Tuesday, December 2, 2014

All about the process

It's Day 2 of writing our final papers. I've been sitting in the
comedor since right after breakfast, only occasionally taking a break
from staring at my computer screen. These past few days haven't been
like any other finals weeks of my college career. Instead of
frantically switching between tasks (write essay, study for chemistry
exam, repeat), all of my energy is focused on one end goal: expressing
the findings of the research project my group and I have been working
on since before fall break.

This probably isn't what you would picture when the word "research"
comes to mind. It's probably not what I would think of first either.
My mind goes to the data collection process, the actions taken to test
a hypothesis.

Of course, that was part of it. My group studied respiratory
infections, a general category that ranges from the common cold to
pneumonia, in migrant Ngäbe children. Their families come to Costa
Rica from Panama every year to work on coffee plantations. We were
studying the reasons why the incidence of respiratory infections is so
high in this population. This involved going to visit the plantations:
making observations of the housing conditions, interviewing the
parents, seeing the types of food that are available.

What I didn't think of at first was how much more complicated it can
be. So much planning has to go into a research project, even a very
small-scale one like ours. First there was designing our survey tools,
constantly thinking about how we would get the information we need out
of these questions and blanks to fill in. There's the logistics
required to get a bunch of students to remote coffee plantations
(thanks to our professors). There's also the language and cultural
differences to consider. The workers speak Ngäbere, so we needed a
cultural assessor to go with us.

After our week of data collection, we were back at the station to
analyze our data. Slight hiccup in our well-made plans: all of our
results came out backwards. Later we found out that we were running
the wrong statistical test, and then everything started to fall into
place. We found that overcrowding, fewer meals per day, younger age
and the less time that a child was breastfed all made children more
likely to have symptoms of a respiratory infection (cough, fever,
runny nose). We also saw that the farm with the best overall
conditions had the lowest incidence of respiratory infections: is this
something that could be replicated in other farms?

Then comes the most important part: how to present the results? We'll
be making a summary of our findings to give back to the community.
This has been an incredible learning experience for us, doing a
research project from start to finish. However, we also hope that the
data we found can make a difference, contribute to a better
understanding of the situation of these children and their families so
that there will be improvements made in healthcare and the living
conditions on the plantations.

Back to the moment: I'm writing a final paper. Slowly it's starting
to come together, as I try to fit all the pieces of the puzzle into a
cohesive whole. All a part of the process of research.

-Stephanie P.

Works Cited:

Barboz-Argüello. 2005. Estacionalidad de egresos por neumonía en el
Servicio de Pediatría del Hospital "Maximilliano Peralta" y su
asociación con la migración indígena Ngöbe Buglé. Acta Médica
Costarricense. 47(2): 78–83.

International Organization for Migration. 2014. Costa Rica.
Retrieved from https://www.iom.int/cms/en/sites/iom/home/where-we-work/americas/central-and-north-america-and-th/costa-rica.html

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