I traveled to Dhaka, Bangladesh, to work with a team in the Maternal and Childhood Malnutrition department of the International Center for Diarrheal Disease Research (ICDDR). As a research student of Dr. Laura Murray-Kolb (a professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences), I was introduced to the team. Dr. Murray-Kolb is part of an international team of researchers participating in an ongoing project studying Malnutrition and Enteric Disease (MAL-ED). In the data that has been collected over the past 5 years, an unexpected inverse relationship was discovered between protein intake and cognitive functioning in children from birth to five years of age, I was studying one potential explanation to that unexpected relationship by collecting data about food hygiene/safety practices. I had the opportunity to interview 50 mothers with the help of a field worker who translated using a questionnaire developed from the WHO Basic Principles for the Safe Preparation of Food.
I didn’t go in with the intention of being the “helper” because I think that can be problematic in the developing country research setting. With a “helper” attitude, you can miss out on a lot of opportunities for learning and growing. I think, however, the most obvious impact I made was the beginning of what will be discovering the reason behind an unexpected finding. As the study is coming to an end in most of the research sites, researchers are moving on to new projects. Because this relationship was unexpected, researchers were not expecting to continue analyzing data. I’m hoping that I will be able to help discover the reasoning while also allowing the research team members to move on to other important projects. Though it was in no way my intention, I hope that maybe some women were able to come up with new ideas to keep their food and families safe through answering the questions in my survey.
I’ve been fortunate enough to study both nutritional sciences and international development. This experience provided a practical synthesis of the two disciplines. Spending time in nutrition classes, I was able to understand why the inverse relationship between protein intake and cognitive functioning was unexpected and was able to brainstorm potential explanations. It was through this brainstorming that Dr. Murray-Kolb and I decided to study food hygiene practices. Through my classes in my major, I was positioned to listen closely to my international colleagues and the women whom I was interviewing. I felt as if I was equipped to interact appropriately with the researchers at ICDDR and begin a successful research project.
I learned a lot of practical things related to international research, the importance of patience, and how best to communicate with a team of individuals taking part in many ongoing projects. I learned how important partnership and getting help from local experts is in research and I learned techniques for developing questionnaires/surveys and conducting interviews. I learned how innovative communities can be when they may lack traditional resources. My post-graduation plans likely include graduate school and my career goals involve pursuing a career in research making the techniques I learned directly relevant. I found that I was enjoying every second of my time at ICDDR. I loved sitting in on the research meetings and I loved watching how researchers collaborate and I think that this made me confident that working in a research setting is something I’m very excited about.