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.
When I was taking the course Clinical Practicum with Professor Cunningham, we talked a lot about the limitations we have as mental health helpers and the importance of self-care. Volunteering at a crisis hotline also helped me realized how different a conversation could be when you are using a different attitude or even a different way of wording. All of these skills equipped me to screen and keep up the study with new participants.
After a few trainings, I went to our coordinate site, South Cove at Quincy, to enroll participants. My first time doing subject screening was exciting and scary. I enjoy talking about our study with strangers and I enjoy the moment when they become interested in the study and agree to participate. Reaching out to women in the waiting room could be scary because I was not sure what their attitude would be or what kind of questions I would have to answer. My mentor went through the research assistant guide with me again and I asked all the questions that I was not certain about. She also offered a short orientation for me in the hospital and introduced me as the new research assistant to all the doctors and nurses at the OB/GYN receptions. They were all friendly and encouraging, which decreased my anxiety a little. They have the perfect attitude working with patients, especially pregnant women who are relatively more sensitive and need support. I believe that they are trying their best to create the most comfortable and reliable environment for the women, which I should mimic as well. I found it really helpful to stay calm when I am smiling and talking in a slow and light way. I also successfully enrolled one new participant after I approached four patients.
It is difficult to not the rejections personally, but we have to understand our limitations. Not taking it personally does not mean that we should believe that we are approaching it in the best way, we should definitely always ask for more advice and try to improve ourselves when we don’t feel confident talking with the patients. However, we also need to understand that the patients have thousands of reasons for not wanting to participate in the study. It is possible that you have introduced the study the best way you can and explain how important independent data is, but the participant still says,”I am not interested.”
I spent a semester trying to not feel guilty about not being able to decrease the level of sadness of my caller while working at the crisis hotline, and I found that attitude really helpful when I was trying to enroll the participants in person this time. My mentor pointed out that I should pay close attention to their body language as well, and I realized that this is something I overlooked while I was talking to the patients. Since I was eager to introduce myself and the study to them, it could be possible that I was “invading” their personal spaces. That is something I need to be cautious about, and the improvement will help me in daily life as well.
Besides the first-hand experience, I am lucky to have a really friendly and supportive group. Led by Dr. Cindy Liu, the group has a lab meeting every Friday and we share a lot about the study updates and how to deal with all kinds of problems. Everything is back on track now and we are looking forward to more data and results.
I finally start working at Brigham and Women’s Hospital as a research assistant! I am particularly working under the instruction of Dr. Cindy Liu and my mentor Emily with Women’s Emotional Life and Livelihood Study (WELLS): Psychosocial Health and Well-Being in Chinese Immigrant Women. I was really attracted to this research because there were such few studies targeting the mental status of pregnant women, especially Chinese immigrant women. I was so excited to learn that there are a group of scientists trying to support this voluntary group and I can be a part of it. SoI am here and ready to go!
The purpose of WELLS is to characterize the psychosocial experiences of Chinese immigrant women from Boston’s Chinatown and South Cove in Quincy; to test the moderating effects of social support and resilience on the association between social status and acculturation, and depressed mood and stress. to examine the associations between social status, acculturation, and maternal specific outcomes, including maternal self-efficacy and fetal attachment among women during pregnancy. We already collected data from 60 participants by interviewing them through phone and by asking them to fill out the questionnaires.
For the first week, we were basically focusing on the on-boarding process of the hospital. Emily walked me through the protocol of WELLS and showed me the place to lock all the information that needs to be kept confidential. Through CITI (Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative) training, I got a thorough understanding of the history and the importance of the IRB (Institutional Review Board) approving process, which made me respect more about how precise psychology research can be. I attended the first lab meeting, and learned more about my coworkers and more projects we were working on in the lab. It was really fun to learn about all the interesting findings in the process.
For the second week, I started working on transcribing and translating the interviews of the participants. The work was more difficult than I thought because it required 100% accuracy from the audio, so I needed to go back to the audio again and again. It was really interesting to listen to the experiences shared by the moms who are expecting because you find yourself starting to be compassionate with them when you are doing the work. This experience made me more excited to go to the site and start the real enrollment. Before the enrollment, Emily and another RA Ge helped me go through the script of screening the participants at the site and shared their own experiences about how to address sensitive questions.
The next step for me is to be more familiar with the scripts and going to the site to enroll the participants. The first two weeks went really well and I think I like working as a research staff in a hospital setting.