Thursday, October 9, 2014

Welcome Aboard

Emily Yang

What a crazy week it has been, possibly the most exciting yet stress-inducing of the entire program.  That's right, it's research practicum time.  We are given three days to write a proposal for their independent research project for which data collection begins in local communities next month in November.  For the most part, classes are suspended; we now live and breathe for our proposals.  I can only compare it to embarking on a trans-ocean voyage of olden days, one that requires the willingness to work hard and a salty, ready for anything and anyone('s criticism) attitude.    


Once we have chosen our research paths (with some suggestions from our OTS professors), it's on to the next step: recruiting a crew.  Or in our case, a group of like-minded peers.  Since most research nowadays is collaborative, our class was highly encouraged to form groups and collect data together.  At this point of the journey all seven groups have selected diverse and interesting topics, from analyzing bacteria in fecal matter to rates at which adolescent mothers continue their education to obesity and nutritional issues in local indigenous women, the most fascinating topic for me.


However, at this point we still have to "build our boats".  The ideas set before us were only mere skeletons compared to our 15 page final proposals.  As a team we must comb through previous research literature, create and revise a survey for our study participants, tackle the International Review Board proposal for Duke, and of course write the proposal itself.  The introduction was especially daunting.  Trying to write a pithy and catchy summary for all my disorganized research interests felt like getting seasick for the first time.  Unfortunately, there is no equivalent of a seasickness patch for writing a research paper.  The only thing to do is keep my eye on the horizon, grit my teeth, and slowly work backwards from my research question, paragraph by paragraph.  Not that the other sections were purely smooth sailing, but it was a process. 


In the class, the level of expertise for writing research papers differs greatly.  Some people have only done lab reports while one girl is working on her thesis.  But we are all on the same blank page when it comes to working in the Ngöbe community.  One wake up call was learning that the community can't read Spanish and are only partially fluent in speaking it.  But a good sailor has to be able to deal with changing winds from all sides and adapt, something that we fledgling researchers can empathize with.


At this point our proposal-boats will be crafted, provisioned, and about to set off at 6 PM to our professor's inbox.  And in a month all of us will venture into the mists of our own choosing.  Our future schedules lay out a series of days with long hours of interviewing or data processing.  We may encounter stagnant doldrums, the glory of significant results, or even, horror of horrors, no conclusive results.  But now we are getting the chance to pursue our own fields of interest, and though the excitement is tinged with growing amounts of deadline stress, everyone is hopeful and confident.  A new chapter is beginning, and it's time to set sail.   

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