Blog Global Health Center

Finding strength in differences

Written by Clarissa Gaona Romero, BA candidate in Anthropology: Global Health and Environment at Washington University in St. Louis and a Summer Pediatric Research in Global Health Translation (SPRIGHT) scholar in the 2022 Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program

Clarissa Gaona Romero

Under the mentorship of Jean Hunleth, PhD, MPH in the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program – Public & Global Health Track, I’ve had the opportunity to dive into the world of qualitative research with children. Through my involvement in various lab projects, such as the Photographing Health by Rural Adolescents in the MidwEst (PHRAME) project and the Implementing an Occupational Therapy Intervention to Support Young Caregivers project—where my primary role lies—I’ve learned valuable lessons about the research process and about the power of showing up as one’s authentic self to fight imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is the “false and sometimes crippling belief that one’s successes are the product of luck or fraud rather than skill.” It’s something that many undergraduate and graduate students face when breaking into academic and professional spaces. While it is often understood in the context of feelings of belongingness in spaces, it can also show up in the way we advocate for ourselves and our skillsets. 

Throughout my academic journey, I’ve often found myself separating my interests into boxes, those that are “professional and impressive enough” for an academic or professional setting, and those that are not. While at times this has been extremely helpful—and necessary—in order to complete the tasks at hand and to fit in, it comes with some limitations. Sometimes the very things that we conceal from professional settings are those that can result in fruitful experiences and authentic, creative work. Teams aren’t necessarily successful due to similarities that team members share, but rather, due to the differences and unique capabilities that each member brings.

During one of our team meetings for the PHRAME project this summer, we realized that some of the photos provided by participants needed to be de-identified in order to protect the identity of participants and their loved ones. As we brainstormed ways to include these photos while not risking Protected Health Information, drawing the photos was briefly mentioned. We didn’t linger on it for long since no one voiced an interest or talent for it. After discussing different options, I volunteered to try my hand at it. From a young age, I’ve had an affinity for drawing and enjoyed working with art supplies, even creating my own “art notebooks”. However, it’s not something I had ever brought into a professional space until now. To my surprise, the team was really impressed with my renderings of the participants’ photos, and they seemed to fit what we were looking for.

Artwork by the author

While I still don’t consider myself an amazing artist, and I surely have a lot to learn, this was a valuable opportunity where I witnessed the sort of fruitful experiences that can come from stepping into spaces with the courage to be our authentic selves. Working in Hunleth’s lab has been a wonderful opportunity to confront my imposter syndrome. The supportive environment fosters growth among all team members and seeing the rest of the team’s work further inspires me to lean into my creativity.