Translational research brought a mundane-seeming assignment alive
We live in a very busy, get-up-and-go kind of culture. We always stress the importance of meaning making and purpose in whatever we’re doing, but sometimes it’s hard to do those things when they seem like complementary tasks to a larger obligation. This is something I struggle with even as a PRYDE Scholar studying youth purpose. I was having an especially difficult time seeing the bigger picture when we began digging into our research papers. One of the major pulls for me when I applied to this program was the opportunity to turn out tangible impact—I was ready to jump right in and immediately see a purpose in our assignments—and a class essay wasn’t necessarily what I had in mind.
We had a workshop session at one of our campus libraries to help us find and assess different possible sources for our paper. We were asked to think of a few topics we might want to look into. Despite the above sentiments, I do love research literature and really digging into a specific topic, but when it’s being assigned and required of me, it can be difficult for me to keep that passion alight. Trying my best at this, though, I picked a topic that I thought I’d have fun with. I settled on career readiness and pre-professionalism in youth programs and institutions, specifically examining when this preparation goes from being a leg up to being a hindrance and a source of stress.
The following week, we had a meet-and-greet with the 4-H Work Team, educators in county offices who work directly with youth. While I was able to excite myself some more about the assignment, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to communicate that excitement to the practitioners, or that my interests wouldn’t be shared. I was pleasantly surprised not only by how natural and engaging our conversations were, but also by the fact that one of the work team members I spoke with oversees a focus group for teens and tweens that centers around daily life and pre-professionalism. The stars had really aligned, and when I talked to her some more about what I wanted to explore in my research paper, she said she would be very interested to take a look at my report once it was done.
The next day, I spoke with my faculty mentor about this assignment as well as the meeting with the work team. She shared my enthusiasm, and was also eager to see the final project. Our lab is also trying to conduct more qualitative research, so the possibility of my paper and my great conversation with the work team leader contributing to that really changed my outlook on the situation. The assignment quickly went from being a mundane task that would only be of relevance to me, to an opportunity to share something meaningful and worthwhile with my community. Amidst my academics and lab work, I was finally able to remind myself what the point of my sometimes-drudging commitments were: to connect with people, get to know them, and to operationalize and quantify our experiences and knowledge through research in hopes of helping youth and our wider communities.
At times, we stunt ourselves not only because the breadth of our responsibilities clouds our ability to see their intrinsic worth, but also because we don’t think our conception of that worth will resonate with others. PRYDE is showing me that that’s the whole beauty of community engagement—it has a trickle-down effect, beginning with practitioners’ needs, which inform our research and force us to think contextually, helping us to come up with measures and interventions that truly and effectively supplement development. When practitioners and researchers are coming from a similar place, our interactions with youth are duly meaningful and it’s easier for us to meet these youth where they’re at. Thus far, my experiences have been encouraging and I hope my excitement about the virtues of PRYDE reaches these young people in a similarly stimulating way.