A summer of new explorations

Written by Zainab Ali, participant in the 2019 Institute for Public Health Summer Research ProgramAging & Neurological Diseases Track

Confidence—the number one thing I gained this summer. Being a part of the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program, Aging and Neurological Diseases Track through the Harvey A. Freidman Center for Aging has truly been a meaningful experience for me.

Upon entering the program, I knew a moderate amount of information regarding aging and had absolutely no prior research experience. My original intentions were to gain insight into the realm of research. As a I reflect on the program upon completion however, I realized that I accomplished and gained so much more than just my original goal. The Summer Research Program gave me a chance to grow academically and personally while also broadening my understanding about the world of research.

2019 Summer Research Program Public Health & Neurological Disease Cohort

One of the components of the program were lecture series and seminars from a variety of on- and off-campus speakers. These speakers not only discussed the basics of aging and neurological conditions such as dementia, stroke, and Parkinson’s disease, but also expanded to more versatile topics. For example, More Than Pretty: Clothing for Health and Wellbeing, by Dr. Mary Ruppert-Stroescu, was a discussion regarding the evolution of fashion and its contributions to helping individuals live a high quality of life through the collaborations of designers, engineers, and medical professionals.

Another interesting lecture discussion was Driving and Transportation, by Dr. Annie Harmon, in which we discussed the changes and effects of driving cessation among older adults, as well as the advancements in developing autonomous vehicles. As unique as these lecture series were, we also had many sessions in preparation for the topics we would be studying in our research labs such as the basics of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, Parkinson’s disease and stroke.

For the summer, I was matched with Dr. Gammon Earhart’s physical therapy lab and worked under Dr. Kerri Rawson. Prior, I was very nervous because I had no idea what to expect. I feared that I would have a hard time fitting in or that I might cause a significant work delay because of my introductory work pace.

It turned out to be nothing like what I feared. Instead, I was able to gain a plethora of knowledge and insight into the overall research process. Whether that was helping write portions of a grant proposal, developing a research question to study, organizing and cleaning data, helping my mentors run post-tests, or participating in a dance class intervention, I was able to see different stages of research that come together as one final paper or (in my case) poster. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without such a trusting and supportive lab group and mentors.

As I reflect on all the things I learned and did this summer, I feel much more confident in my abilities and was able to take away experiences that I hope to add to my future career goals. Having an interest in Occupational Therapy from the start, I feel more passionate about this career field and want to now add a research component to graduate school by pursuing a Clinical Doctorate in Occupational Therapy.

I am so grateful to have been given this opportunity to gain awareness about aging, as well as the chance to meet and work with such wonderful peers, faculty and mentors.