Monday, June 14, 2010

Intern Taylor Hargrove’s Notes from Nepal

It was an exciting day when I received an email with an airplane itinerary destined for Nepal. This simple email meant I was definitely going to the place I had been reading about and analyzing data from for 10 months during my undergraduate internship at the Carolina Population Center. After working with Dr. Lisa Pearce for that same 10 month duration on the Chitwan Valley Family Study (CVFS), I was finally going to see what Nepal actually looked like and felt like; how things worked over there and how people lived day to day. We were coming down here to collect data for a new project on environmental perceptions. We were going to do a series of focus groups and individual interviews about how people in the local villages perceived the environment. For instance, did they see any issues within the environment? What were they? What were people doing to fix or alleviate those problems? These interviews would give us a better understanding of what the locals would have to deal with on a daily basis and develop culturally sensitive ways of helping with these issues.

As of yet, I have been observing how ISER-Nepal operates. Specifically, what they do, how they collect data, how they clean and enter the data, etc. I have also attended a couple of their training programs for the staff and also for scholars in the area who want to learn more about data collection and analysis. I have gotten to know some of the staff pretty well. It has been a joy to go to their houses and get to know them and their family better. I have also been receiving Nepali language training for about two hours each day. These classes have been so great because I will eventually be able to better communicate with the ISER-Nepal staff and the various participants in the focus groups.

We have to date completed six focus group interviews (three male, three female) in three different villages. This was a great experience because this was my first time observing a group interview in general as well as an interview abroad. Although I couldn't exactly understand what they were saying, it was interesting to just watch the dynamics of the group, how everyone interacted, and how group interviews are conducted in a different country. After making a few revisions to the interview guide, Professor Pearce, Shradha Shrestha, and I conducted four more focus groups in three more villages and plan to do two more in one other village.

Of course a trip such as this cannot consist of all work and no play. As of now, Dr. Pearce, two recent graduates from the University of Michigan, Shradha Shrestha (a CPC predoc and Nepal native), and I have taken trips to various Hindu and Buddhist temples, a few of the small towns in Chitwan where lots of shopping has taken place, Devghat, a town where two rivers meet which is thought to be a holy place, and the Chitwan National Park. The temples were wonderful, full of colorful statues of different Hindu gods and Buddhas. The towns in Chitwan are very busy with lots of trucks, buses, cars, motorbikes, and bicycles occupying the roads during the day. There are lots of little food stands, restaurants, and shops. Devghat was a very peaceful and relaxing place. There are many houses along the riverbed where older men and women stay. This is a popular place for the elderly to live because they think it is the holiest place to die.

The park was especially fun. I got to take my first elephant ride through the jungle looking for rhinos and tigers. On the third elephant ride, we actually saw some rhinos! No tigers, however. We also saw a lot of deer, birds, wild hogs, and bugs of course. I was also exposed a bit to the relationship between environmental protection and locals' sustainability. Only during certain times of the year are the local inhabitants allowed to enter the park and collect grass and fodder for their homes. There are punishments for those who cut the grass illegally such as paying fines or having to work in the army barracks for a week. This can put a lot of stress on the people who need that grass to feed their animals, especially on those who live next to the jungle.

Thus far, this trip has been a great experience. As a rising senior thinking about post-graduate plans, this opportunity couldn't have come at a better time. It gave me a chance to see what international research is like and what goes into a data collection study from writing proposals and completing applications to organizing participants and actually collecting and cleaning the data. I was able to discover the various things that I enjoy and do not enjoy so much about conducting research. This trip is extremely rewarding in that it has given me the opportunity to experience something that I will be (or would like to be) doing in the near future.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Lisa Pearce (CPC Fellow) and Taylor Hargrove (CPC Intern) in the Chitwan Valley of Nepal

नमस्ते। Pearce and Hargrove are currently in Nepal to conduct semi-structured interviews with rural residents who depend heavily on direct use of the natural environment for their survival. The interviews are designed to elicit locals' perceptions of the quality of their physical environment. Pearce and Hargrove are paying special attention to discussions that mention or reflect NGO and goverment influence in how people perceive, talk about, and/or interact with the environment. In addition, they are investigating connections between religious involvement and perceptions of the environment. The summer 2010 research trip and data collection in Nepal is funded by an NSF-PIRE award for which Pearce is a subcontract PI. Pearce and Hargrove's ongoing collaboration is supported by CPC's NSF-IGERT training program.

This is Taylor's first research trip abroad. She is actively taking in every experience possible, including daily Nepali lessons, observations of all facets of the Institute for Social and Environmental Research's data collection and processsing activities, and riding elephants in the Chitwan National Park--home to the endangered one horned rhinoceros and bengal tiger.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Touring the Geomap Geological Data Center

The APLIC conference always includes a tour of a local information center. It's one of my favorite parts of the conference. I knew that we were touring the Geomap Geological Data Center in Dallas which is the largest supplier of geologic mapping services in the United States. These service are used to determine the best places to drill for oil and petroleum and other fuels. It was a large paper based library of "logs" - little journal books about a certain location. I thought it would be very high tech with lots of GIS and seismic tools. It was very low tech, in fact.
Here are some photos:

Memphis: America's Aerotropolis

The Library unit at the Carolina Population Center has recently been renamed to Library and Research Translation Services. The "research translation" name reflects the evolving role of the unit in finding and sharing information about the center's research. This includes various activities from identifying news media stories about CPC's research to verifying peer reviewed journal articles by our researchers.

I'm attending the APLIC conference, the conference for population librarians, in Dallas. It is held the three days before the PAA conference. I had a stop-over in Memphis from Chapel Hill and as I was walking to my departure gate, I noticed a sign in the airport that named the Memphis airport as "America's Aerotropolis."

I noticed it, kept walking, and turned back. That term - aerotropolis (which I have typed many, many times) - was coined by CPC Fellow John D. Kasarda in his efforts to promote economic development near airports by creating business and commerce opportunities near airports.

You can learn more about the aerotrpolis concept here.

You can read about Memphis as America's Aerotropolis here. Their tagline is "Where runway, road, rail & river merge."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The start of field work has been delayed at least 24 hours because of awaiting IRB approval. Mandie and I still have plenty to do, but the interviewers have been told to come back tomorrow. With the help of local staff Mandie has gotten the field office into shape. It is where the data manager / pilot project site manager will be located along with the refrigerator for biospecimens.

The photos aren't of remarkable subjects, but the heat in this location is. February is supposed to be one of the hotter months here. This field office is not air-conditioned. The fan is important, but hot air is still hot air. To the right is a picture of one of the admin staff helping set up the field office.

The refrigerator doesn't have the pampered life the CPC freezers enjoy. Maybe the coming months will make the field office more habitable. This is the most powerful floor fan known to mankind. It has 3 speeds. Just Speed 1 is like a cyclone.

We have held training sessions for field staff all this past week. They are a great group. All have been a pleasure to work with. Such a patient group! They have listened to us drone on in a room with a temperature hoving around 100 degrees.

There is a lot of interest in the community about the project. Two community meetings have already been conducted and turn out at both was gratifying.

Found this fellow in our shower about 6 a.m. one morning. We're so boring the monkeys don't even visit. (That's what happens when one works all the time and a good time means extra sleep.) Received word yesterday that a male elephant was cruising our neighborhood and while there was no immediate danger, we were to exercise caution. Well, didn't see the elephant either. We do have bugs in plenty however.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hello from Mpumalanga Province, South Africa and the Conditional Cash Transfer Project. Today Amanda Selin (project manager) and I are training interviewers on the use of mini laptops and QDS survey software at the Agincourt Project Office. It is HOT. Fans are running, but hot air is hot air. The interviewers are enthusiastic and have jumped into the laptop training with both feet. In previous days Amanda has conducted different trainings including ethics, biospecimen collection, household recruitment, SOPs, and counseling. The field staff are a good group. I have spent most of my time here thus far working on programming the Shangaan versions of both questionnaires, one including audio. Beginning to hate the sight of my laptop! We pretty much work all day and into the evening every day. There's a lot to do, but Amanda is tireless in her efforts and the pilot moves forward.

A few pictures are included. That lizardy looking thing is just that. He lives in the main room window of our small house at the WRF (Wits Rural Facility). The road views are what's to the left and right of our driveway. One of the two bedrooms is air-conditioned, so we share the room and recently used it to also house some biospecimen materials including a centrifuge.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Lisa Pearce at the Wolong Nature Reserve

I am here in the Wolong Nature Reserve of Sichuan, China with Prof. Jack Liu and some of his colleagues and graduate students from Michigan State University's Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability. They have been showing Scott Yabiku (Arizona State) and I around to get a feel for their study area and helping us interview elderly residents about social change over the years. We are getting descriptions of when and why the various roads, schools, health clinics, police stations, and other social institutions came to be. We are gathering ideas for how we might collect retrospective social context data via Neighborhood History Calendars in this setting. Of course, a major point of focus is the massive earthquake one year ago. The epicenter was not far from here and the damage was considerable. Most residents are living in temporary housing along the river in the valley and walking to their fields each day to tend the corn and cabbage. Although the last few decades have brought striking social change to this area, nothing has been so dramatic and so quick to alter the social organization of life as the earthquake. The plan is to relocate farmers from all the surrounding hillsides to the river valley in group housing and provide them vocational training to work in what the government officials hope to be a booming tourist industry for seeing Giant Pandas, taking in the beauty of the valley and its forceful, boulder-filled river, and escaping the heat of Chengdu or other urban areas in Sichuan and beyond.