Monday, March 23, 2015

The Choice

          The sun is shining and the topical birds are chirping at Las Cruces Biological Station but the other students and I aren't paying any mind. We're eagerly awaiting the beginning of the presentation; the one that will tell us what independent project topics we can choose from. The decision each of us makes today will determine how we will spend much of the next month and a half in Costa Rica. As the lecture begins we sit quietly and listen to each topic as it's announced. There were eight available topics: weaning practices of breastfeeding mothers, patient overuse of the healthcare system, adherence to medication, plant-made insecticides, and more. Once all topics were explained we were told to pick which one we'd like to research. The other students jumped up to form groups and talk about their first choices. The room filled with chatter and commotion, but I was still sitting quietly. I was busy thinking. This was as important me me as it was for everyone else but I couldn't choose so quickly. I knew that I was curious about all of the listed topics and that in any group I would be able to drive into whatever research with enthusiasm. I didn't know what to choose, so I sat.

          After a minute we decided to discuss our options in a more organized way, so all 13 of us marched upstairs to our common room to talk. As we went around the circle naming our top choices I thought about one project in particular: "Knowledge, attitudes, and practices regarding prostate cancer screening." One of our professors had explained the importance of this topic, how for some men it was taboo and how the regional health director had specifically suggested it.

          I'd thought before about the lack of conversation around prostate cancer in the United States, especially compared to breast cancer, and it seemed interesting to learn more about it in Costa Rica. I began to have an inner battle. On one hand a part of me wanted to do this research project. As a young woman, coming to OTS from an all women's college I'd spent more time researching women's health topics and general health topics than men's health. Picking this topic would be a perfect way to begin learning more about issues specific to male populations. It was also especially interesting due to its taboo aspects and all of the misconception about masculinity that surrounded it. Still, an opposing part of me was nervous and cautious about choosing without fully thinking it through. Would I feel comfortable surveying complete strangers about this sensitive topic? Would I be making them feel uncomfortable? I talked with the two friends I'd be working with. They were both patient with my uncertainty. We discussed the possible benefits of the study with our professors. They assured us that it was a very interesting and useful study and even said that men may be more comfortable talking about this topic with us, three female student researchers, rather than other men. We went confidently into our days of initial online research of similar studies, and this week we handed in our formal research proposals. We are now waiting, enthusiastic and eager to go into the local communities and learn more

Erica Rayack

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