This summer I interned with the International Center for Diarrheal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b) in the capital of the country – Dhaka. Icddr,b is a non-profit, international health research institute. During its thirty-five years of existence, it has contributed much to improving health in Bangladesh and in other developing countries via its research, treatment, training and policy activities.
Several factors influenced my decision to intern at icddr,b. First, I was impressed with the institute’s strong track record and reputation for producing results. In addition, since this was my first professional venture into the field of global health, I sought a structured internship that could give me the knowledge, skills, connection and support network that would allow me to design and conduct an independent global health research project in the near future. Icddr,b fit this description perfectly since it has over one hundred student interns annually. Lastly, I have a particular interest in health in South Asia because its people have some of the worst health outcomes as anywhere else in the world, and also because I myself am from the region.
I interned under Dr. Ruchira Tabassum Naved, a social scientist and a specialist in Gender and Reproductive Health and my principal investigator. When I expressed my particular interest in mental health to Dr. Naved, she assigned me to do a literature review on stress and its detrimental effects on birth outcomes in women. This report would have assisted with compiling a report for the ongoing cohort study titled Maternal and Infant Nutrition Interventions in Matlab (Matlab, Bangladesh is the site of several icddr,b projects). Unfortunately, I did not find doing a literature review (which comprised of reading a variety of publications on the issue and consolidating the information) very engaging. After doing that for almost a month, I asked to be assigned another task. This time, I was tasked with doing preliminary data analysis for assessing the empowerment of a group of women from rural Bangladesh chosen for the study. I analyzed variables such as the woman’s membership with a microfinance organization, their ability to influence decisions about small and large household purchases, their ability to influence decisions over individual health care and contraceptive use and their ability to visit her natal home. Using the statistical analysis skills I had gained through a course last spring, I used SPSS software to analyze how much of a difference there had been in the women’s empowerment between when the initial study was conducted in 2002 to when the follow-up was done in 2012.
Next, I analyzed the effect other variables related to socio-economic background had on women’s empowerment. Some variables analyzed include whether or not the women held a paid job outside the household, whether or not their household has a stable source of income, and whether or not they use a burqa (a full-length veil worn by some Muslim women). I am happy to say that I enjoyed this quantitative task much more so than the literature review.
A significant challenge I faced included not receiving enough mentorship and guidance from my principal investigator. Due to Dr. Ruchira’s busy schedule I often struggled to receive enough face-time with her. I navigated this issue by networking with other members of her research team who could provide assistance.
Although my internship tasks were computer-based, I twice had the opportunity to visit a slum where interviews were taking place for another project. These visits were particularly meaningful because they allowed me to have an up-close look at what life is like in a slum. Prior to these visits I had only seen images of a slum and had only been able to imagine what life must be like. Even though I could not communicate in Bangla, the national language of Bangladesh, many of the children and women I saw were eager to communicate with me and extend their hospitality. Although trite, I must admit that witnessing and interacting with the people whose lives icddr,b is trying to positively change motivated me to further to pursue global public health work. The images of these women and children will always stay with me. In the future, I hope to return to Bangladesh to pursue my own independent research project revolving around the population’s mental health needs.
I would like to express my deepest gratitude to QuestBridge for making this experience possible. Without the financial support, this experience would have been out of the question. This experience has put me one step closer to figuring out the career path I would like to pursue in the long run, and for that I am grateful beyond words.
— by Aneesa Noorani, Quest Scholar, Yale ’16