Wrapping up my Research

As I near the end of my internship I have been reflecting on the goals I intended to achieve at the beginning and where I am right now with only two weeks to go. I had hoped to learn more about research and how it can affect underserved communities in attaining better access to care, and I wanted to gain the skills necessary to conduct research more independently. With over two months of my internship complete I can say I have attained those goals. The research I have done and hope to get submitted for publication in the next month will hopefully inform policy makers and the dental community alike about the discrepancies in access to fluoride that exist in different communities. I have also learned how to be nit-picky of my own writing in order to achieve a publish-worthy manuscript as well as how to collect and analyze data. In the future, given the opportunity to conduct research I will be able to be much more independent throughout the process.

Having worked on research one-on-one with a faculty member at the University of Washington Dental School, I was given a lot of responsibility. Whether it be small organizational tasks or writing an entire manuscript, I have greatly assisted my mentor in completing many of the tasks on his list. I have been able to be helpful with a variety of activities and tasks making a very positive impact on the department as a whole.

Prior to starting the internship, I wish I had researched the work environment I would be in more. Although the work itself was exciting, the office was often relatively empty with only two administrators in the office. I would recommend to any student considering doing a research internship to talk to someone else working in the lab in order to learn more about the social interaction and dynamic of the lab.

Being able to balance work with other activities is important as well. While the work is often very fun, it can also be tiring, so making time to spend time with friends and doing things you enjoy is important as well.  For anyone considering doing research I would recommend talking to your supervisor before hand to see if there are any things you can familiarize yourself with prior to starting the internship in order to make it a smooth transition. Having a clear understanding of what your responsibilities will be as well as the time commitment for the internship is important as well. I would suggest considering finding an internship that would combine research with more hands on activities and events as well in order to have a diversity of experiences throughout the summer and maximize your learning opportunities.

Overall, I have had a tremendous summer of learning, gaining new skills, and achieving my goals. It has been a wonderful experience that I hope to build on again next summer.

Skills that will Serve a Lifetime

Throughout my time as an intern this summer, I have gained skills both in research, writing and beyond. As a researcher I have learned the meaning of analysis, learning how to not only collect data and run statistical analyses, but also how to interpret the results and make conclusions based on them. As a writer, I have learned the meaning of editing. With nearly thirty drafts of a single ten-page paper, and likely an additional ten drafts before it gets published, I have learned how to nitpick my own writing in order to get it closer to what is needed for publication. As an office worker I have learned to be respectful and kind to all those who work in the office. Whether it be other faculty, staff or the janitorial staff, working in an office environment comes with its own set of social norms that I have now adapted to.

I have gained very specific skills such as how to use SPSS software to run Chi-Square tests and how to cite peer reviewed papers using AMA guidelines. While these newfound skills might come in handy in my future, it is the more general skills that I have gained that will likely resonate more as I move forward in my career.  Having the experience of working in an office environment, learning to work independently, being able to communicate with those higher up and more knowledgeable than I am and knowing when and how to ask relevant questions will really benefit me as I move into different work environments in my future.

Since starting my internship I have learned a lot more about my own strengths and weaknesses as an employee. Going into the internship I lacked the confidence to communicate with my supervisor without hesitation, as time has gone by I have become significantly more comfortable reaching out when I need help or have clarifying questions. I also found it challenging to work in my own office where I can so easily close the door and avoid communicating with other people all day. I have therefore made it a point to keep my office door open at least for half of the day forcing me to interact with the other people in my office suite even if only to say “hello”.

There is much for me to offer as well, something I hadn’t realized until at least a month after my internship begun. Although I don’t have any experience in the specific type of research and field I am interning in, the skills I have learned from my classes at Brandeis have prepared me well with writing clearly and concisely making me an asset in any work environment. Realizing there are positive skills and perspectives I bring to the work I am doing makes it much easier to continue learning the things I still struggle with while keeping a positive attitude. While there may still be a lot for me to learn, I was able to make meaningful contributions on my first day on the job.

Small Steps in Research Lead to Publication

Conducting research on social justice issues may at times seem like a slow process that yields little change in the real world. Yet, through the process of research, social justice questions are answered and new social justice questions get asked. Research advances the way we think about social justice through knowledge as opposed to actions. While the change might seem slow, without research, there wouldn’t be awareness of many of the social justice issues currently being tackled by non-profit organizations and our government.

In research, change and progress can be seen through the different steps of the process. Immediate change might not be seen during the time of data collection, analysis, and writing, however, once publication is reached, the paper can tremendously impact the way of thinking on a specific social justice issue. For example, the research lab I am working at this summer spent months collecting data regarding immunization and fluoride refusal with the hope of finding a link between people who refuse them. During the time of data collection and analysis, not much changed regarding a social justice issue. However, once the paper was published and was read by more influential leaders as well as fellow researchers, it began gaining recognition for the breakthrough ideas it presented. Although progress is still taking place and follow up research is currently being conducted, the initial paper inspired change and further interest in the issue.

Throughout the process of conducting public health research and publishing a paper, there are many small steps that must be accomplished before tackling the larger ones. Reaching out to communities for data collection, collecting consent from potential participants, following up with research participants, distributing incentives to participants, managing the data, encrypting data and condensing the data are only some of the many tasks that must be taken prior to engaging fully with the data set and drafting the paper. Without these many steps, the research would likely be unethical, inaccurate and misleading both to the research participants and to colleagues reading the paper. These small steps enable researchers to tackle larger ones such as analyzing the data, reaching conclusions, writing the paper and submitting for publications.

Public health research is often conducted very similarly across different labs. At the University of Washington, it is no different. The process taken is often very similar, but the results can be different. The issues being investigated by the lab I am working for this summer might seem relatively small; however, once they fit in with rest of the research being conducted on the same and similar topics, it becomes clear just how valuable it is. Much of the published research coming out of the lab provides social justice leaders with new and interesting perspectives on topics previously covered, enabling for further discussion on ways of reducing the problems. The complexity new research brings to old and new issues allows for more accurate discussions and better understood solutions.

Consent and Privacy as Social Justice

This past semester I took a class in which we discussed different aspects of ethical research. As part of this class we learned about the many ways in which people were abused and taken advantage of for the sake of research. Whether it be experimentation or lack of consent and privacy, throughout history many people have participated in research involuntarily. Conducting research in an ethical and respectful manner was a huge social justice issue that has thankfully been mostly addressed.

While in this class we learned that a key aspect of conducting research in an ethical and respectful manner involved protecting participants’ privacy and identity. While analyzing the data for the research paper I am in the process of writing, we encrypted the data, taking out the names and any other identifying information and instead giving each participant a numerical ID. By doing so, only a select few people have access to participants’ identity while for those working with the data, each participant is anonymous. As a result, participants are more likely to share information they want kept confidential improving the research along the way as well.

In my time as a research assistant I have had to analyze data regarding dentists’ perception of fluoride refusal. Many of the questions in the survey were controversial with opinions varying widely. For certain questions, dentists had the ability to write in their own answers, some of which could be seen as extremely demeaning. Although some of these responses will likely be published, knowing that individual identities were kept private allowed many dentists to express their honest, uncensored opinions.

From my observations of the research lab I am working in, privacy and participant consent are extremely important. Since social justice and equitable and honest research are so important to today’s researchers, many precautions are taken to ensure data collection and participation are done voluntarily. Prior to participating in data collection, dentists were asked to consent to their opinions being collected and published. Explanations on how the information collected will be used ensured participants agreed to the terms of the research and were aware of how their opinions might be shared.

Anonymity is often forgotten in today’s society where so much of our lives are shared publicly online. However, in public health research which often relies on individual respondents, to truly capture the public opinion on an issue, privacy and comfort are key. No one would want to share their private opinions on a controversial issue only to find that they are later ostracized due to the opinion being made public. Therefore, while it might seem laborious to take the many consent and privacy precautions modern researchers implement, one must remember the history of the many involuntary research participants.

First Month at the University of Washington School of Dentistry

For the past month and a half, I have been working as a research assistant at the University of Washington School of Dentistry, in the Department of Oral Health Sciences. Leading up to my internship I was both excited and nervous. Up until two days before I started working, I didn’t know what I would be doing and how involved I would be in the research process. To my surprise, my first task on the job was to write a literature review which would then be used as the introduction to a manuscript submitted for publication. I hadn’t received much guidance, other than that the topic of the paper was going to be dentists’ perception of fluoride refusal. With that in mind I started researching the topic on PubMed, looking for any previously published paper regarding fluoride refusal.

As I learned more about fluoride refusal in dentistry, I began to understand the impact fluoride has on various communities. Water fluoridation typically has a larger impact on lower income communities and communities with little access to adequate dental care. Since fluoride is used as a preventative measure aimed at reducing dental caries, it is most prevalent in areas with worse tooth decay. As a result, refusal of fluoride, specifically water fluoridation can have severe impacts on some of the more vulnerable populations.

Learning about and better understanding some of the many issues and consequences regarding fluoride refusal has exposed me to the impact preventative public health measures have on underserved communities. Opposition to fluorides is a social justice issue that needs to be addressed. Fluoride refusal negatively affects those more vulnerable, creating health disparities among those receiving fluoride and those unable to. Fluoride refusal often stems from misconceptions regarding its impact on health. Similar to immunization refusal, the reasons people refuse fluoride are often unfounded, leading to a potentially more dangerous public health outcome. Since dental caries are more prevalent in underprivileged communities, this paper will hopefully bring awareness to opposition of fluorides as an important social justice issue that needs to be addressed by mainstream media and government.

Throughout the summer I will be working on finishing up writing this paper with the hope of submitting it for publication. I hope that by publishing this paper there will be a better understanding of the importance of fluorides in preventative dentistry. In order to do so, I have analyzed data sets, researched the topics further, and begun writing the results and methods sections of the paper. By learning how to write a research paper at the level needed for publication, not only will I gain tremendous experience and knowledge regarding the research and writing process, but I will also contribute to the work of my mentor.

As the halfway point of my internship nears, I can already say I have gained an immense amount of knowledge and appreciation for the work needed to conduct and write a research paper. During the second half of my internship I look forward to gaining a better understanding of the steps required to achieve publication as well as learn more about data collection, analysis and research. By the end of the summer I hope to have gained the skills needed to delve into future research projects with ease and confidence. I look forward to working on further research projects aimed at reducing health disparities in dentistry.