One of the most important memories I have when I go through my internship’s research assistant guide is under the FAQ section. Apart from the usual FAQ, this is a section filled with the questions our assistant usually encounters when we are trying to enroll the participant at the OB/Gyn clinical site. Women are a population with more vulnerabilities, and it is understandable that they want to know about the risk of participating in a study and talking about their personal experiences. One of the questions is related to how participants can benefit from the study. The way we usually phrase the answer is, “It is unfortunate that the study cannot really benefit the participants directly except the gift cards that we can offer. However, the study aims to benefit the whole society by gaining a general understanding of Chinese families living in the United States.” Research studies on human beings are not expected to be immediate, since society formed itself over hundreds and thousands of years. It is only normal that people want to see the direct effects of the study that they participated in, but it is our job to let them take a glance at scientific research and help them understand how important a piece of data can contribute to the whole study.
There was one time when I was walking one of the participants through the consent from and talking about the goal of the study. She responded that she knew this is a study to improve the general wellbeing of immigrant women who live in Boston and that is the reason she really wanted to participate. I was so moved when I heard that, and I wish we could start some efficient program after we have a better understanding of this community.
Another aspect of this research that I really appreciated is the rapport we built with the mothers and expecting mothers. We conducted phone interviews with participants and, surprisingly, they usually open up with any topics that they are interested in when we are going through the interview packet. Some of them talk about how difficult it was when they first moved to the United States, and some of them talk about fun anecdotes that happened between them and their family. It is really satisfying when they show their appreciation of the time I spend talking to them and listening to their stories, and I will say that is actually a part of the social support our group wants to offer.
After we know the participants gave birth to their babies, we also send them hand-written congratulations cards to show that we really care about them in person, not only in the contributions they can offer as eligible participants. It is always a pleasurable time talking with the mothers about their updates in the new chapter of their life and learning more about their babies.
To wrap up the experiences I have had as a research assistant with social science studies, I am so lucky to work with a study that involves a direct connection with the participant. I realized how important it is to balance the position as a researcher and as a person who sincerely cares about the participant, which is really helpful for my future research experiences. If you care about them, they care about you.