Reflection on a summer at W&M

Its been a nearly a month since I was last at William & Mary. Since then I have been able to get out of the lab, work and play outside, not touch my computer, and reflect on my 5 weeks of research.

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Plans for research going forward

Well, the summer is nearly over. Classes start in one week, and that means that I will once again be enrolling in GOVT 394 and continuing my research throughout the school year. Over the summer I made some incredible progress in moving my project along. I plan to take this momentum with me as I move into the school year.

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What Have We Learned?

I have had an amazing time this summer working in my research lab and gaining experience both in the technical aspects of conducting research and data analysis as well as the way a research lab is run and how projects are pursued. At the end of the research period the time came to ask the age old question, what did we learn? What sort of conclusions can be drawn from the data we gathered? As a refresher, my research was focused on making a comparison of two solvent cleaning techniques on samples of 10 year old oil paint films. One method uses straight solvent applied to the paint via a cotton swab while the other method uses a gelled form of the solvent applied to the paint via a cotton tissue. The hypothesis was that the gel-solvent method would be less invasive and more efficient than the straight solvent method.  Based on the the trends we saw once the data had been analyzed, I am pleased that the results seem to be congruent with what we expected to see, though more thorough research with more solvents and perhaps more accurate samples is needed to state definitively whether the gelled-solvent method is less invasive but as effective as the straight solvent method.

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Wrapping Up

Ultimately, I developed a concept note for a nutrition tracking tool that is grounded in extensive interviews and feedback from implementing partners, policymakers (both in the US and Uganda), and researchers. This tool is going to be an interactive application where a broad range of stakeholders in the SUN movement can plan, coordinate, and monitor their nutrition activities across Uganda. This project is built around some core tenets: first, that behavior change is more complicated than just developing a tool or technology. The people who will actually be using the tool need to be engaged in the design and implementation of the tool, otherwise there’s no guarantee that (1) the tool addresses an existing and pressing need and (2) that the tool will have a sustainable impact.

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Now that I had established my mission, niche, and theoretical underpinnings, I began thinking through more practically how I would bring together this broad range of stakeholders and designing a tool inclusively. I decided to travel to Uganda and conduct interviews with USAID implementing partners, the USAID mission, and Ugandan government officials. While I would easily have access to policymakers and researchers in the US, engaging practitioners and policymakers in a recipient country was crucial for closing feedback loops and ensuring the fulfillment of my mission. So I traveled to Uganda and met with about 15 different nutrition implementing partners, the SUN civil society action coalition, the SUN secretariat in the Office of the Prime Minister, and the USAID mission. I approached the interviews not by promoting the usefulness of a mapping tool, but by asking more basic questions like: [Read more…]