When Prof. Nancy Riley met with Amanda Burrage this spring for dinner, they talked about an upcoming research project Burrage was planning as part of her studies at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Burrage, who graduated from Bowdoin in 2004, recently finished her master’s degree in public health at Harvard University and is completing a medical degree.
Specifically, Burrage is investigating emergency-room use by pregnant teenagers and teenage moms, asking why they might prefer going to an emergency room rather than to their primary care physicians.
When Riley heard about this project, she told Burrage that she could use a Bowdoin student to help her, and that she had just the right person: Kristen Stogsdill ‘13. Stogsdill, a sociology and neuroscience major, had been seeking direction from Riley about starting an honors project on a topic in public health. Riley, who has a Ph.D. in sociology and a master’s degree in public health, is Stogsdill’s advisor.
“It’s a really good opportunity for them,” Riley said. “Amanda has enormous resources. Her interest in medicine is in some ways ordinary, and in some ways not. She wants to be a doctor but she’s focused on inequalities, and wants to help people who have no access to medicine.”
So though Burrage is in some ways a neophyte researcher, she’s “an incredibly good role model for Kristen,” Riley said. “Amanda is not established, and the rawness of her pathway is more obvious and helpful. I like it when students can see that research is not always smooth.”
This summer, Burrage will run focus groups and conduct interviews with a group of teenage girls at the Teen Living Program, a residential program in Worcester, Mass. Burrage has been volunteering with the program for the past two years. She’d been told by program directors that many of the girls use the emergency room instead of their regular providers, and that they weren’t sure why.
Burrage says Stogsdill will help transcribe her interviews and group discussions. Plus, “she’ll help me analyze data, comb through it to pick out major themes, and put it into a cohesive picture. It’ll be exciting to learn together and have someone to bounce ideas off of.”
And Stogsdill will use Burrage’s research as a launching point for her own research. The Falmouth, Maine-native is living on campus this summer and, with a fellowship from the Surdna Foundation Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program, is laying the foundation for her honors project.
Although it is early in the process, Stogsdill says she’s interested in looking at how patients’ past experiences with healthcare affects how they currently use the system. She also would like to explore how patients’ relationships with their primary-care providers influence how they access medical care. Because of her collaboration with Burrage, she’ll focus on young mothers.
Riley says Stogsdill’s honors project will help highlight the personal dynamics that sometimes lurk behind medical statistics. “We can look at the numbers, for instance at emergency-room numbers, but oftentimes it’s the service people get [from their healthcare providers] that will determine the outcome,” she said. “[Kristen’s] interested in the juncture when actual people confront an actual system. … Yes, they’re individuals but they’re in the middle of a system they have to negotiate.”
The Surdna Foundation Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program provide grants to highly qualified seniors to pursue research in any field. The competitive fellowship is just one among many that Bowdoin College offers to qualified students to support summertime research, projects, or internships.