs out. absorb everything, but keep a special eye out for research methods I can emulate.

E-mail Brainstorm

Being home really gets my creative juices going. I get to relax and think with ease. Below is the brainstorm e-mail I sent to Ms. Folda, Ami, and Dr. Goodyear. Ms. Folda replied by inserting her remarks into the e-mail. Note: F=Folda, M=Me, A=Ami.

M: Hi Ms. Folda,

I am eager to have my Woodrow Wilson project planned out by the end of this summer, so I am e-mailing you the initial ideas I have brainstormed. It is kind of long. I have also cc'd Ami and Dr. Goodyear to see if they have any comments or input. The good thing is that I've finally decided on a topic! As a transition from my work with CRASH (Creating Responsibility in Adolescent Sexual Health), I would like to do a cultural study on the treatment of sexual health education on China today, and its affect on the adolescent/young adult population. ·

F: This is the phrase that obviously catches my attention: “a cultural study on the treatment of sexual health education on China today” I think the key will be to define your objectives for the study. Does what you want to know point you more towards qualitative or quantitative research…or both? Does it seem more interesting to you to try to map some sort of historical evolution, or do a comparison of China with other countries? Or simply compare different regions of the country at the same point in time (as in, now-ish)? All of these will depend on what you have access too – this last one seems very challenging and expensive, so I’d guess it’s less likely, but let me know.

M: Over the past two years, I have had a natural interest in this topic, so I already have a pretty good foundation. However, my knowledge is limited to the information found in books, research papers, and internet resources accessible from the United States. This is still a little-explored field, even in China, so it is no wonder that there is little information that has been able to trickle to America. I believe that by actually going there to survey students, school administrators, and researchers, I will be able to find out more.

Here are the methods I am considering:

Working with University Students: The first thing I would like to do is give a survey to university students. The survey will test their sexual health knowledge, and ask them what areas of sex ed they would like to learn more about. After assessing those results, I will put together a Sexual Health Seminar series addressing the issues that the majority of students were curious about. I would need to find a way to assess the results of this seminar series. I would like to target this population because they are easily accessible.

F: While not appropriate to do a direct comparison with CRASH since the populations are so different, this still seems worth doing and could yield a very interesting discussion. You could easily do a pre-post format in the same way you mention with CRASH below to assess its effectiveness. I also like this because it seems really manageable and something you could do WELL and thoroughly. It would give you great experience in terms of designing a study, evaluating it, adapting a curriculum to a specific audience, and writing up the results. With the right contacts, you could expand this to do a comparison between university students and young people who are not in school – or something like that. The latter would be a harder population to access, so it would depend on what social support you could find…but would they know more about sex? And where does each group get its information? Etc.

M: Reading Past and Current Literature: With the guidance of a professor, I would like to pick culturally significant books that depict China’s attitude about sex and sex education. This will help me understand the country’s mentality as a whole, as well as examine the changing views in light of modernization. I would also like to examine the current sex ed curriculum in different provinces, and read articles to find out if they are actually implemented as planned. This would be a language-intensive research study because all of these resources will be in Mandarin.

F: This seems like the part that could help all of your planning take shape. In general, a lit review is step one in terms of analysis of the problem and program design, including how to evaluate it. For example, I’d bet you could find US (or other country) sample studies that are structured in the way you envision working in China and using their described methods to help you with your own. Do you have a professor in mind? I think we talked about Laurie Zabin, and she JUST published a study in “Studies in Family Planning” that includes Shanghai! PubMed is your best search engine for this sort of thing – any reference librarian can give you a quick orientation, though I’ll bet a) you’re familiar, and b) you’d find it very easy to work with.

I know you started work with Kathleen Cardonna but she was a bit too busy to be helpful. Another idea might be good to be in touch with someone at the center for Adolescent Health. There are quite a few faculty affiliates, so hopefully one would be willing to advise. B____ is on their staff and she was a classmate of mine (now has her PhD). She’s worked there for more than 5 years – if you want to be in contact with the Center, feel free to tell her I sent you and she can contact me if she wants me to clarify. She could probably give you the inside scoop on who would be best to toss ideas around with, but I think it’s fair to say they would assume you’ve done some reading/refining of ideas on your own before you take this to them…

I definitely like the idea of comparing curricula for both the language experience and the study exposure – do you already have reason to think that they vary quite a bit? What do you know about the school system that means they would have that flexibility? Getting current information on their implementation seems like the real challenge in what you describe, but that’s an assumption on my part. Perhaps those are published in China and not reaching us here, but it seems like they simply may not exist (I’m thinking, too, of the US’s habit of ignoring the science…i.e. abstinence-only studies. Even when there was data to show it wasn’t working, it was ignored. China may well do research and also quash the results, or may simply not do it at all).

M: Story collection: My inspiration for this study approach was the book Ophelia Speaks: Adolescent Girls Write about Their Search for Self, which was edited by Sara Shandler (who was a college student at the time). It is a compilation of stories sent in from young female teens all across the nation. Subjects covered include sexual abuse, eating disorders, friendship, relationships, and family. I would like to do a similar version of this in China, but focused on exploring sex and sexuality, including their feelings, experiences, and thoughts about this topic. I believe that this may be one of the best ways to gauge current attitudes and thoughts of young teens today. Unlike Ophelia Speaks, I would like to encourage both young men and women to contribute. After reading over the submissions, I would like to discuss these letters with educators, parents, and students. It would be interesting to hear their reactions. I would also like to conduct interviews with a wide age range of people on this topic, but focusing especially on adolescents. If a portion of these stories could be published, the reaction of the public to the book would be an invaluable part of the study.

F: This is certainly the most delicate of the three…so a few key points. This is going to be tougher to clear with IRB largely because the population is, I assume, under 18 – always a sticking point for research approval. I do really like this idea, but it seems to me a separate point from ‘research’. I have just googled the book in a superficial way, but have no reason to think the author intended it as any sort of scientific inquiry. Again, I think this is one in particular where you need to be very clear on your objectives. Is it to create something for publication? Is it to get a body of primary sources to which adults or other adolescents or another audience could react? I can see this as a creative project, but I’m having a harder time understanding where you think it would go as a research idea. I think you may need to articulate that better for both of us. Are the interviews you mention related to the book? Or just interviews you’d like to do? You can certainly be inspired by the book to do this sort of qualitative research without replicating what the book put together.

I think my final internal alarm is that we need to be realistic about you doing this – you will be a guest in China. This seems narrowly appropriate to me if you have just the right local partner. A big ‘if’, and one that will take time, so let’s keep grounded in what’s achievable with the time, budget, and expertise you have.

M: I am leaning towards doing the last two ideas. I believe that learning China’s background is essential to understanding its culture today. It will also make me less biased during the story-collection part of the study. However, both will need extensive language training, as well as an advisor. Both are offered through the Harbin study abroad program. If at all possible, I would like to incorporate the work I am doing with CRASH. Originally, the idea was to contrast an American population to a Chinese population. However, it would be very hard to carry out the exact same experiment in both countries. In CRASH, we teach boys ages 14-18 in the juvenile delinquent system. With our newly designed curriculum, we will be conducting six sessions: Getting-to-Know-You, Hygiene, Contraception, STIs, Relationships, and a cumulative Jeopardy game. In China, this age group would not be accessible. In big cities like Shanghai and Beijing, children ages 14-18 study 7 days a week in preparation of college examinations.

F: While I agree it’s unlikely, is there a juvenile delinquent system? Are they studying 7 days a week for college exams? I do still think a comparison of a similar demographic in each country could be fascinating! Perhaps something to discuss with a mentor when you’re there…and yes, what you describe in the paragraph below sounds great, too.

M: Thus, I propose to use CRASH as a separate study from the one in China. I could assess the effectiveness of the CRASH curriculum by comparing it to other curriculums in the Baltimore area. I would need to come up with a pre and post assessment tool, which I could develop this summer. I could carry out this portion of my study during the school year as part of the Public Health Practicum course. Then, in a less formal way than originally planned, I could use my observation of both cultures to point out their similarities and differences. I am eager to hear your advice. If you have any suggestions of alternative ways to approach this topic, please let me know about those as well.

F: That’s it from me for the moment – we’ll leave this for Dr. Goodyear to weigh in as he has time, and happy to discuss more, but the short version is this – next steps seem to be: 1.Keep up the work at the library! A solid lit review will help to…2.Clarify your research objectives.
Hope this helps, keep me posted!

A: Hi. I will leave the specifics of your project to the experts, but you will definitely want to keep in mind that you will need IRB approval for this type of project. For international research, they suggest submitting your application 2-3 months prior to departure. I can tell you that the fellows say it often takes at least that long to prepare the application. Just be cognizant of that as you make your plans. Let me know if you have any questions on that front! Best,Ami

Here is my reply to the Ms. Folda's e-mail:

M: Ms. Folda,

Thanks for giving me such great comments so that I have something to work with. I agree with what both you and Ami have pointed out.

My research objective would be to examine the Chinese college students' aptitude/attitude/beliefs when it comes to sexual health, and to see if additional dialogue-oriented seminars can increase their knowledge. Quantitative (and qualitative too, I guess) data can be collected from pre and post tests, while qualitative data can be collected from tape-recorded discussions during the seminars.

I have been trying to think all day of another accessible group in China that I can compare to the college students, but I am at a road block right now. However, I would really like to do a cross-cultural examination, and perhaps use Hopkins students as the comparative group. My worry is that it might be harder here to get enough people to do a pre test, sit through all the seminars, followed by a post test, unless there is a really great incentive. As for comparing CRASH with a similar population in China, I will have to ask people I know. Hopefully through word-of-mouth, I will come up with something.

As for the literature portion that I talked about, I was thinking about working with a professor in China (I don't have a particular one in mind yet) who can go over the Chinese literature with me. This could include looking at Chinese history, historical fiction, and, of course, research studies, that have already been done on this topic. There is limited material published in English that pertains directly to Chinese sexual education, so hopefully, this will broaden my perspective. Of course, before I go over there, I will read as much as I can about similar models. Thanks for showing me Dr. Zabin's new study. I have been trying to keep my eye out for it. I knew she was doing work specifically in China, which was why I got in touch with her last year. She has largely been the inspiration for my research idea.

Dr. B______ seems like an invaluable resource to use later down the line. Thanks for letting me know about her.

I feel like my research question is still quite weak, or at least not fully formed. I will follow your advice and I will do more research on studies near my interest area and look over the file of research articles I have saved. Hopefully I will find some inspiration.

F:Sounds great. You are clearly already inspired – having a real interest in your topic is the best motivation! Keep up the information gathering and networking, I know it’s all taking shape as we speak…

Slow Beginnings: The Last Two Years

Freshman Year: In Which Nothing Really Happens until Summer

Remaining Fellowship Balance: $0

That's right. I got my fellowship as a sophomore, so unlike the lucky freshman who applied before they came to Hopkins, I conjured up my research proposal as a wise and all-knowing sophomore.

I first found out about the Woodrow Wilson from the Hopkins Arts & Sciences Magazine that is issued every semester. I read about Nancy Tray's research project and instantly knew that I wanted to do this. I thought it was so cool that she went to China to conduct her project. That's what I wanted to do.

But it wasn't part of my plan that I conjured up by the end of the year. My goal was to assess the quality of the services provided by Project Health at the Harriet Lane Clinic at the Medical campus. I volunteered with Project HEALTH as a freshman. I was impacted by the flaws of healthcare, which I witnessed firsthand when working with my clients, so I designed this project. I already had an advisor and a three research questions I still had to choose from.

In June, Nancy (pre-maturely) congratulated me on getting the WW. I had not read the acceptance e-mail yet.

A very excellent start.

Sophomore Year: In Which Uncertainty, Hesitation, and Eagerness Ensue.

Remaining Grant Balance: $7,500

When thinking about my research project, I ultimately decided that it was important to me to examine something within my culture. With the economic rise of China, there are some fascinating cultural changed that I wanted to examine. So I said goodbye to my freshman ideas and started anew.

This year, it was all about finding the perfect research topic (for me).

Contestant #1: Alternative Medicine. I searched for alternative medicine doctors at the med school, and I got referred Dr. Lee all the way at Greenspring Station (take the JHMI shuttle to the med campus, switch shuttles, sit for 30 more minutes, walk through one building, take the elevator to the second floor, first door on the right). I held a little pow-wow brainstorming session with her, and came out with some great ideas. Not so great getting home; all the shuttles had stopped running so I had to take a cab (a cool $40) back to home sweet home(wood). But I didn't care! I thought I had my advisor, and in three days' time I had my research subject: The effectiveness of meditation on youth today in China and America.

I already had the perfect population to study here in Baltimore. As the president of CRASH (Creating Responsibility in Adolescent Sexual Health), I had access to young men ages 14-18 who live in a transition home at the Schaefer House. They are a great group of students to work with when we discuss sexual health issues with them as part of CRASH, so I thought I could try meditation techniques with them as part of my research project. Throughout the semester, I read up on meditation techniques, learned tai chi and I even went to a local meditation sitting. During Spring semester, I signed up for the perfect class (Public Health Practicum) to carry out my project at the Schaefer House AND get credit. It felt good to know what I was doing.

But I had reservations. Even though I was reading up on the subject, I did not know much about meditation. Nor did I feel really comfortable teaching it to others. However, the biggest discouragement for me was that I felt too dispersed in my extra-curricular activities. I was doing CRASH, The Triple Helix (I had just been hired to join the international team as Executive Director of Science Policy), and BME research at the med school. Could I handle ANOTHER topic totally unrelated to all the others? No.

In light of the recent hesitation I was having on taking on a completely new topic, I decided to ditch the idea I had been carefully nurturing all year, and decided to focus on a subject I was comfortable with: sex. I came up with this idea right before I was going to talk to my new advisor, Ms. Folda (more on her later). Combining my experience in high school as a reproductive rights activist, and my current leadership role in CRASH, I thought this would be the perfect fit. I have always been interested in adolescent reproductive health and education, especially after my work in China my freshman year with Rural China Education Foundation. I have already read a lot of literature pertaining to this subject, out of pure interest and curiosity. Why didn't I think of this earlier?!? It was also perfect to study this in China because the rapid modernization of the country has brought along radical changes in attitude toward reproductive health.

Thus Contestant #2 was born: To assess the current sexual knowledge of youth in China, and to see if a series of interactive seminars on sexual health could improve that knowledge. If at all possible, I would compare these results with a similar study group in America, giving a cross-cultural perspective.

My new research topic fit really well with my new advisor. Although an inspirational woman, I decided Dr. Lee was too far away to make my advisor. So I asked Ms. Lisa Folda, who is also my Public Health advisor, to guide me through the process. She is a two-in-one dream come true. It is just my luck that she has her Masters in Family, Population, and Reproductive Health. I pitched Contestant #2 to her, and while we both know I need to narrow down my research topic, she really liked the idea.

Oh, I also made the WW t-shirt design this year. It is the first time I have ever designed anything. It is Warhol influenced.

Junior Year: In Which I Jump into Action

Remaining Grant Balance: $7,500

Finally, as a rising junior, I have a hazy plan of what I want to do, and LESS THAN TWO YEARS TO DO IT. Kind of scary, but still pretty confident that I can have a stellar poster by senior year. Summer is here, and I am ready to focus my attention on WW (...and med research, and my summer course, and RA duties, and MCAT prep).

I decided to start this blog to keep track of my progression as my ideas become more cohesive. It will also serve as a file of all the research papers I have looked at. This way I can back-track my way if I need to for any reason.


This is my journey as a Woodrow Wilson Research Fellow.

I hope this will help future Woodrow Wilsons, especially those that have no idea where to start.

Read my story of confusion, frustration, procrastination, hard work, and (hopefully) triumph, and feel better. You are not alone.