Ending my research and policy-filled summer on a great note

My three learning goals for the summer were: 1) combine the skills I have acquired from Brandeis classes to our research project, 2) gain a deeper understanding of the scientific research project from beginning to end, and 3) further explore the intersection between research, advocacy, and policy.

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Me, Carolina (my fellow intern and co-author), and our supervisor Professor Siegel on our last day of work! It was such a spectacular and stimulating summer and I will miss them and their enthusiasm for social justice and public health advocacy greatly!

HSSP, Anthropology, and Legal Studies classes at Brandeis gave me a fantastic background on many of the topics studied in our research, such as structural violence, public health disparities, and public policy advocacy. Because my psychology classes taught me to think critically about statistical concepts, statistical procedures, and research methods, I was able to heavily contribute to the research collection and analysis in our project. I was also exposed to all phases of the research process working with Professor Siegel, from the conceptualization of the research question to the writing of the final manuscript. This will put me at a major advantage when applying to both research positions and graduate school programs in the future. Further, since our research findings were very significant, in the final section of our paper we were able to make important suggestions for public health policy-makers in the future that will be necessary to reduce the amount of firearm-related intimate partner homicides each year. The major policy suggestion here includes making it illegal in all states for domestic violence restraining order (DVRO) subjects to purchase and possess firearms, which is a law that only a few states have passed. In our research, we used many of the Everytown for Gun Safety databases on domestic violence to code our research, which shows how weak state laws are concerning DVRO subjects.

This internship overall has been a spectacular learning opportunity in so many ways, but has really taught me, step-by-step, the value of research in social and political change. I have learned that I want to continue taking part in research in the future and got to graduate school; however, I definitely love the policy side of research, advocating for specific changes in public policy based on research findings, more than I am intrigued by the data collection, data organization, and data analysis phases of research. I have also learned that I love the conceptualization of the research and the planning/organization of the research. By getting involved in each stage of the research, I was able to get a good sense of the areas I am most interested in pursuing in the future. Pinpointing my research-related interests in this internship will be incredibly helpful down the line when I am searching for jobs/internships in the future.

In terms of advice to students, I would recommend an internship at the Boston University School of Public Health to anyone. The faculty there are wonderful, everyone is very welcoming, intelligent, diligent, and thoughtful, and the organization is doing exceptional work right now trying to develop research that will help combat different health injustices around the globe. A huge piece of advice is to show initiative from the beginning of your internship. Explain to your supervisor what you are most interested in about research, what your goals are for the internship, and potentially where your biggest weaknesses lie so that you can work with your supervisor to strengthen these areas. For any student with an internship at a research organization, I would highly recommend speaking to your supervisor about getting involved with the entire research process from beginning to end, especially if you imagine that you want to continue doing research-related work in the future. Having at least a good idea of what goes into each phase of the process will help you really develop an understanding of which aspects of the process you are most interested in.

 

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The final version of our research manuscript before it is sent off to leading public health journal JAMA Internal Medicine for publication

Overall this summer, though I am proud of every aspect of the research project that I took part in, I am particularly proud of co-writing the final research paper with Professor Siegel and my fellow research intern Carolina. Once the paper is published in the next few months, hopefully in our top-choice journal JAMA Internal Medicine, I will officially be a published author!

Rachel Kurland, ’18

Social Justice WOW fellow

Passion, skill, and enthusiasm: the road to publication

Walking into the Boston University School of Public Health offices each day, I know there will be contagious energy and enthusiasm from the moment I step off the elevator.  Most of the work spaces in the office are designated for faculty who work on original research during the summer, so everyone (faculty and interns alike) is always deeply immersed in a new and exciting project. The other research intern on Dr. Siegel’s project for the summer, Carolina, is someone who I am incredibly lucky to work with directly every day. She is one of the most passionate people I have ever met about intimate partner gun violence, which is the primary focus of our research.

A photo of me and my inspiring fellow research intern, Carolina, with our Boston University research badges!
My inspiring fellow research intern, Carolina, and I finally received our Boston University research badges!

What has surprised me most working on this project is how close to this topic not only Carolina but also the other members of our team feel. The amount of emotion and passion that people on the team have expressed about our research topic can even be somewhat overwhelming at times. However, tragedy and injustice lie at the core of both domestic violence and gun violence. Especially after the multitude of recent, devastating shootings that have occurred in the last few weeks, we hope that the results of our research will be profound enough to convince politicians and the public that stronger gun laws are the only way to prevent further loss of life. In a wonderfully powerful article that my supervisor Dr. Siegel wrote, he states that it is no longer enough to ‘pray’ for the victims of gun violence and their families; the country as a whole must actually commit to making a change in order to make any headway.  One way to start a movement like this is through the publication of more research on gun violence, yet the CDC at the moment is allocating zero funding to research this enormous public health and human rights issue.

 

A beautifully candid Carolina in the midst of researching Massachusetts' own laws about gun control
A beautifully candid Carolina in the midst of researching Massachusetts’ own laws about gun control.

One spectacular thing I have noticed about the World of Work is how passionate everyone is about the work they are doing. After years of dreading group projects throughout school I never thought that I would enjoy working on a team, but after only a few weeks on this research team I have found that teamwork can be infinitely more rewarding, productive, and energizing than working alone. My experiences with group projects in high school mostly consisted of members attempting to do the least amount of work possible; nonetheless, everyone on this research team actually fights to do the most amount of work! In addition, I have found that each member thoughtfully assesses their own strengths and weaknesses before they decide how they can most effectively contribute to the group’s goal, which really impressed me.

On this note, I would say that understanding how to find self-motivation and passion in the work that I do is one of the most valuable things that I have learned so far from my team members this summer. Additionally, the mathematical, statistical, and computer skills that I am gaining through the research process will be beneficial for any job that I have in the future. Some of these skills include learning to construct and organize a comprehensive research database, collect and code data, and perform complex statistical analyses in different programs. I am also, through this process, learning how to plan and orchestrate an entire research project from start to finish. In the future I hope to utilize this knowledge to conduct original research of my own in graduate school and beyond.

Rachel Kurland, ’18

A Summer of Research and Advocacy

The Boston University School of Public Health has a spectacular location in South Boston, just steps away from Boston Medical with an impressive presence on the Boston University Medical Campus. The mission of the School of Public Health is to promote health equality on both a local and global scale, and through research and innovation to significantly improve the health and well-being of disadvantaged and medically under-served communities. Throughout my internship I will be working directly with Dr. Michael Siegel of the Department of Community Health Sciences. I first had the pleasure of working alongside Dr. Siegel when I assisted with his research on the impact of internet alcohol advertisements on teenage alcohol abuse two summers ago. After I learned that Dr. Siegel planned to conduct research this summer on the intersection between intimate partner and firearm violence, I jumped at the opportunity to join his research team again. My first week working on Dr. Siegel’s research team was exciting and stimulating, and I got the sense that I was going to have a lot of responsibilities for multiple parts of the project this summer. The other professors and students working on this project were incredibly welcoming, and throughout the week I was able to spend a bit of time with each team member to learn how they are contributing to the project. 

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The Boston Medical center, which is the hub of the Boston University School of Medicine and School of Public Health
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The Boston University School of Public Health campus, featuring one of the school’s buildings. This building houses a spectacular library for the School of Medicine, and on the top floor has an incredible view of the entire city of Boston

(source: http://www.bu.edu/sph/files/2013/06/header-about.jpg).

In a powerful article on gun violence and increasing homicide rates, “Who Mourns for Brianna?”, Dr. Siegel writes,

“Somehow, there is a human tendency to pay more attention to a single tragic event than to a pattern of fatal violence that occurs on a regular basis. Maybe we need to reconsider what counts as a tragedy worthy of commemoration, versus a “normal,” everyday occurrence that we merely accept as a way of life.” (http://www.bu.edu/today/2014/pov-who-mourns-for-brianna/)

On the first day of our research, Dr. Siegel explained that in the wake of tragedies, such as Newtown (and subsequently Orlando), it is easy to forget that gun violence and deaths due to firearms occur every single day and affect thousands of lives. Although most of my responsibilities include punching numbers and data/statistical analysis, each day Dr. Siegel urges me not to forget that we are fighting for individuals, real children, parents, friends, and loved ones who have been affected by gun violence, through our research. According to recent data from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, it is five times more likely that a woman will be killed by her abuser if the abuser owns a firearm, and in 2011, nearly two-thirds of women killed with guns were killed by their intimate partners. (http://smartgunlaws.org/domestic-violence-firearms-policy-summary/) However, in my first week, Dr. Siegel set this extremely powerful and especially motivating tone for the summer that our research would truly mean something and matter to the individual lives lost every year to domestic gun violence!

My job for the first part of the project is to construct an extensive database on specific state firearm laws in order to determine how weak/strong individual state laws are concerning controls on firearm ownership/purchase for domestic violence offenders. We will then compare this data on gun control laws to the number of intimate partner homicides that occur state-by-state. From there, we will be able to extract data on which state gun control laws are the most powerful and effective in preventing intimate partner homicides, and will have the capability to make suggestions for public policy revisions regarding gun control. I hope that my work will not only help Dr. Siegel and the Dept. of Community Health Sciences with their research, but will significantly minimize the number of people who may be affected by intimate partner gun violence in the future.

One learning goal for this summer is to gain a deeper understanding of the scientific research project from beginning to end, a very attainable goal, since I have been participating in the conceptualization of our project’s research questions with Dr. Siegel, and at the end of our project we will write and submit a paper for publication. I also hope to integrate and fuse my passions for research and advocacy this summer by learning to use empirical research to suggest changes in public policy that would reduce social injustices caused by gun violence.

 

Rachel Kurland, ’18

Social Justice Fellow