*** Person #3 guest blogger… set to inspire and motivate. This week is Rachel, a former roommate and co-worker of mine! She was around when Whitney used her train whistle oxygen machine when she had the weight-induced sleep apnea. Not a pretty picture. Anywho… THANKS to Rachel for sharing the story of getting her master’s degree and her research. It takes a lot of persistence to get you one of those!
If you’re like me, the answer to the question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” has changed over the years. I don’t think you would have heard the words “sociologist” or “researcher” or “medical transcriptionist” escape my lips in response to that question. It was always “doctor.” I was never athletic or considered myself to be pretty, but I did consider myself to be smart and compassionate. I am fascinated with health and the body, good with words, and love learning new things. I enjoy helping people. These were my reasons for choosing this career path. Everything I did in high school was done with the goal of becoming a doctor in mind. I took a medical terminology class and then CNA and phlebotomy courses. I got a job working for an oral surgeon and eventually started working in the medical transcription field. When I began college, I began my pre-med course work with my focus on going to medical school. During my undergrad, I took a medical sociology course that changed my life. The thought of going to medical school became less appealing for several reasons including disillusionment with our current healthcare system (don’t get me started!), the massive amount of debt I would incur to attend, the years and years of work both in school and in residency, and the fact that physics still doesn’t really make sense to me caused me to modify my goal of being a physician. I realized after careful thought that I could be as fulfilled getting a master’s degree in medical sociology. I would still be involved with health, learning, and helping people, but on an even bigger scale than a physician. The research I could do as a sociologist could have a great impact on more people than a physician would ever treat in practice.
I was accepted into the master’s of sociology program at Utah State and began my course work in the fall of 2004. My course work included research methods, modern and classical social theory, social statistics, epidemiology, and a few other elective classes. I learned about things like social network theory and logistic regression models. All of this course work was meant to prepare me for the one thing that frightened me about graduate school: writing a thesis. When it came time to write my thesis, I had this huge block. I felt like I had been in swimming lessons for the past year and a half and then had been thrown into the deep end where I couldn’t touch and had to swim on my own. I seemed to have forgotten everything I had learned and was clinging to the side of the pool immobile. I had all of the tools and the knowledge to write a great thesis, but I started to doubt my ability to put it all together in a way that I could actually defend it.
When I finally got brave enough to let go of the side of the pool a little, my first step was to create a clear and concise research question. I had done some survey research with my major professor and he graciously allowed me to use some of that survey data for my thesis. Using the survey questions, I thought it would be interesting to study self-rated health (where the respondent simply answers on a scale of 1 to 10 how healthy they think they are) and how that health measure related to social networks (friends, family, etc.) and how attached people were to their communities. Once I was able to narrow down my research question, I was able to actually start moving. It was a step by step process and I had to take it a small piece at a time. I remembered how to do logistic regression modeling and what a statistical index was and how to make one. I became proficient at using the statistical software and figuring out what my numbers were telling me. I found studies others had done on my topics and learned from them. I started to remember big words like “colloquial” and what statistical significance was. Compared to the my colleagues, my thesis was relatively short, but it was mine and I was proud of what I had accomplished.
My lack of confidence in my abilities returned as I was preparing my defense presentation. I found myself focusing on the research of others instead of my own. I kept running out of time to present my own findings. When I told myself to buck up and describe my findings and own my thesis, my presentation finally flowed and felt complete. I remember so well how nervous I was. I was worried about getting the projector set up right, that my Power Point was in the right format, etc. When the defense was done, I was asked to leave the room while my committee deliberated on whether or not I had passed. I finally felt calm as I walked out of the room. I had done the best I could. When they invited me back into the room, they all congratulated me on my defense and let me know I had passed. The relief was overwhelming. When I walked in graduation the next week, it was surreal to me. I was so proud of what I had accomplished because there were heavy doubts along the way.
So what does this have to do with weight loss? Maybe a few things. Most people who have struggled with their weight have the tools necessary to solve their problems just like I had the necessary tools from my course work to actually write my thesis. Weight loss really is a simple prospect when you strip it down. It’s just about expending more calories through physical activity than you are consuming. Sometimes we become paralyzed at the prospect of getting started and forget about our tools.
Even when you have your tools and you know what you need to do, you still have to have a place to start. When I was finally able to narrow down my research question, the other things started falling into place. When we can identify our specific problem areas with clarity (lack of being active, overeating in general, eating too much sugar, etc.), we are better able to formulate a real solution. Just like my thesis, it was a step by step process and I had to use different tools at different times. There were several stumbles along the way in my thesis. I remember spending hours in the library computer lab fixing variables in my statistical program because I had entered something wrong. You can’t let the stumbles paralyze you and keep you from making progress.
Sometimes our progress is small and is completely not representative of the effort we have put in. The countless hours I spent working on my statistics don’t necessarily reflect in the length of my thesis. Your rate of weight loss, like my thesis, might be a little different than others, but when you stop comparing yourself to others and actually take pride in the progress you have made and own it, nothing can stop you.
I have a long way to go on my own weight loss journey and have felt paralyzed at times by the same things that stalled my thesis. I can start and continue the process of becoming healthier in the same ways I was able to finish my thesis. In parting, I will share one little nugget I learned from my research. I don’t want to overstate the significance of it because I know there are flaws with my research, but those individuals who reported better health on our survey had a higher number of friends. Don’t ever underestimate the power of your social network. If you want to read more about my findings, here is a link to my pride and joy. http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1088&context=etd And yes, I do answer to the title of Master in case you were wondering.
Rachel on graduation day (though, the date on the picture is wrong… stupid camera date settings!) I think all those awards behind her were hers too… she just hadn’t had the chance to taker her ball bat to the glass and retrieve them! 😛 I KID!
Question of the Day: Have you ever considered getting a higher degree in education? Also, show Rach some love in the comments!
PS – If any of you who were interested in sharing your “stories” still want to share said stories, my inbox is open! I’d love to have you join in the guest blogging motivational series!