Ideas on Paper

“For a scientist, this is a good way to live and die, maybe an ideal way for any of us– excitedly finding we were wrong and excitedly waiting for tomorrow to come so we can start over.” (Maclean, 1992, p. 139)

When people ask me what I do, I tell them that I am a Ph.D. and MPH student studying Health Communication and Health Management and Policy. I often get confused looks and have to dive deeper into explaining my research, which only sometimes brings clarity the conversation. Generally speaking, I talk about my job as an instructor, which usually resonates a bit more. I even have a family member who refers to me as “The Professor,” and I have not corrected him because I like the way it sounds. As much as I love teaching, my research is what drives me to keep going through the labyrinth that is graduate school. As an undergraduate, theory and research existed on paper as a study guide for good marks on exams. Somewhere along the line, this all changed. In an unusual turn of events, I went from an over-achieving undergraduate student to a barely-achieving researcher. As a young scholar, intellectual curiosity is both a gift and a curse – I am filled with ideas yet frightened by failure. That said, I know from the sage advice from those who have gone before me that this feeling is natural and, unfortunately, never goes away.

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I will continually encounter challenges of finding determinants and results and the linkages between them, and, perhaps most importantly, I must find ways to express why these are important to my field and to science (Zetterburg, 1965). Ideas are often only as good as the paper on which they are printed, which leads me to describe where I get my ideas from, discuss the problems that obsess me, and make a case for the why these ideas are important.

Personal experience is a primary driver of my interest in health communication. My family suffers a host of health issues, and I have lost too many family members to cancer. In my first undergraduate health communication class, I realized that there were evidence-based strategies to counter many different health issues among myriad populations. I began to consider how I may conduct unique research based on my experience of living in a rural area that is disproportionately affected by health disparities. For example, my thesis centered on the memorable messages about nutrition recalled by Appalachian adolescents. Listening to these children describe their lived experiences helped me to understand the unique challenges they face when making nutritional decisions and that eating “healthy” means something entirely different to them than it does to you and me. This type of research helps to better understand how communication influences nutritional behaviors and decision-making, which may inform culturally appropriate interventions and campaigns.

My personal experience was one of the compelling reasons behind my decision to go to graduate school. Not just that I had incredible undergraduate professors and mentors with whom I shared the passion of educating others, but also that they had given me something I had longed for years before. My first college experience was not ideal as I was intellectually and emotionally unprepared. I struggled greatly and ended up dropping out. This, in part, was likely because I did not have instructors who took an interest in me – I was just another face in the crowd. Now that I am an instructor, I want my students to master content (and hopefully learn how theory is pragmatic), but also to know that there is at least one person in their corner who understands what it is like to fail and recognizes that failure is often only the beginning. Each semester, I encounter students from all walks of life, who often face challenges similar to my own, which drives my interest in the ways that the instructor-student relationship may help students to achieve academic and personal success. Currently, I am leading a research project aimed at discovering the ways students’ sensitive self-disclosures affect both the student and the instructor. Reading the accounts of others in our qualitative findings give me hope that my research may shape positive communication practices among students and instructors. Ideally, this type of research may improve instructor-student relationships and contribute to better university policies for dealing with sensitive student issues.

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Listening to and reading the accounts of others is also a source of my ideas as a communication scholar. My advisor, Dr. Elisia Cohen, once said, “every problem is a communication problem,” and I believe this to be true. Recently, I have become interested in the lived experiences of medical students, which I became acquainted with through my friends who are pursuing medical careers. I often listen as they detail the challenges they face, which most often are communication-based. Because of the stories of friends, I often search for the narratives of others, such as Poorman’s (2016) account of the “powerful culture of fear, stigma and lack of self-care that prevents [medical] residents from seeking help” managing their emotions (para. 8). These stories contribute to my unrelenting curiosity of how improved communication practices can make a difference in the lives of medical residents charged with caring for an ailing population.

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Another driver of my ideas is thinking about where things went wrong, especially in public health crises. Often, public health professionals focus on education and access issues, which are key pieces of the puzzle. However, a systematic understanding of how communication may shape education, access, and policy is my primary interest. Recently, I conducted an analysis of the Indiana State Department of Health’s response to an intravenous drug use-driven HIV outbreak in Austin, Indiana. In dissecting the press releases during the height of the outbreak, I discovered exemplars that may help to inform other public health efforts necessary for similar situations. Analyzing the communication among the enormous number of entities (including now VP Pence) involved in these efforts may help to improve communication during crises. Moreover, this project stimulated my thinking about the ways these practices may apply in my hometown, which experiences issues with drug use similar to that of Austin.

In sum, many issues “obsess” me. So much so, that I often struggle with choosing my research foci. I am excited to continue my research, and I recognize that I must fail in order to succeed. As a young scholar, I take solace in knowing that failure is only the beginning.

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Tagging

Tagging 2

This is my final blog post about my course in Knowledge Management. Additionally, this is likely the post that reflects the most vulnerability of my grasp of knowledge management concepts. Part of our course requirement was to develop a bibliographic reference account manager. As a researcher, I am familiar with other software to aid in reference management such as EndNote and Mendeley. However, I was not accustomed to the CiteULike interface, and I feel like I am still in uncharted territory.

The image above showcases my tagging of the 34 articles I read and synthesized for Knowledge Management over the course of the semester. I bring out many of the salient constructs and concepts that are apparent throughout many of our readings including tacit and explicit knowledge, the social aspects of knowledge management, and the relational maintenance required in creating and sharing knowledge. Clearly, there are terms I used more frequently to categorize my reading, but I feel it lacks structure and does not provide a clear picture of my understanding of the course content.

ThrougOscar-canhout many of our discussions this semester, we have talked about how people are reticent to change. In the context of managing my references, I have to say that I am guilty. In the past, I have tried to adopt several reference management technologies, but for whatever reason, I turn into Oscar the Grouch when navigating these systems. I think that this is just me being overwhelmed in the face of new knowledge AND a new way to manage this knowledge. I have an existing knowledge management system that is an amalgamation of Dropbox and OneNote technologies. Surprisingly enough, I can search and reference effectively, but I remain unconvinced this is the most efficient process.

In sum, I remain a CiteULike novice. In a course filled with future librarians, I am sure this is appalling. That said, in the future,  I would like to have a more closely guided instruction with reference management interfaces and creating efficient tagging systems. Maybe my summer to-do list?

Creating, Learning, & Unlearning

Recently, I have been working on research investigating the use of Knowledge Management Systems (KMS) among communities of practice (COP), particularly among academic research teams. This is especially practical for me, as I intend to spend my career working in interdisciplinary teams to create real solutions that address  health disparities in rural areas. The most important outcomes from these types of COP is creating pragmatic knowledge, innovation, and what we may learn from team successes and failures. I’m sure my readers may reflect on past projects as I discuss some challenges for working with and learning from research teams.

unlearningThere are many ways that COP may be defined. Amin and Roberts (2008) take issue with how researchers have conceptualized COP, saying that “the use of the term (COP) has become imprecise, having strayed far from the original definition of COPs as relatively stable communities of face-to-face interaction between members working in close proximity to one another, in which identity formation through participation and the negotiation of meaning are central to learning and knowledge generation”(p. 355). In my research, I use  Hara’s (2009) definition that defines COP as “collaborative, informal networks that support professional practitioners in their efforts to develop shared understandings and engage in work-relevant knowledge building” (p. 3). Similar to Hara (2009), Amin and Roberts (2008) focus on innovation and the creation of knowledge. Additionally, they detail the knowledge acquisition, nature of social interaction, innovation, and organizational dynamic of professional knowing in action. These dimensions are inextricably linked and vital to the way we work to acquire, create, and disseminate knowledge to interested publics. That said, what happens when a project is complete? Our tacit and explicit knowledge carries with us to the next task, project, team, and so forth. Perhaps what we learn from our experiences in COP is the most significant element of our work.

Mary recently discussed Brown and Duguid’s (1991) explication of working and learning through collaboration. These researchers say that learning cannot be separated from our work because “individual learning is inseparable from collective learning” (p. 46). Moreover, Amin and Roberts (2008) maintain that practice-based innovation and learning have considerable potential. Although these assertions make sense, I have experience working in groups where individuals have low expectations of what they may learn from the project. Often, there may be team members who rely on their own tacit or explicit knowledge, refusing to learn from others because of their prior personal or institutional experiences. For example, from a health communication perspective, health care providers may be reticent to engage with communication experts if they believe there is nothing to be learned from them.

yoda unlearnThe reticence for collaboration among individuals involved in COP may lend to Huber’s (1991) of unlearning, which Mary  recently discussed. If we are unable to shift from individual thinking based on prior collective knowledge and practices, how may we be active, productive members of academic research COP? Huber (1991) offers many avenues for organizational learning, some of which may support teams that run into issues with uncollaborative members. One way to facilitate learning among COP is through experimentation. In the context of academic research teams, this may take the form of program evaluation. If we are able to retrospectively see challenges and failures, may we learn from this? Is it possible to see the value of others to the extent that we desire to unlearn? If there are clear gaps in the experience-based learning curves, how do we respond as individuals? How do we respond collectively?

References

Amin, A., & Roberts, J. (2008). Knowing in action: Beyond communities of practice. Research Policy, 37(2), 353–369. doi:10.1016/j.respol.2007.11.003

Brown, J. S., & Duguid, P. (1991). Organizational learning and communities-of-practice: Toward a unified view of working, learning, and innovation. Organization Science, 2(1), 40-57. doi:10.1287/orsc.2.1.40

Hara, N. (2009). Communities of practice: Fostering peer-to-peer learning and informal
knowledge sharing in the work place. Information Science and Knowledge Management
(Vol. 13). Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

Huber, G. P. (1991). Organizational learning: The contributing processes and the literatures. Organization Science, 2(1), 88-115.