Wednesday, May 20, 2009

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.

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