Blog Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging

The curse of knowledge: Bridging the knowledge gap

Written by Ximena Gutierrez, BA candidate at Lindenwood University, and participant in the 2023 Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program

WashU graduate student, Jennifer Shearon navigating through Kemper Art Museum while wearing Tobii Pro eye tracking glasses to view art through the “lense” of an aging adult. 

This summer I had the privilege of working in the Head Research Lab, where I was assigned to work on the project, “Spatial Navigation Experiences and Abilities”. This study focuses on assessing age differences in spatial navigation abilities in a real-world environment with the assistance of eye-tracking glasses. During this process I worked directly with participants in instructing them through the experimental sessions. I also learned database management protocols, and worked with lab members in the construction of a research poster.

The Summer Research Program – Aging and Neurological Diseases Track offers weekly seminars hosted by various professionals to educate our cohort in diverse topics related to neurodegenerative diseases and research. Two of these seminars stood out as particularly impactful to me. Health Communications Training Specialist, Mychal Voorhes explained the concept of using plain language to discuss research findings. Ana A. Bauman, PhD, and Dani Adams, PhD, explained dissemination & implementation of research findings. Both topics were new to me and caught my attention particularly because they focus on making knowledge and research more accessible to a broader audience. Voorhes highlighted the importance of making information available to the public using lay terms rather than leaving the public with the responsibility of deciphering presented material. Professor Bauman and her colleague shared the idea of implementing research findings with the consideration of a communities’ unique needs rather than assuming that implementing key research findings is equally feasible in all settings. Because there are substantial disparities between academia and public knowledge that play a pivotal role in my life, these presentations were most impactful.

Despite my sense of pride in being the first person in both my immediate and extended family to attend college, I feel a duty of teaching those closest to me what academia is, and that when I say I will be called “Dr. Gutierrez”, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll be carrying a stethoscope. Explaining academia has often felt like an impossible task, especially since I too, have wondered what it means to work in a lab or what it takes to become a researcher. Due to my family’s lack of understanding, I have felt the solitude of not being able to share my academic journey with them, or ask for guidance. I have felt shame in not knowing something that may seem to be ‘common knowledge’ to others. This program has gifted me the opportunity to experience what academia is and has closed the gap between the two worlds.

Graduate students, Jennifer Shearon and Hanna Maybrier have been two huge factors in teaching me the ropes and sharing their experiences. Jennifer encouraged me to grow, enabling me to ask questions and offering a safe space for me to learn, while Hannah expressed similar challenges she faced and how she overcame them. They have shown me the importance of teaching others while still being students themselves and I’ve been encouraged to do the same. There is a privilege in experiencing the curse of knowledge, it represents expert understanding on a topic and the privilege to have learned it. However, it also comes with a responsibility of educating others and bridging the gap between academia and public knowledge.