By Christine Elie
3rd May 2012
Sociology graduate student Rebecca Scott challenges disciplinary boundaries in her international research on the placenta. She believes in the “potential of research that moves between, beyond and across disciplines to identify unaddressed issues or topics and to approach them in novel and creative ways.” The interdisciplinary nature of her studies has led her to work with over 31 participants in placenta science in four countries. Her latest research finds her in Brazil where she is a research team member at the Centro de Pesquisas Materno-Infantis de Campinas (CEMICAMP), a research centre at the University of Campinas (UNICAMP) which focuses on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
As the first sociology student to benefit from the Canada-Brazil Collaborative Research Fellowship jointly held by Queen’s and UNICAMP researchers (funded by Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada and Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior), Rebecca’s work centers on the placenta in both a scientific and sociological fashion. She sees this organ as a “profoundly diverse entity that traverses the biological and social worlds that intersect in pregnancy.” Though it may seem odd to some, Rebecca’s work pushes the boundaries of understanding the placenta – Rebecca asserts, “it may be surprising to learn that the placenta has a prolific life in science...all of my research is concerned with the practices of placental donation, collection, and use in science. So while I’m here in Brazil, I’m conducting a survey assessing pregnant women’s opinions of the donation of placentas for use in scientific research.”
The Fellowship was established at Queen’s through the efforts of several university scientists including Dr. B Anne Croy, Dr. AureoYamada, Dr. Charles Graham, Dr. Changrakant Tayade, Dr. Graeme Smith and Dr. Myra J. Hird, who received a grant to create a research exchange project for Doctoral students. On her involvement in the program, Rebecca states “I really appreciate the support and willingness of scientists to incorporate a sociologist into the program! I think it speaks volumes to their willingness to try new things and forge new collaborations in the service of research.”
It was through the suggestion of her supervisor, Dr. Myra J. Hird, that Rebecca was invited to participate in the exchange. She holds the role of Dr. Hird in her experience in high regard, claiming that it was through her supervisor’s connections that she was able to build her own. This, she believes, is the mark of effective supervision: “now I’ve got new collaborations here in Brazil that have grown from the dominos set in motion by my supervisor, who has always pushed me to reach further with my research.”
With a truly interdisciplinary approach, Rebecca embarked on her journey to Brazil ready to participate in a new research community. Though it can be challenging, she sees the plethora of benefits that this type of work can offer: “In doing any kind of research, it is important to enlist the help and support of others, but this is especially true of interdisciplinary research because no one person can have all the tools and knowledge required to address the research questions...The opportunities to learn and grow are there, and they can lead to really rewarding experiences.”
Travelling to Brazil, Rebecca was concerned with the dramatic life changes that this would hold. She remarked “As anyone would be, I had my reservations about living in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language, don’t know many people, and everything is just so different.” This apprehension quickly faded when she arrived. She was welcomed into the academic and social environment of the country: “When I arrived I realized I had nothing to worry about since any issues I have experienced have been quickly addressed by all the people that support me here.”
This opportunity has allowed her to expand her horizons. In Brazil one of her biggest challenges has been the language barrier – though this has offered Rebecca the opportunity to learn Portuguese which she lauds as a central reward to her experience. Rebecca claims that “learning a second language of course opens a whole new world of research opportunities, knowledge, and cultural experiences.” With her knowledge of the language, she has begun taking classes in capoeira (a Brazilian martial art/dance). She is also auditing courses on epidemiology, when she isn’t white water rafting or travelling the country.
From LtoR - (1) Visiting a biology laboratory at the University of Alfenas, Alfenas, Minas Gerais, Brazil; (2) At CEMICAMP, Campinas, Sao Paulo, Brazil; (3) Touring the iconic Cristo Redentor statue in Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
When reflecting on her experiences in Brazil, Rebecca affirms that “in Portuguese, intercambios means exchanges. Each day I am in Brazil, I have the opportunity to exchange – to move between, beyond, and across not only universities, but cultures, languages, and disciplines. It is a privilege.”
Read Rebecca's blog at: http://rebeccajscott.wordpress.com/