This summer passed by quicker than I can grasp; it’s been such a thrilling summer full of learning opportunities with smart and kindhearted people, and I’ve been truly grateful every step of the way.
This is the first summer I spent away from home. Although I’ve had countless moments where I just wanted to snuggle with my mom in bed or devour a scallion pancake from the store around the corner of my apartment, I’ve cherished every moment here. I’ve learned a lot from this lab, especially from the research coordinator – Ismel. When I first joined, I imagined myself interacting with the participants more. In the course of the past few months, even though I have worked with people and have gotten to understand the daily schedule of a clinical lab, I didn’t expect for a significant amount of my time to be spent in front of a computer. To be honest, at first it was difficult to adjust to. However, I later realized how valuable this experience was because it enabled me to learn some hard skills that I was never exposed to in school – particularly programming.
Not only did Ismel expose me to different organizational applications like Airtable, Trello, and Zenkit, etc., but the other intern, Jeanne, also helped me a lot with analytical programs, especially with R. Before this internship, I was reluctant to learn about programming because I’ve never been exposed to it. Even though I initially dreaded it, after working with some programs and achieving what I envisioned, I now see it as an exciting challenge. I struggled at first, asking countless questions and searching through Google blindly, but in the end I’ve grown and have been able to pick up hard skills throughout the months I’ve been here. I’ve inputted almost all the formulas to grade each of our questionnaires in an instant, which created a much more efficient system where we can determine their sleeping and eating habits before they go home with an actiwatch. I’ve also created an inventory program linking an inter-board to a log with Zapier so that we not only are constantly aware of where each of our 50 watches are, but also that we have all activity recorded. Not only did I complete these side projects, but throughout the study I was constantly entering data from participants’ tri-weekly food logs into the NDSR (Nutrition Data System for Research) program. Later on, to be able to present for Barnard’s SRI, I ran through some very preliminary data analysis through R and Excel, which did partially support our hypothesis that sleep restriction does cause energy intake to increase (none of which is significant since we only had 7 completed participants at the time). However, when going through my data analysis with my primary investigator, she pointed out that the average energy intake seems to be lower than expected (1785 calories) because some entries were lower than what they were supposed to be. Currently, as I am writing this final progress report, I’m also checking and adjusting the accuracy of the nutritional information for specific food items in NDSR.
Along with these projects, I also ran around the medical campus to hang up flyers, processed blood, and monitored participants’ actiwatches to make sure their sleep is within the desired range for the study. I’ve truly enjoyed conducting research out of the traditional lab setting, but out of all that I’ve been exposed to, one of the most valuable lessons is how important organization and dedication to details are. This takeaway is not only a large-scaled and long-term study like this one, but also for any other future career path I choose to go down. Thank you Ismel, for constantly reminding me of that.
In my last report I talked about how nervous I was with having to present in the SRI presentation because I felt so unprepared and alone. However, it turned out to be a highlight of the summer. Making the poster turned out to be enjoyable, and I truly appreciated the support from the Barnard Community, whether from the Empirical Reasoning Center or the library. During the presentation, I loved when people were approaching me, actively listening, and shooting questions after questions, which indicated that they comprehended what our research entailed and were curious with what we are doing. I also loved hearing about my friends’ and peers’ research projects -- what they have been working on in the summer and why they’re passionate about it. That morning was exciting, intellectually stimulating, nerve-wrecking, exhausting…all these emotions all at one, and I loved every minute of it.
Besides this specific project, I’ve also learned a lot about current related research studies through our journal club and from reading articles on my own. For example, last month the AHA Presidential Advisory released a comprehensive article on the role of dietary fats on the risk of cardiovascular disease. Overall, the recommendation was to lower the intake of saturated fats (eg. butter) and replace it with unsaturated fats, especially polyunsaturated fats (eg. olive oil, safflower oil, etc). This garnered a lot of media attention, to the point where my primary investigator was interviewed by journalists on which spectrum coconut oil fell in – the healthy or unhealthy side. Although recent marketing and supposed health experts swear behind the wonders of this fat, it still is and will always be a saturated fat. Saturated fats are highly correlated with the buildup of LDL cholesterol, which leads to atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. There is still not enough research behind coconut oil specifically. However, based on what we are already very sure about the role of saturated fat and its correlation with CVD, none of the people in my lab, including my primary investigator, understand the justifications behind the “health benefits” of coconut oil. To me, it just seems like another marketing strategy. There was also another interesting article on how meal timing and frequency can become a strategy for cardiovascular disease prevention. All in all, people who snack more, as well as people who tend to skip breakfast, tend to have a higher daily energy intake.
Furthermore, I’ve also watched a couple of documentaries about the food industry in general. The one that truly resonated was one that my coworker recommended – “What the Health.” It uncovers the effects of meat and dairy products (including eggs!) on human and environmental health and the reasons why health organizations are hiding their risks. Overall, this film’s overall goal is to push people to pursue a plant-based diet, and has become a reminder to why I want to pursue nutrition as a career. The foundation to health lies in what we eat, and I want people to realize that and put more emphasis in becoming aware of what we are putting into our bodies on a daily basis. I truly believe in what Hippocrates says, “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
Because I wanted to connect to the broader community through nutrition, aside from my research experience, I’ve also started volunteering in a nonprofit organization called the Bubble Foundation. Bubble is a program that partners with schools and provides a health and wellness curriculum through nutrition, environmental science, and physical education classes. For the past few months I’ve volunteered to help when Bubble traveled to different public schools on these schools’ field day and passed out their homemade granola, encouraging kids to try new food they haven’t been as exposed to, along with flavored water (made with real fruit). Yet, since it’s summer vacation, I haven’t been able to work with Bubble as much. Despite this, I am planning to apply and eager to become a health and wellness educator in the academic year. Hopefully, in the future, I will be able to teach the nutrition curriculum in classrooms. Furthermore, what I’m most looking forward to is serving at family meals that Bubble holds in public schools, which is an event to emphasize the importance of eating together. Everyone I’ve met through this program are incredible people who share the same passions as I do, and I want to able to connect with the greater New York Community through Bubble. Considering what kind of food schools are serving in our food deserts and how childhood obesity is becoming such an increasing concern, even an epidemic, this foundation makes such a significant impact. I share their passion and believe in their mission, which is why I want to be a part of this community and to help achieve their goal.
In conclusion, this summer has helped me become even more confident with the career path I want to go down – Nutrition. However, I am still conflicted with which specific field. Whether it’s becoming a registered dietician, a doctor that specializes in Clinical Nutrition, a phD that conducts research, or an educator, I honestly have no idea what I want to do specifically. But I do know that I want to help people with making the right choices on what they eat, whether it’s for the better of their own or community’s health. Nonetheless, I do feel that I’m a step closer to where I want to be, which is what matters.
Thank you, Noyce, for giving me the opportunity to be able to spend such an incredible summer here in the city and helping me take one step closer to achieving my goals. I will always be grateful. Thank you