By Leah Schrumpf, 1st-year MS student
Research is not meant to be a solo activity. My experience in Ghana has opened my eyes to this fact over and over again.
As someone who works well alone and has dreaded group projects throughout my academic career, my time in Ghana has shown me new possibilities and aspects of teamwork. Many important relationships—student-student, student-faculty and student-faculty-collaborators—have developed and will serve as the foundation of our successful research.
For our project, we’re examining family planning use and the role community health workers play in usage of family planning within the rural communities of Ghana’s Amansie West district.
Looking back over these first two weeks in Ghana, the importance of relationships has become more apparent each and every day. I have been extremely lucky to share both the good and the bad with a fellow graduate student. Having someone to bounce ideas off of and go through the highs and lows of research has been incredible and will change the way I approach research projects in the future.
From the flight delays, hunger runs to KFC and defending our room from large lizards, I am thankful to have a partner in this adventure. I’ve learned a lot about myself and ways to improve my work and relationships in the future. For example, I’ve seen the importance of different work styles and have tried to adjust my work style to be more effective in different collaborations. Furthermore, seeing how our individual experiences in Ghana have been similar and different, even though we are undergoing everything together, has been a powerful and rewarding experience.
The relationship a student has with her faculty mentor is extremely important. Over the past year, we have worked closely with our mentor, Dr. Melissa Watt, to design and plan our study. She then spent the first week with us in Ghana to help launch the research program. Working with someone that is not only a great leader, but also a strong female role model, has been one of the best parts of this program. Seeing Dr. Watt work with us and the collaborators in Ghana has revealed the way in which true partnerships should work: with transparency, passion and mutual respect.
Upon our arrival, our collaborators at Millennium Promise extended a truly heartfelt welcome—Akwaaba!—to us. Our relationship with our Millennium Promise partners was already going well before reaching Ghana, but working with them in person has been even better.
The Millennium Promise Ghana team is fully invested in our research project, and their contributions to both the science and the logistics have far surpassed my expectations. I’ve learned so much from the team about true community collaboration and ethically sound research. Here in Ghana, for example, it’s not only important to build rapport and trust with your participants but with the community leadership as well. I’ve had the privilege of watching our team involve the community at every level from meeting with the Regional Director of Health Services to assembly men in each community.
I can’t wait to continue to work and learn from this inspirational group of people. From the laughter over our Twi pronunciations and our love of the goats running around, to the late work days and long hours under the hot sun, I am truly grateful to be a part of this team.