Thursday, August 11, 2016

URSP Student Highlights: Olivia Stanford

As a double major in Community Health and Integrative Studies, I often found it hard to answer this question. For the longest time, I was not sure if I wanted to go down a medically-focused path or a politically-focused one. Did I want to pursue a career in Global Community Health or International Studies? Both majors offer many opportunities, especially at a school like George Mason University “where innovation is tradition” and “freedom and learning” are the core values. However, I needed a way to narrow down my career choices in the future.
That is when my first professor at George Mason, Dr. Cher Weixia Chen, offered me the opportunity to research with her. In the past, Dr. Chen conducted research on international law and legal studies, concentrating on equal pay and, currently, women worker’s rights. I was really excited when she presented this chance: I would gain research experience and perhaps find a future career path that interested me. With a topic to focus on—Maternity protection—I began the search for a research question. My search led me to terms like social insecurity and social protection; it took me to entities like the International Labour Organization and the World Bank. Initial literature reviews revealed the present state of policies offered to women and working mothers, eventually bringing me to what would become the heart of my project: the social insecurity of women in the informal sector.
Maternity protection is a tricky part of the social security spectrum. For women who work in the non-standard employment sector, it is even more difficult to ensure their human rights. It had me wondering: how is America doing with this? Where does America stand on the spectrum? To find out, I decided to survey working mothers, employers, and relevant government officials in Northern Virginia as my sample focus area. Originally, I planned to find most of my participants through snowball-sampling. This method relied on individuals to spread the word of this study to bring people in. However, one thing I learned is to expect the unexpected and be flexible.
It’s difficult conducting research of any kind, especially when there is no formal setting or directing principal investigator to help guide the process: I conducted interviews on the spot or arranged them around the schedules of advisory board members in different government departments; I had to alter my approach repeatedly for the different groups I interviewed, especially in the event I ran into individuals that spoke little to no English.
Overall, this was a trying experience with crowning moments (like meeting a deadline) and pitfalls that almost ended the research (finding mothers to participate). Nevertheless, with encouragement and advice from my family and staff mentor, I grew as an academic scholar and I’m more confident in my research skills.
In the future, I hope to continue this research, improving on the methods, and eventually publishing the results to see improvement in America’s maternity protection policies.