Blog Health Equity

Understanding the significance of my research in the real world

Written by Tiffany Xie, undergraduate student at Indiana University Bloomington and participant in the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program

At the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program, I am lucky to work under the mentorship of Dr. Kathleen Bucholz, Professor of Psychiatry at the Washington University School of Medicine. Dr. Bucholz is a mentor in the true sense of the word. She encourages me to develop my own research questions and provides guidance with her wealth of experience. Because of my interests in health equity and minority health, I wanted to study the socioeconomic determinants of health. With Dr. Bucholz’s guidance, I developed a project to investigate the associations between discrimination and risk behavior in African-American adolescents and young adults.

Instead of working at a lab bench, I spend my days at the computer, running analyses and coding statistical models. When I spend hours looking at a screen, it is easy to forget that each number represents a real person. Researchers become specialized in their field because it is a prerequisite of their job; however, researchers must leave the lab to understand the significance of their research in the wider world.

Moreover, in public health, it is especially important to be present in communities to guide research and interventions. My most memorable experiences in the program have been through volunteering. After spending an afternoon with the research fellows at the Little Bit Foundation, I searched for more volunteer opportunities. I went canvassing with the St. Louis Area Violence Prevention Commission and volunteered at City Greens Market, a nonprofit grocery store that provides fresh produce to low-income neighborhoods. Through these experiences, I felt that I was able to get a truer picture of the complexities of St. Louis.

Before this program, I did not know much about the transdisciplinary nature of public health. The seminars of the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program have shown me the diversity of work under the umbrella of “public health,” from antimicrobial stewardship in a children’s hospital to using peanut butter to combat malnutrition in Malawi.

For me, the most formative lesson from this program has not just been research training. Rather, it has been understanding the significance of my research in the real world.