Friday, January 20, 2017

Developing a Thesis: A Journey

At the University of Pittsburgh Genetic Counseling Program, students often have the opportunity to pursue a research project at their work positions. My position as a genetic counseling student worker in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition has enabled me to develop a research study that will ultimately culminate in my Master’s thesis. The development of my own thesis project is an ongoing journey that has cultivated not only my research and management skills, but which has also refined my critical thinking and adaptability.

The Hereditary GI Tumor Program encompasses a diverse medical team that specializes in cancer genetics and research. My work with the team has provided me with the opportunity to participate in the development of a new study entitled “Hereditary GI Tumor Project and Patient Engagement Study.” This year-long pilot study aims to analyze outcomes among high-risk cancer patients participating in genetic counseling. This study is important in furthering the understanding of patient engagement in their health. Patient engagement has been associated with higher patient satisfaction, better health outcomes, and overall decreased cost to the healthcare system. Studying the changes in patient engagement before and after undergoing genetic counseling aims to identify improved means of engaging patients, promoting risk-reducing behavior changes, and ultimately, improving both cost effectiveness and patient satisfaction in the healthcare system.

Finalizing my thesis study however, required ample time and multiple revisions. The contributions of both members within and outside of our team were essential at every phase of the process. Our team worked alongside both the UPMC Health Plan and various University of Pittsburgh faculty members in order to define and refine the current project. The protocol, specific aims, and even the hypothesis were all adjusted many times. Changes were made to deliver the best possible data available.

 Embracing changes was not always easy, and solutions were sometimes difficult to find. During the progression of the project, it was important to balance the goal of the research project, while also remaining flexible. However, having a team available for support drove progress and provided alternative methods of improvement. It was therefore imperative throughout the process of developing my thesis to engage in active communication. Email updates and conference calls on a regular basis allowed for various input, shared experience, and proposed solutions.

As my thesis progresses, my responsibilities have shifted from developing protocols and writing IRB applications, to enrolling subjects and analyzing data. New and different analytic concerns have likewise surfaced, yet with each challenge my project becomes more definite. The evolution of my thesis project is a testament to the time and work shared by myself and the entire team. Not only has my work empowered me to grow as a student, but also has provided me with the foundation necessary to design future investigations. In the months to come, I look forward to finalizing my project as a cohesive thesis presentation that will reflect the time, effort, and the development of communication and flexibility skills that I have learned in throughout the process.

- Anna Zakas, Class of 2017


Friday, January 6, 2017

How We Spent Our Winter Break

We all work so hard during the semester that we make sure to relax during our breaks. Here are some of the things that we did after the end of our Fall 2016 semester.

"I was fortunate enough to have my entire family home in Buffalo, New York for Christmas and then I spent the new year in Ottawa, Ontario. I’ve never been to Ottawa and it was a really beautiful city with amazing museums and of course, Parliament (and Beavertails). Happy 150 years, Canada!" - Emily Spoth

"One of the highlights of my break was going to Yankee Stadium City to cheer on the Panthers as they played in the Pinstripe Bowl. Unfortunately we lost, but it was still a lot of fun and I enjoyed getting to look at all the holiday decorations throughout New York City." - Julia Verbiar

"I decided to keep it simple this winter break and spent a lot of much needed quality time with my friends and family. In between relaxing and eating entirely too much tarts and cake at home I also got the opportunity to spend a day with my best friends that I haven’t seen in months."- Joya Petersen

"After arriving back home in New York, I decided to get to work with my sister making the sky high piles of cookies that my family traditionally makes this season.  My dog also helped, acting as the best cookie-tester on the planet (she refrained from trying the chocolate ones!)" - Emily Massiello

"I went to Colonial Williamsburg with my family to see decorations, learn about Christmas traditions, and sing some 18th century Christmas songs! We then returned to NC and relaxed with our own family holiday traditions of movies, lasagna, and laying around in our pajamas. - Kaitlin Sullivan

"I drove home to Indianapolis for break. I saw old friends and whispered lots of sweet nothings to my dog. I also read for pleasure and watched a lot of movies. It was great to come home but I can’t wait to go back to Pittsburgh!" - Emily Mazzei

I flew home to sunny San Diego for winter break and, aside from spending quality time with my family, the best part of the trip was the food. Before heading back to Pittsburgh, I made a point to gorge on local delicacies including an In-in-Out burger and fries and a fabulous California burrito (which, if you don’t know, is a carne asada burrito with french fries inside). Pittsburgh may have a thriving food scene, but after 4 months in Pennsylvania I was dying to get my hands on the delicious, greasy, wonders of my home state. If only I could take it all back with me to Pitt…" - Julia Stone

"While home in Dallas for the break, I went to the Heart of Dallas Bowl game. Army won against North Texas in overtime. Go Army! It was the most exciting football game I have been to in awhile!" - Claire Leifeste

"I used the first week of my break as an opportunity to visit potential employers for in-person interviews in my hometown. Employers were very appreciative of the opportunity to have me visit at a more convenient opportunity, and I know I was too. For the rest of the break I spent time with my family, eating food, and loafing on the couch. It was a much deserved time to relax." - Bryony Lynch

"I flew back home to warm, sunny Florida over the break. It was nice to get a break from the snow and the cold to see my family. I was also able to make a trip to Orlando and experience all of the new Harry Potter attractions at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Overall, it was a pretty magical time." - Emily Griffenkranz