Literature review? Check. Research proposal? Check. Center for Global Health Scholars application submitted? Check. Award granted? Check. UVa IRB approval? Check. IRB approval in the relevant country? Check. Congratulations! You are ready to change the world with your research project! Purchase your ticket because your research career is launched!
This is how you think it is going to be when you envision an international research project. Our focus is often on securing finances and permission, because these seem like the biggest hurdles we must overcome in our academic lives at UVa, so our confidence is high when money and permission are no longer issues.
I have traveled to the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis in either a research or teaching capacity every year over the past three years of my PhD studies. My mentor, Dr. Jeanita Richardson, has been the principal investigator or professor each time. I learned so much about the do’s and don’ts of global research and this year I was ready to develop and conduct a research study on my own on homicide in Nevis.
I arrived on Friday, June 22nd fully expecting to start the project on Monday the 25th. By the 29th I was still waiting to start my project. I was nervous this delay might cause me to miss my objectives. An unexpected phone call that came on July 3rd stating I was granted a meeting with the Police Commissioner and the respective Island Superintendents the next day was a godsend. I prepared a short Power Point presentation, printed it out in case there was no available computer, and ironed my clothes for the next day’s meeting.
Once at the Basseterre Police Headquarters, I waited for the Police Commissioner to summon me to his office for the meeting. To say I was nervous was an understatement. The Nevis Permanent Secretary of Health and I are the only women in this room full of high-ranking law enforcement officers. How am I going to convey to them how my health-care related research involves them? This was a hurdle I didn’t expect to jump!
I present my information and they listen. They then ask me questions about the logistics of the project and I answer them. The meeting is moving along smoothly. They ask me about my studies and my clinical background. I answer the questions and they are slightly more engaged. They then speak of current issues in the Federation and I reply with what I know of these topics, how the same issues manifest in the U.S. in both the health care and penal system, the positives and limitations of the systems, and potential solutions. They are now completely engaged. The meeting concluded with immediate access to the necessary information, and the assurance of future help should I need it. I collected the data and did a preliminary analysis before I left the country.
I learned that while access is critical to research, who you are still matters to the people who your research will affect. Bureaucratic entrée is only the beginning: you must show up as a person who can handle and respect the access you are given. My research proposal demonstrated that I had the intellectual skills, but the meeting confirmed my intentions. I have developed a personal stamina that is unique to conducting global research. Human interaction is still important.