An Eye-Opening Research Experience through India

Learning Along the Way

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Hello, my name is Shannon King and I am working with Sight and Life as an intern while completing my Masters of Science in Public Health with a focus in human nutrition at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The Assignment in India

During the late summer of 2017, I spent 2 months in India where I was working with our local partner, Karuna Trust, to conduct research on the implementation of the PATH “Feeding the Future through Fortified Rice Program”. Within this intervention Sight and Life has designed three school-based nutrition and WASH strategies to develop healthy eating habits while improving hygiene and sanitation behaviours. The intervention uses peer role modeling and cues to action; games and helper crews; and problem-based learning within the school environment to promote behaviour and attitude change.

The study required visiting 50 schools in four different areas of Karnataka in order to understand how the program is being implemented. Our observations allowed for us to examine to what extent each school had executed program activities- such as having soap available for the students, and how the program materials are being used around the school. Further, in-depth discussions with the implementing teachers provided detailed descriptions of how the program is being used and their experiences thus far.

Impact of my Experience

Overall, it was an incredible experience allowing me to engage first-hand in the entire research process from protocol design, to ethics review, data collection, and data analysis. As a graduate student, I have had the opportunity to work on studies in the past; however, this was the first time I have been given ownership of a study and the ability to work on it from initiation to conclusion. It has been very rewarding to work through each step of the process and overcome all the associated challenges and roadblocks.

During my time in the field, I found it fascinating to see a wide range of implementation processes used in the schools despite the fact that each school was provided with the same program materials and instructions. As researchers, a better understanding of the factors influencing implementation allows us to develop programs in a manner that will optimize delivery.

While the research did not involve any formal data collection from the school children, I will always cherish the moments I was able to engage and play with them. The opportunities were few and far between, however, at one school we arrived early and the teachers were having lunch so the facilitators and myself played one of the nutrition and WASH games with the children. Despite needing a translator to help facilitate the process, it was an hour filled with laughter and joy. It was also an incredible opportunity to see the program in action and how much the children were enjoying to learn.

Working through Barriers

The biggest challenge, and the most eye-opening experience of the trip, was working as a young female researcher. In several different contexts and settings, comments and suggestions made by females were treated less seriously than those put forward by males. Or sometimes women’s opinions were simply ignored, and it was eye-opening and aggravating to experience. Witnessing an individual’s esteem being judged primarily on their gender and seniority is quite the contrast to a working environment where your capabilities are judged primarily on your education, experiences and work ethic. It provided me with an even stronger appreciation of the efforts made to promote gender equality. India has an incredible, young female population with the potential to be strong leaders and change-makers, if given the opportunity.  

Lastly, this experience highlighted the need for implementation research to better understand how the nutrition community can optimize the delivery of nutrition interventions rather than purely conducting before-and-after data collection to assess the success of a program. I look forward to sharing the results with both project partners, in the hopes of allowing for mid-course corrections to improve program implementation, and sharing the findings with the greater research community to help build the literature base of implementation research in nutrition.

Enjoy this gallery of pictures showcasing my visit to Indian schools.

Photo credits: Prachi Katre

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