Tuesday, December 8, 2020

URSP Student Michala Conroy Studies Beliefs and Perceptions Surrounding Student Athletes and Dance Majors

My name is Michala Conroy and I am a junior studying Dance with a Pre-Medicine track at George Mason University (GMU). As a dance major at a liberal arts university, that is heavily invested in its athletics department, I get a unique glance into the inequality that exists between sports and the arts. During this pandemic, I have been in awe with how artists have responded to the loss of their jobs and livelihood with hope and selflessness. Professional dancers have been offering a plethora of free online classes, and many dance companies and Broadway shows are presenting their works online for everybody to view for free. This response has shown me just how important the arts and dance are in our world.

 My research analyzes the inequality surrounding the School of Dance (SoD) and the Athletics Department (AD) and explores the social boundaries between the athletes and the dance majors. To accomplish this task, I set up interviews with dance majors and students unaffiliated with either department. The interviews are taking place virtually and investigate the perceptions each group holds of the other group and the boundaries that are created between the groups.

 During the process of gaining IRB approval for my research questions, I was informed that to conduct research with student athletes I must gain separate approval from the Deputy Athletic Director. This was not a requirement for the other GMU students participating in the research. I discovered how differently the athletes are protected by the university compared to other students unaffiliated with athletics.

I hope to continue this research project and find a way to incorporate the student athletes along with athletic trainers from the AD and the SoD, athletic coaches, professors both from the dance department and other departments. I would like to investigate the beliefs and perceptions that people in charge of the students hold about both departments.

Friday, December 4, 2020

URSP Student Fazeela Wadan Studies Admission into Higher-Level Educational Institutions

My project deals with understanding admission into higher-level educational institutions and how it is impacted by claims these universities make and what is interpreted by the prospective students. Since I plan to attend medical school following the completion of my bachelor’s, I am intrigued to see how the grueling application process affects applicants. Based on the preliminary results and how far I get this semester, I hope to be able to continue this project in the future as well. 

Although my project in itself has not changed due to COVID-19, I have had to make many adjustments to my procedure as I am conducting interviews with human subjects for my data collection. Prior to the pandemic, I had intended on interviewing 20 first-year Mason students in person, however, due to the social distancing guidelines, I have had to move the interviews strictly through Zoom. In addition to the altered data collection steps, I have also had to adjust my plan of action in terms of outreach and finding volunteers to participate. Instead of being able to stand in the Johnson Center food court and hand out fliers in addition to emails which would have been much more efficient, I have had to limit the outreach to only emails. This has proven to be more difficult as I have not received as many responses as I would have with the original plans. With COVID-19, an average research day starts with me sending out a batch of emails advertising my research study to professors, requesting them to send the invitation forward to their students. If I were to receive any interested volunteers, we then find a suitable time for us to meet via Zoom to conduct the hour-long interview. Following this, the interview recordings are sent to be transcribed professionally in batches. The next steps of the project would be to receive the transcriptions back 1-2 days later. The files would be run through analytical coding software to annotate and tag the transcriptions in order to identify prominent patterns within the responses. As I am still in the data collection process, I have not yet analyzed the data and made any new discoveries as of yet.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

URSP Student Natalie Vandernoot Studies the Effects of Chronic Liver Disease on Patient Fatigue and Muscle Loss

Through the HHS 492 Clinical Research Internship course offered in the spring, I began studying self-reported fatigue in patients at Inova Fairfax Hospital. Thanks to the OSCAR Undergraduate Research Scholars Program grant, I am able to dig deeper into the effects of chronic liver disease on patient fatigue and muscle loss. I analyze self-reported fatigue and measures associated with sarcopenia in a de-identified dataset of patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and hepatitis C virus (HCV). Sarcopenia is a disease characterized by the loss of muscle mass or strength. It has previously been associated with aging, but recent investigations have identified the possibility of sarcopenia in younger patients with metabolic conditions and chronic diseases. We have incorporated sarcopenia into our study because the gradual loss of muscle mass impacts quality of life and the ability to participate in everyday activities.

In my spring clinical research internship, I was onsite at Inova Fairfax and was able to learn about the patient consent process in the intensive care unit, observe the research team generating data from participant visits, and work with my mentors to analyze the existing patient data. Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, I have been working online and my responsibilities have transitioned to be more focused on data analysis, literature review, and manuscript composition. Covid-19 delayed our ability to conduct laboratory tests on patient blood samples, but in the upcoming weeks we will be incorporating the data generated from ELISA tests that indicate the amount of specific myokines in the blood. Myokines are proteins released from muscles that circulate in the body and we are searching for a correlation between their presence and sarcopenia measures.

My chronic liver disease project has provided me invaluable opportunities for mentorship and an increased understanding of clinical research. I am planning to pursue a master’s degree and work in the fields of science policy and rural health advocacy. My experiences in healthcare research provide me with the background knowledge necessary to improve community health programs and work on policies with a unique view of the effects of chronic illness on day-to-day activities.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

URSP Student Timnit Sisay Explores the Relationship between Rheumatologic Autoimmune Disease and Non-Alcoholic Liver Disease

For my research project, I am studying the relationship between rheumatologic autoimmune disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Fatty liver is defined as fat build-up in the liver, and NAFLD refers to excess fat in the liver of individuals who do not excessively consume alcohol. Fatty liver is a common form of liver disease which affects about 25% of adults worldwide. Fatty liver and/or NAFLD prevalence is expected to continue to increase because of the rise of its risk factors (high blood pressure, type II diabetes, high cholesterol, and high BMI) as well as the rise of the sedentary lifestyle and western diet.

Why am I interested in the relationship between NAFLD and rheumatologic autoimmune disease? Preliminary data and surveys have shown that individuals with rheumatologic autoimmune disease may have a higher risk of NAFLD. This may be due to the inflammatory environment caused by autoimmune disease or medications (e.g., corticosteroids) which are taken by autoimmune disease patients. However, the relationship between these two diseases has not been studied nor definitely proven. Furthermore, autoimmune disease is an inflammatory condition which suggests that there may be immune system abnormalities. Therefore, I am interested in determining whether inflammatory disease is correlated with NAFLD. Also, I will determine if having a diagnosis of both NAFLD and rheumatologic autoimmune disease is correlated with other factors such as age, gender, and race/ethnicity. In addition, NAFLD prevalence will be determined by using metabolic syndrome as a surrogate for NAFLD diagnosis.

For me, a typical research day involves reading literature, analyzing data, and using statistical software. Thus far, I have enjoyed learning about the complex and interconnected relationship between inflammation, rheumatologic autoimmune disease, NAFLD, and metabolic syndrome. I hope that the results of this research can be useful for treating the patient population affected by NAFLD and autoimmune disease. Furthermore, this project aligns with my future goals. I have been enjoying the process of learning about autoimmune disease and NAFLD. This project has not only solidified my interest in medicine, but has made me even more excited to continue on this path.