A number of Bryn Mawr College students applied for and received funding to conduct research projects overseas this summer through the Global Bryn Mawr Student Fellowship. Those students were asked to share their experiences through words and images.
Name: Manal Hussain
Class Year: 2020
Major: International Studies
Overseas project: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights for People with Disabilities in Bangladesh
Overseas location: James P. Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Q. What led you to apply for this overseas study or project?
A. As someone interested in entering the field of public health, I was looking for other South Asian women working in the field for mentorship. I was connected with the dean of the school of public health at BRAC University. After speaking to the dean about my experience and interests in maternal and child health as well as reproductive health, she recommended I consider an internship at the institute. After I submitted my application, I had an interview with the internship coordinator and learned more about the work being done at the school. I learned about all the projects and people working at the school; everyone came from different backgrounds and industries which was really important to me. I was convinced that this would be a truly beneficial experience for me not only for the professional exposure I would receive, but also for the personal growth I would go through being able to live and work in the country of my roots.
Q. What did you do while on your overseas study or project?
A. I was a research intern for the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) for People with Disabilities (PWD) in Bangladesh project at a university in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Considering I was the only intern for the project, I had varying tasks both short term and long term. One of the first assignments I worked on was proofreading, formatting, and translating qualitative questionnaires needed for the primary research interviews of the project. Given my fluency in Bengali, I was able to both strengthen my language reading and writing skills, and also learn how qualitative research questionnaires are created. One of my long-term projects was to focus on the policy research aspect of the project where I had to compile information about national, regional, and international SRHR and disability policy into a matrix to be used in creating policy briefs for the project. This specific assignment was a great opportunity for me to learn about how to conduct and compile secondary research on policy as I am interested in health policy and reform. I also helped the other team members and research assistants with administrative tasks such as note-taking for meetings and assisting in logistics for trainings. I was able to go on multiple field visits where I assisted and shadowed research assistants, and conduct interviews and qualitative research. I also had to opportunity to sit in on classes as part of the Master’s in Public Health program at the school, which was an amazing opportunity because I am interested in getting an M.Ph. in the future!
Q. What did you learn that surprised you?
A. As I spent time researching about SRHR and disability policy in Bangladesh and internationally, I found that there was not much documented on sexual and reproductive health rights specifically with regards to people with disabilities and national policies. It was both surprising and not, because when it comes to addressing health disparities faced by marginalized populations there can be a lot of misconceptions, misrepresentation, and stigma involved. There has to be a change in how we talk about these disparities, and more importantly, people facing these disparities must be brought to the table in order to bring about real change on the ground. There are huge gaps in the healthcare system not only in Bangladesh but around the world. This made me think about my own positionality and how I did not know much about SRHR and disability rights in the U.S. It is important for me to be more informed of the systems I am a part of so that I can help bring about more awareness and be a productive agent of change.
Q. What was your favorite part of this experience?
A. One of my favorite parts of the internship was being able to help out and assist at a global conference organized by the school called the Global Conference for Implementation Science and Scale-Up. This conference was co-hosted by the James P. Grant School at BRAC University and UNICEF Bangladesh, and aimed to showcase the role of implementation research in promoting evidence-based health and other social programs. It also emphasized integrating research and policy to key stakeholders and policy makers. There were multiple presentations, speeches, and debates on various topics and issues discussed by attendees from different professions and countries. The event was an opportunity for me to meet and learn from people who have been contributing to public health research, policies, and practices around the world. There were so many moments during the conference where I felt proud to be surrounded by public health workers. This experience, along with my internship, reemphasized my passion to pursue a career in the field of public health.
Q. What advice or guidance would you offer future students?
A. My best advice for future students would be to keep an open mind. I truly believe all of the opportunities that have come to me were because I kept an open mind and was willing to step outside of my comfort zone. You never know what you will get out of an opportunity until you go for it. I was skeptical of doing an internship abroad and being a part of a project that wasn’t necessarily my top choice, but being flexible helped me get the most out of the experience and helped me learn skills I never thought I would gain from this specific internship. My summer internship brought a lot of clarity for me with regards to my professional, academic, and personal goals which has helped me be more intentional in the work and learning I do from now on.