When Research Plans Change

August 06, 2019
Suzanna Larkin and Emma Mehlhop carry out a questionnaire with a nursing officer in the Migori county of Kenya.
Suzanna Larkin and Emma Mehlhop carry out a questionnaire with a nursing officer in the Migori county of Kenya.

By Suzanna Larkin, a junior global health and international comparative studies major

This summer, I embarked on a trip to the lakeside city of Kisumu, Kenya to work with Dr. Megan Huchko and the Center for Global Reproductive Health on the development of a survey tool to measure cervical cancer and HPV stigma among HIV-positive women and health care providers. The first step in the research study would involve in-depth interviews (IDIs) to develop a framework for our survey tool. In preparation during the spring semester, fellow researcher Emma Mehlhop (T’21) and I produced four IDI guides which would lead the interviewers through our exploratory questions, and we even attended a training on qualitative interviews. I was eager to see our preparatory work come to fruition during the summer, as I was certain the study would continue moving forward at our intended pace.

When our study on cervical cancer stigma had hiccups with the IRB approval and left us unable to move forward with the IDIs, Emma and I joined another study — one which is coordinated by resident OB/GYN physician Dr. Jill Hagey. The study explores maternal and child health services, trainings, and availability of supplies for interventions of four key emergencies: pre-eclampsia/eclampsia, postpartum hemorrhage, post-abortion care, and neonatal resuscitation. We spent the summer travelling to health facilities in Kisumu, Homa Bay, and Migori counties to administer the questionnaires among health care providers.

Although it wasn’t in my initial plan for the summer, I’ve realized it was just as worthwhile an experience as I had hoped.

Here are three tips I have when plans change:

  1. Enter your fieldwork with the expectation to adapt. No matter how much you plan (and trust me – I’m a huge planner), there are going to be moments that test your perseverance. Accept the challenges as a positive part of the experience that only help you further grow.
  2. Recognize your frustration. It is natural to feel some exasperation when your hard work is compromised. Identify why you feel frustrated, and then remember that changes are often necessary when working in the global health field.
  3. Approach new plans with a positive attitude. This may involve redefining your motivations to better suit the new plan. Sure, you’ve faced uncertainties you perhaps preferred not to, but try to remain optimistic! Look for the good in your new situation.

These three tips greatly helped me in my own fieldwork experience, and I hope it can be of use to any future research students.

This post first appeared on the Duke Center for Global Reproductive Health blog and was republished with permission.