Managing expectations and communicating concerns

One of the main challenges I’ve experienced during my practicum this summer has been the fact that none of the employees in my office have public health backgrounds. The people with whom I work closest are anthropologists and/or economists. While we all have the same goal in mind – empowering girls to make decisions about their lives, set and achieve goals, and ultimately realize their full potential – we approach the problem from different perspectives. We use different terminology (often to unknowingly refer to the same things) and methods. I think we also came into the summer with slightly different expectations about my duties and interests, so it’s definitely been a learning experience in communication thus far.

I spent most of the first few weeks at my placement site getting deep into a few datasets that needed some serious cleaning, organizing, and merging work. During that time, I learned a lot about performing data quality checks and using Stata, which are valuable skills, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t get stuck doing these data-heavy tasks all summer with minimal deliverables to show for it. One of my supervisors in the office is a remarkable data analyst, from whom I’ve learned a lot already; however, her interests, and therefore her responsibilities, revolve more around data quality and monitoring than mine and as such I was assigned a lot of tasks in that realm as well, which began to feel a bit monotonous and not helpful to me or my career goals. After some debate and advice-seeking on how to handle the situation, I decided to express some of my concerns to my supervisors. Through this conversation, we were able to come up with a different project direction for me to go in during my time here and things have been much better. I’m working on a research project and paper with a specific public health topic in focus (although it’s still a bit tough getting guidance on the public health aspects of the project – thankfully I have a great research boss and advisor back at UCLA who have been able to advise me via e-mail when I have pressing questions). I will have a report to show for my hard work over the past few months that will be a great learning experience and beneficial to my future career goals. It’s not the topic area that I really expected to be reading and writing about prior to coming down to Guatemala, but so far I have really enjoyed this shift in my responsibilities and I’m thankful for supervisors who are willing to listen to my concerns and help develop an experience that meets all of our diverse needs at the same time!

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