When I first graduated high school in the Netherlands, my greatest wish was to go to med school. Med school, like most university and college studies in most of Europe, is largely paid for by government subsidies (which is awesome: no huge student loan debts and a great education!), but one of the disadvantages is that there is a lottery for med school admission and a limited number of spots (the so-called numerus fixus). At the time I was applying, you could only try twice – I did, and did not make it in either time, even though my grades were excellent and my motivation was sky-high. I got a master’s in health sciences instead, and went back to school for a master’s in strategic public relations a few years ago here in the US. I finished the first year of the MATX PhD program this summer, and am switching programs (and sort of starting over) the doctoral program in social and behavioral health today. The interesting thing: my new program is officially part of VCU Medical Center, mainly known for its medical school. No, my program is not med school but still…. talk about full circle!
Lori Eason was a PhD student in health and crisis communications who passed away before she could get her PhD. The top student paper prize at AEJMC’s ComSHER (communicating science, health, environment, and risk) division is named after her.
I had the honor of receiving this award for my research paper “On Pins and Needles: The Portrayal of Vaccines on Pinterest” during the AEJMC conference a few weeks ago. Lori, I hope I will make your memory proud.
Back at AEJMC!
A year after my first academic conference. A year after the start of my PhD program. Back at the same conference (AEJMC), this time presenting three papers (one of them based on my own research and written entirely by me – and winning the top student paper in that division! WOOT!). And I am getting ready for another first day of school – because I am switching PhD programs :). Some of my classes will transfer, and I will stay actively involved in the health communications research field, but still: it’s a new program. So: presenting twice today, attending an awards luncheon, and attending a board meeting. Here we go.
I don’t know you, and yet you’re in my thoughts….
Like so many, I am mourning the senseless death of the 298 passengers and crew of flight MH17. 192 of the victims were Dutch, and perhaps that’s why it hits me even harder – because I know people who knew them. I came across this moving blog post by Alexandra van Stempvoort today, and got her permission to translate it into English. This is the original post in Dutch. The translation is below.
I don’t know you, and yet you’re in my thoughts…
Yesterday you were still here. You were a girlfriend, grandpa, mom, classmate, neighbor, colleague, the guy at the checkout, the cute couple down the street. Yesterday your loved ones waved goodbye to you at the airport. You were a vacationer on your way to sun, sea, and sand, an exchange student on your way to your family, a professor on your way to a conference.
Today you are a victim. A victim of a war that had nothing to do with you. A victim of violence as senseless as trying to empty the ocean with a thimble.
I don’t know you, and yet you are continually in my thoughts. Thoughts of vacation feel selfish when I think of the sorrow of the people who said goodbye to you yesterday. The people who hoped you would come back safe. Who still hope they will wake up from this nightmare.
I keep thinking of you. How you got on the plane yesterday morning, filled with excitement and on your way to a tropical destination. The image of a Lonely Planet guide among the wreckage is just one sign of the plans you had: to see the world, to discover a beautiful country. I close my eyes, and accompany you in my thoughts. Past passport control, luggage check in, towards the gate, and looking for your seat on the plane. I don’t have the courage to go further. I can’t handle the idea of your thoughts when the plane that was supposed to transport safely suddenly fell from the sky. I hope you weren’t aware of it, but I fear the worst.
I don’t know you. For me, too, you are a nameless victim of senseless violence. Yet my heart feels heavy. It feels heavy because I know I can’t possibly imagine what it would be like if you were my lover, my mom, my grandpa, my girlfriend, or my colleague. I don’t know you, yet you are constantly in my thoughts. You, your loved ones, and all those who mourn you.
Rest in peace, dear stranger. My heart and thoughts are with those who now have to miss you, and those who can in some way provide comfort, because you could have been my neighbor.
(written by Alexandra van Stempvoort, translated by me)
A big step: starting over
Alright, some fairly big news for me. A few weeks ago, I received an offer from VCU’s Social and Behavioral Health PhD program, and after much deliberation, I am switching from the MATX doctoral program to the Social and Behavioral Health doctoral program as of next month – with the full support of my current amazing advisor (who I will keep working with) and gaining another amazing advisor. So grateful for a great school and great programs to pursue my doctorate; and for great mentors to work with and learn from. Twenty-three years after giving up my dreams of med school, I will now be pursuing a doctorate at VCU’s medical school . Life. It’s strange and good sometimes.
…. time flies, when you’re in a PhD program. Hard to believe I am in my second semester, now. Starting a social media research class tonight, taught by my dissertation advisor. Really looking forward to that class, and my goal for it is to produce a research paper to submit to this year’s AEJMC conference. Another goal for the semester: blog more often. With that, I’m heading to class!
For the past few years I had heard rumblings about a national novel writing effort called NaNoWriMo (writing 50,000 words, or a large part of a novel, in a month), but to my delight I discovered that an academic version now exists: AcWriMo! During the month of November, courtesy of the wonderful folks at PhD2Published, academics worldwide will be setting daily writing goals, and encouraging each other as everyone works to meet these goals. I’m jumping in :). My goal is to write 25,000-ish words this month. That’s a lot, for me. I have to write a book chapter and five papers (oh, and I will be out of country celebrating my mom’s birthday on a cruise with our entire family. yeah, *that* will be productive, writing-wise….). Bu regardless of whether I will make that goal or not, I will write. Every day. Because this whole writing thing has to become a discipline. So here we go, #AcWriMo!
I had every good intention to blog at least weekly. And then I encountered copious readings in fields unfamiliar to me. Papers and presentations and more papers. But I am still here. I am loving the program, I’m just a little…. busy. Today I am submitting a paper on the use of text in community murals. Next week I have a midterm on social and behavioral health theories (TTM, TRA, EPPM, or HBM, anyone?), and an in class presentation on an article by Paul Duguid. In the midst of all that, I handle social media for the program, and am working on instagram research with my future dissertation director. And I run a nonprofit (one that has three major projects in the next month, and just ran a major fundraiser, too). Sleep has been…. a bit more optional :).
In the midst of all this, you learn to appreciate the little things – and for me, those little things were these amazing highlighters. I remember them from Europe: they last so much longer than your average Sharpie or Staples highlighter, the colors are brighter, and: they don’t bleed through. My life is a little happier with these beauties back in it!
I want to ride my bicycle…..
…. and now I cannot get the song out of my head. Oh well, a little Queen is not the worst thing, is it now?
My most recent academic undertaking was an online program, and the one before that was a long time ago, so being back on campus feels… different. A good different, definitely , but still different. VCU is situated right in the heart of Richmond, Virginia (RVA for short). It’s an urban campus – while many of the large campus buildings were built for VCU, most of the smaller ones are repurposed older homes, often with beautiful architectural details. Also on campus: bicycles. Not anywhere near as many as, well, anywhere in the Netherlands – but they are there nonetheless. And bike racks. I am planning to get a bike and use it to make my way around campus. OK, I am driving to the parking garage I bought a pass for (even I am not crazy enough to bike 15 miles on roads and in traffic that decidedly is not designed for it) but I look forward to the feeling of riding my bike on campus again.
And so it begins…
The first day consisted of a two-hour orientation with our cohort of five incoming MATX students and a lovely reception with much of the MATX community: faculty, staff, students that are ahead of us, a number of professors affiliated with the program, and the new director for the VCU School of Mass Communications, Dr. Hong Cheng, who is from Beijing (so he and I connected over stories of our Arts in the Alley trip to China) and who is very gracious and kind.
The orientation was helpful – a good overview of the program and of the important steps we need to be focusing on during the next two years (besides doing well in our classes and finding the best electives for our specific research focuses): finding a good dissertation advisor (check: I have a wonderful one – one I already have worked with), finding four other faculty members who will serve on our committee (I have a few people in mind, but nothing definitive), deciding on a competency and how that will be measured (an extra skill that will help us in our research and further endeavors), our bibliography exam, and our prospectus development and defense. After all that (and, again, after at least 36 credits of classes and independent study semesters) we will all hopefully gain those three coveted letters. No, not those (PhD). These: ABD. All But Dissertation. When you officially become a PhD Candidate. It seems very far away now.
For today, my last first day of school picture in a new program – perhaps ever.