Motivation

As a researcher and social worker, I love hearing others’ stories about what motivates and excites them, what they love, and why they do what they do. At some point along our journeys, even academics have a moment of “oh my goodness, I am FASCINATED by this topic… so much so, that I am willing to devote the rest of my life to studying it, unpacking it, and telling others about it.” Whatever that thing is, I often hear researchers say “I was MADE to study [insert topic].” 

That is exactly how I feel when I think about the work I do.

Religion and spirituality have been topics I’ve always been interested in. Balancing respect while questioning my religious beliefs by the age of 9, being in a family with rich diversity in religious beliefs, experiencing a religious culture shock by moving from NY to TX, and having a deep hunger to learn what people believe, why they believe it, and how their beliefs are infused in their daily lives… each of these positioned me to explore religion and spirituality in mental health. One by one, doors began to open up as I moved from being an undergrad psychology research assistant, to offering cognitive-behavioral therapy for older adults with anxiety and depression, to interviewing older adults on their preferences for talking about their faith in mental health treatment, and then being accepted into an MSW program.

And then in spring 2009, it all came into focus when Dr. Ken Pargament, a psychologist from Bowling Green State University and author of Spiritually-Integrated Psychotherapy gave a grand rounds lecture at Baylor College of Medicine. Time stood still as I heard him share that a majority of the general US population was very religious and believed in a God/Higher Power…. but few psychologists held the same beliefs, and most struggled to talk about it with clients.

What about social work?”

Being months away from my MSW program, I scribbled this question down, circled it about 20 or 30 times, and suddenly felt like every bit of me had to know the answer. Five months later, I was sitting in an auditorium with my MSW colleagues, listening to incredible faculty talk about having a strengths-based perspective, recognizing the person within his/her environment (including social support), and being aware of clients’ culture, while dancing around the role of clients’ religion/spirituality.

So that year, I dove into a year-long independent study literature review, and decided to apply for a dual MSW/PhD at the University of Houston. My fantastic mentors brought to life this idea of working in higher education and gifted me with some of the most uplifting, challenging, transformational years of my life. They provided the structure, setting, and questions I needed to deeply discover the work I was made to do, while unpacking this desire to conduct research on a topic I was so passionate about.

I wholeheartedly love the work I do. Working alongside such incredible colleagues, serving those who serve others through my research, seeking to understand complex topics, empowering others in research, and passing along the mentoring I’ve received is an true joy. Meanwhile, recognizing this deep, intrinsic motivation to do this work has been a gift along this journey, as I’ve also recognized all of the little adjustments, opportunities, and open doors I’ve been offered along the way.

So the next time you hear an academic or researcher talk about the work they do, ask them why they do what they do. Not only might it help you think about and interpret their work, but I guarantee you’ll be surprised by the answer… and by how it inspires you to reflect on your own reasons for why you do what you do.


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May 2014: standing beside 3/4 of my dissertation committee at graduation.
From left to right: Dr. Danielle Parrish, myself, Dr. W. Andy Achenbaum, and Dr. Luis Torres. (Not pictured was my external committee member, Dr. Ken Pargament).


 

Kindly,

holly3

Translating research – intro

Something I boldly remember asking myself as an undergraduate psychology student was, “why is research SO hard to understand?!” (I doubt I was alone.) For all of the money being poured into studies with the goal to truly help others, I also wondered why so few results seemed to make it to the mainstream. Certainly, there are some common barriers we all know of… the academic writing style (which is never how we would talk in everyday conversation), the writing outlets (well-respected academic journals, which unfortunately, can be difficult to access due to time and cost), and then understanding the analyses enough to even interpret them… these barriers failed to help move our research into others’ hands that we spent so much time and energy on.

I’ll admit, I’m no exception. Most of my writing has been for academic audiences. While I know there are researchers and teams and institutes working exceptionally hard to study translational research and help move research to practice (and inform research with practice), I came to realize I could do just a little bit more to help make my findings accessible to others. I want to help this process of translating my research into practice. As researchers, we work hard to dream up and carry out the studies, to analyze the data, and to write the findings (in my case, all alongside amazing colleagues!). Submitting the paper to a peer-reviewed journal, turning to the next project, and expecting anyone outside of academia to read or understand it seems silly. But honestly, after hearing this episode of the Good Life Project podcast interview with Simon Sinek, I realized I needed to help explain and translate my own research.


As Simon said:
“[Academics] have amazing concepts and I’m sure they could change the world, if only anybody understood them…”
(Thanks for the idea, Simon and Jonathan!)


So stay tuned… these little translational research updates will be a step to help take the research I’ve done and mold the articles into deliciously meaningful, applicable bite-sized pieces. The only thing I ask is for grace – learning to write for a non-academic audience is something I’ll need practice with, but as I’ve learned to write tight research papers for peer-reviewed journals, I hope to also learn to translate and communicate them in a way that’s interesting, meaningful, and accessible to all 🙂

Kindly,

holly3