Internship Adventures in Brazil

When I started looking for MPH internship projects, I knew that I wanted a global experience where I could use the FCH and global health skills that I had learned in the first year of the program. Thanks to incredible help and support from fellow students, I was able to fund an international internship in Brazil through a generous grant from the Tinker Foundation.

The Tinker Foundation awards travel grants to graduate students across campus who are interested in conducting original field research in Latin America. The application requires a well-thought-out research proposal and that you speak the language of the community you plan to work in (plus letters of recommendation and some other standard application stuff). The award also requires that you present at their on-campus conference in the fall, which was great practice for the Internship Conference!

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The grant typically funds travel costs like flights and visa fees, but I was lucky enough to be awarded some money for day-to-day expenses as well. I stayed at a no-air-conditioning AirBnB and ate ramen most of the days, but it was wonderful to not have to worry about funding my project! I was able to stay for a month, but if I had planned to stay longer, I would have requested funds from GPSC to subsidize costs.

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Elizabeth Reardon reviewing survey questions with GDEFAM staff member, Cicera

One of the best things about my project was how the Tinker Fellowship allowed me to combine my professional and academic interests in languages, social sciences, and, of course, public health. I conducted a cross-sectional survey on women’s perceptions and fears of Zika in an urban slum. Zika is certainly #trending but is really a stand-in for any infectious disease of poverty. In Brazil, where women in poverty have limited access to contraceptives, abortion, and services for children with special needs, Zika is a major threat.

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Elizabeth Reardon with the GDEFAM staff and family

As with all MPH internships, I met a lot of challenges in completing my project. I wrote a kickass mixed-methods survey for women and a complementary survey for community health workers, but I wasn’t able to complete any surveys with health workers. Every individual I spoke to insisted that they didn’t have the expertise to talk about the Zika epidemic and referred me to higher-ups in the local health department, which was an interesting insight into the perceptions of health workers, even if I couldn’t speak to them. While I successfully completed the survey with women, I asked some poorly worded questions that confused respondents and I had an embarrassingly small sample size. P-values of 7 made it feel like biostats had all been for nothing! As I move forward with my internship report, however, I am realizing more and more how much I learned from the project and how much more I have to learn and share from the community I worked with.

In the future I would love to return to Brazil and to the small community organization that hosted me. I was so fortunate to work with the NGO and to have their insight and support (plus every day the grandma cooked me lunch then insisted that I shower and take a nap at her house). I want to go back and conduct a better survey on a larger scale, including environmental aspects and formal ethnographic interviews.

I absolutely encourage other graduate students to pursue the Tinker Fellowship. It opened up doors across campus and helped me create lifelong research contacts. Working abroad is an exciting and formative challenge that is absolutely complemented by the coursework and experiences of my MPH from MEZCOPH!

-Elizabeth Reardon, 2nd year MPH Student, Maternal and Child Health – Global Health

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