Translational research is messy…and worth it
Recently I had the opportunity to visit Broome County New York to help administer a cognitive writing intervention for girls going through puberty. This intervention combined pre-existing literature with the Adolescent Transition Lab's hypothesis that writing tasks geared towards problem-solving-focused thought processes, instead of thoughts without solutions, could decrease distress during girls’ pubertal transitions.
This work is supported by the literature and aligns with my love for youth and passion for better understanding developmental psychopathology. Naturally, it’s of interest to me.. So, when I was granted the opportunity to actually visit and help administer the intervention, I was elated.
When I walked into the school, I expected to be able to see exactly what I have read in the literature. We would get great responses from girls. They would be receptive, interested, and contribute data to support the literature.
To my surprise, it was not nearly that easy nor clear cut. There were high attrition rates and many girls did not want to do the intervention to the capacity that I expected. I thought, “why would they not want to give their all to this meaningful research?” and “Is it that kids do not want to write after a long day of school? Or maybe writing about puberty is too uncomfortable of a topic?”
That’s when I realized that true translational research is not as textbook as it may seem. It is far more nuanced and untidy. It does not come neatly packed and tied in a bow like it appears to when I read peer-reviewed journal articles from my favorite psychological theories and interventions. Since translational research requires working with a community and people and their experiences, there are some natural twists and turns that come with this line of research that aren’t present in other research disciplines. Translational researchers must consider and face not only research question formulation and methodological challenges, but also participant interaction challenges, such as differing community and cultural needs, that aren’t issues in controlled lab settings,.
For this reason, we learned to work with our group of young girls by finding different ways to engage their interest and encourage them to work at the task for a little longer. With time, and since this is a daily intervention, some girls became more involved and interested.
Although these challenges may not sound like an upside of translational research, I think they are is. The translational research (TR) process creates particularly meaningful work, and yes, it can sometimes be tough! In TR we have variables that cannot all be controlled for as easily as in a wet or basic research lab. Yet the return on investment with translational research is unparalleled. I knew when I left the after-school program that the work we did, and even the challenges we faced, could and would be leveraged into meaningful research that would improve the lives of youth one day.
For this reason, thinking through some extra steps and learning how to work better with people is worth it to me. Translational research provides an experience you can't get in other lines of research. Here, at PRYDE, I and my peers are able to not only work on the empirical, textbook-based research side, but also the applicable, real-life experience of those we are researching. When I am granted to the opportunity to visit the schools and meet the students I analyze and write reports about, I feel like my research is meaningful and real. Because of PRYDE, I have been learning how to master both. For this reason, I am proud to be a PRYDE Scholar!