Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Appreciating The Process Of Research: A Summer Experience

Elizabeth Krawczun, a CUNY BA Epidemiology major in the Verrazano Class of 2014, spent the summer doing undergraduate research through a selective program at CUNY.  Read below for Elizabeth's reflection on her summer research experience.
Elizabeth presenting her poster.

My time in CUNY’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program (CSURP) was certainly a learning experience. Each of the twenty students was partnered with a mentor in his or her own field and spent the ten week program working alongside the mentor and a graduate student. The program culminated in a scientific poster session and presentation of the research.

CSURP accepts students who are studying in STEM (sciences, engineering, technology, or mathematics) disciplines. This summer’s group consisted of computer scientists, civil engineers, environmental scientists, a mathematician, and students in the biological sciences. I was told that I was the first “epidemiologist” in the program. Since I had very little experience in the field of epidemiology, I did not know what to expect or how such research was performed, collected, and analyzed.

I worked alongside Dr. Heidi Jones and her colleague Quynh Vo, at the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College. They are in the midst of performing a cross-sectional study of abortion services, procedures, and practice among providers and facilities across the United States and Canada. This information would then be used to determine if providers were adhering to the strict clinical guidelines, or if they had found evidence-based solutions that were more effective. This information could then be used to educate others and support better practices. 

     Elizabeth with Quynh Vo, MPH and Dr. Avrom Caplan

The data for the study were collected by sending surveys to over 600 abortion facilities in the US, one survey was sent to the administrator, five surveys were each sent to the surgical and medication providers who performed the most procedures in 2012. The survey included questions regarding eligibility criteria for patients, gestational limits for each type of abortion, ultrasound use, pre- and post-operative care, drug administration, antibiotic and pain management regimen, sedation and anesthesia practices, and patient follow-up procedures.

In addition, the survey included questions for clinicians about their experiences with stigma and harassment and if those affected recruitment and retention of new staff. We also asked for provider age because of a trend in aging of abortion providers, and a trend in the lack in new health care practitioners entering abortion care. This research meant to relate these findings with recent political measures and cuts to funding of programs. Because of such cuts, research is not being done by governmentally funded organizations. This survey is a means by which data can be collected and methods improved.
I spent most of the summer working to enter the incoming qualitative data from the clinicians as quantitative data, using CsPro computer software, and using Fisher’s exact tests for categorical variables and ANOVA or Mann-Whitney tests for continuous variables. After the first round of data entry, I had to call many facilities across the country to clarify information or to ask for them to complete the questionnaire. I came into this internship expecting to find results quickly, but I soon learned that research does not work that way. Research takes time. Even though there are no data and conclusions ready to be published, it was interesting and satisfying to see trends, and other trends that were not being collected for the purposes of the study, through data gathering and entry alone.
One of the goals of CSURP was to help students to understand how to communicate science to those who are unfamiliar with it. The twenty of us worked in separate labs in different departments across most of the CUNY campuses. We were encouraged to talk to each other at the mandatory weekly lectures and explain what it was that we were working on. In talking about out projects, we were able to identify areas that would be unclear to someone of a different discipline and how to adjust an explanation so all audiences could understand the research, and why it was significant and important.

The CSURP group on the steps of the Macaulay Honors College building.

The weekly lectures were held at Macaulay Honors College’s building where faculty, researchers, and those in industry came to speak about not only their professional experiences, but their personal journeys as well. Being someone who is unsure of what path I would like to follow, I found it fascinating and comforting to hear how these guest speakers came to be where they are today. The speakers represented varying disciplines and would talk about their current research and how they came to be in their field and pursuing the research they are. We would then be given an overview of this or her work. One takeaway from these sessions was being able to see how to communicate science to a general audience.
The program ended with a technical poster session in which we presented our summer’s research and results. Mentors, administrators, and researchers from CUNY came and listened to all of our projects and seemed impressed by what we were able to accomplish in such a short time. They were glad that many of us will be continuing pursuing research with our summer mentors. I was shocked that the poster session was an enjoyable experience, as I do not generally seek out opportunities to speak publicly. However, once I began explaining my work, I was excited and tried to tell the audience everything. I wanted to show them why they should be excited about this research too.

The CSURP group after the final poster session.
While listening to presentations, I found it surprising that the majority of students were not partnered with a mentor who had the same research interest. However, these CSURP members said they were glad to be able world outside of their area of study and became more aware of how the different aspects of STEM are connected; how only becoming familiar with one area is short-sighted and will not lead to productive research.
The CSURP program not only provided me with an opportunity to perform research, but also to further appreciate the process of it, and be able to communicate the work in an effective and understandable manner.

To learn more about CSURP and how to apply, please visit the C-SURP website.

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