An open letter to my 35th year on Earth

Dear 35,

Sorry I didn’t get you this letter last night. You don’t deserve being put in a corner after all you’ve done for me! But, as you well know, my life currently belongs to the dissertation gods… so I’ll have to keep it short and sweet this year. All my writing reserves must be fully devoted to dissertating.

Let’s cut to the chase: you did not come to play! We started our 8,760-hour long rendezvous rapping to the tune of Cardi B. I should have know right then that you were going to make it your job to turn me into a full blown boss lady. You took all the puzzle pieces I had been collecting over the years, sat me down, grabbed me by the face, looked me straight in the eye and told me to stop f*cking around. GET. IT. DONE.

Of course, it wasn’t smooth sailing. You didn’t come to play, but you also didn’t give me a second to figure out what was happening. You just put me in the batting cage – without a helmet, mind you – and told me to start hitting ‘em out of the park. So, yeah, it took a second. And therapy. Lots of therapy and journaling in my multiple notebooks (each of which has a purpose, thankyouverymuch). Oh, and can we get a shoutout to this year’s true MVP, my little blue pill, for keeping me centered through all the madness? Because, you know, #destigmatizementalhealth

But it all got done. All of it. Conferencing? Check. Papers? Check. Defense date? Check. Hug a koala? 🐨 DOUBLE CHECK. Job hunting… Check 😉

So, needless to say, it was hard to see you go last night. But, you will be fondly remembered as the one who got me to finally start reaping rewards after so many years of hard work. And rapping to Cardi Bardi. Now looking forward to what 36 will bring… the beginning of the rest of my life, so they say. And also the return of my social life and waistline – there are only so many chocolate croissants a girl can eat before #forevergordita becomes more than just a “motto.”

But first, let’s get this dissertation done and defended. 💪🏼


No pudo con el empuje

It’s been quite some time since I last sat down to write anything that isn’t related to my dissertation, but today cannot go unnoticed. I write this in English to make sure anyone outside of Puerto Rico is able to comprehend the magnitude of what just happened last night, when our EX-governor resigned (porque no pudo con el empuje!).

Last night was a historic win for the people of Puerto Rico. For decades, we have been crushed by corruption and white collar money laundering. We have been subjected to colonial rule during the worst economic crisis our country has seen, overseen by a fiscal control board appointed to the island – a board that pulls puppet strings tied to corrupt politicians. We were taken advantage of in the aftermath of Hurricane María, when our people were hurting the most. 

Roselló (and everything that he represents) thought that we would quiet down, that we would get tired of raising our voices, banging on cacerolas, protesting on the streets in every corner of the world… But what these buffoons didn’t realize is that two years ago, Hurricane María gave us more than it took away from us: it showed us we are not just resilient, but RESISTANT. It forced us to roll up our sleeves and build a stronger Puerto Rico from the bottom up. It mobilized those of us in the diaspora and those in the island to unite and help each other. It taught us that we can make it through ANYTHING, so long as we are united and determined. My heart is satisfied and full of vindication, knowing that every drop of sweat I have put into helping my country has been worth it. 

Today we show the world what it means to take the streets to protest peacefully but with determination. Creativity has poured out of our pores these past 15 days, but so has strength. Our generation will no longer stand for corrupt, disgusting, self-serving tools who destroy our society. Today we celebrate, but tomorrow we keep fighting, because this is only the beginning of a new chapter for Puerto Rico!



Photo credit: Verónica Colón Rosario 

An open letter to my 34th year on Earth

Dear 34, 

I didn’t think I would be writing one of these again… But, it appears to have worked well last year, so I’m making it a thing.

First things first: you, my dear friend, have been a pleasant surprise. After the clusterfuck that was 33, I wasn’t expecting much. Still, I leapt into your arms with pizzazz at midnight 365 days ago, and I must say, you didn’t disappoint! You caught me, dealt with my foul mood, and told me to stop whining. Then, you proceeded to give me 12 months of what I’m calling “reward season”.

For every door closed during the year-long period of “persistent heartburn” that was 33, you told me to work harder, put on another (snazzier) outfit and knock again. Reapply, revise, resubmit, rethink, readjust… and, would you look at that: it worked every time! Hell, it sent me to Oxford this summer, which I will rank as one of the best experiences of my life. 

On that vein, you’ve also brought some fantastic humans into my life… people I have zero intention of letting go, because they make me smile from ear to ear and add immense value to my world. 

Truth be told, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. At times it has felt like you put me in overdrive: I’ve literally been on 29 planes this year. Da fuk. And, dissertating is no joke – a very lonely task that has put my anxiety on overdrive. Yet, every project I embarked in has been full of personal growth. Teaching may have been ridiculously time-consuming, but simultaneously kick-ass and über rewarding. Plus, we never gave up on raising funds and working hard for Barranquitas. Now we’re seeing the direct impact these efforts are having on people’s lives, which is more than I ever dreamed. 

But I think the best part has been a new-found sense of confidence. Instead of sulking, you’ve inspired me to listen to my inner self and do whatever the hell I want.  The writing spurt that started with 33 has continued – I finally started blogging about random things that pop into my head, which has interestingly been a great way to decompress and remind myself that putting yourself out there may be scary, but vulnerability is good.

Oh, and the bangs are here to stay. Rockin’ highlights now. Who knows – maybe I’ll go full blonde with 35. It makes sense, if I plan on still being an annoying ray of sunshine.

So, 34, thank you! You will be fondly remembered. Tonight at midnight, I will take your lessons with me as I embark on a 8,760-hour long rendezvous with Mr. 35. Hopefully, he isn’t a distracting fella… as I DO have to write a dissertation, and all.



The beauty of connecting

Relationships. They can make us, and they can break us. I find this is particularly true during phases of uncertainty and personal growth. These phases tend to bring self-doubt, internal monologues that challenge you at your core, and just general growing pains. So, the relationships you choose to foster during these moments are pivotal.

I have recently been experiencing one of these moments of change. It’s been exactly two months since I was last able to sit down, decompress, reassess, and write about life – mainly due to a hectic teaching and traveling schedule. Yet, in the midst of all of this, I have attempted to be present and deliberate in my choices. One of these has been to focus on the people currently in my life that complement my journey and push me to think bigger, be better, and smile brighter.

I have always loved to engage with others. Connecting fills me with immense joy (which is probably why I am most content when teaching and sharing stories). The ability to use the right words to express ideas – and to listen to how others interpret their world – is a beautiful part of being alive. Yet, the older I get, the more I realize it’s hard to find the right people at the right time to share the randomness of life. As my favorite movie quote says, “I guess when you’re young, you just believe there’ll be many people with whom you’ll connect with. Later in life, you realize it only happens a few times.” (Thanks, Celine.)

“I guess when you’re young, you just believe there’ll be many people with whom you’ll connect with. Later in life, you realize it only happens a few times.” Celine, Before Sunset

Continue reading “The beauty of connecting”

Tuning out the noise

My mind is a very noisy place.

To say that my brain runs on overdrive is an understatement. I have a very inquisitive mind. I love to ask questions, learn new information, and come up with novel ideas. But that also means I like to overthink, overplan, and overanalyze. This has only amplified this past year, with multiple facets of life competing for my attention. Needless to say, it feels quite crammed and loud up there.

This recent increase in neuronal commotion has had me wondering why I need to constantly feed my brain with information, and perhaps find a way to turn down the volume. Through some introspection, I think I have managed to pinpoint the culprit: everything has to make sense to me. When I see a problem or a situation that is left hanging, my innate response is to find a solution. I mean, if you solve the problem, the problem is gone, right? And it doesn’t matter if it’s my own conundrum, or if it’s someone else who can’t quite figure out what is happening in their life. My mind creates a conceptual framework and goes full-blown autopilot: find the root cause and fix it.

But, you can’t ways do that in life. Life is incredibly messy. Things never roll-out according to plan, situations arise all at once, and certain chapters end in no clear ending at all. Yet, when you constantly want to fix things, life and its mishaps have the ability to create an environment of havoc and cognitive dissonance… which feeds into your anxiety and makes it harder to let go and let it be. 

Meditating and mindfulness have given me a way to manage these urges. I’m starting to become comfortable in the discomfort of things left unsaid, undone, and unfinished. I am able to remove myself, albeit slowly or hesitantly, from situations that seem to end in an ellipsis. But, most importantly, I’m learning to step away from what I cannot solve without a sense of unfulfillment. 

img_6273Getting into the mindfulness habit has been a slow process. At first, I couldn’t focus or fully relax. As soon as I would close my eyes, a million thoughts would flood into my head. I could see my to-do lists growing, and hear my “what-ifs” getting louder. Instead of a calm ocean, it felt like being in the middle of a storm. But, after a few days of consistency, it all began to die down. I’m finally able to find a focal point (mainly my breath) and just… be.

Yes, my mind still wanders, but I am learning how to quickly identify my fleeting thoughts and come back to a place of peace. I also realized I need to meditate more than once a day, so I’ve started incorporating a morning and evening routine. This has been a great way to start the day with gratitude and culminate in calmness.

Obviously, I haven’t achieved this on my own. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been exploring several apps and have landed on three I love: Headspace, Buddhify and Meditation Studio. All three offer a plethora of guided meditations. I’ve been starting my day with Meditation Studio, wrapping it up with Headspace, and using Buddhify in between (they have a great tailored meditation color wheel). I’ve also been tuning in to a great podcast by Meditation Studio: Untangle. Absolutely worth checking out.

I’m still struggling to fully let things go and beat the urge to fix what is out of my control, but my mind is definitely less crammed and slowly quieting down. My modus operandi is shifting from “go big or go home” to “just breathe.” I’m looking forward to incorporating new ways to increase that clarity. In the meantime, “just breathe” is good enough for me.


What I’ve learned from my 10-day social media hiatus…

I tried. I really did!

I told myself I needed a social media hiatus (specifically, a Facebook and Instagram detox) for a myriad of reasons. It’s too distracting. It eats up too much of my time – time better spent writing, reading, creating, class prepping, meditating, any-other-ing but social media-ing. It sometimes makes me anxious, upset, and fidgety. It makes me prone to oversharing and unnecessary people watching. It interrupts my attention span and my time in the “real-world.” It messes with my OCD-tendencies: how many times do you really need to hit “refresh” to see new notifications? And, every time I read an article about 45, it makes my blood boil.

So, I figured I’d cut cold turkey. Rip the bandaid right off. I did it once before, years ago, and it was fine. Off Facebook for over a year. This would be a piece of cake. Think “sugar detox,” but “no notifications” instead.


Well… this time has been different. Yes, it’s been good to be offline: I have had a chance to really hone in on developing class content for the class I am teaching: “Social Media and Public Health” (oh, the irony!). I’ve also stopped mindlessly scrolling and engaging with content that I don’t particularly need in my life (because, let’s be honest: scrolling through Twitter and LinkedIn will NEVER be as satisfying). My real-time Face Time game has also improved: less interruptions from an inanimate object in my hand = more in-depth conversations with the people in front of me. And, instead of looking for my social media apps, I’ve been spending some time on Headspace and Buddhify.

Yet, I also realized the added value these social media platforms bring to my life. As a social media researcher, I’m constantly looking at my social media content with a critical lens. I can’t help but see different ways social media affects our daily lives, which makes me strive to fully understand these platforms and their effect on our interactions and communication.

I’ve also been having such an amazing time teaching this course… every time a student asks a thoughtful question, or when I can see it all *click* in their eyes, I just want to share that excitement with my friends and colleagues. Not because I need validation for teaching, but because one of the personal uses and gratifications I get from being on these platforms is being able to share my experiences with those I care about. I love being able to express the joy, ridiculousness and happiness that are living, just as much as I want to share the frustrations, pains, sorrows and unexpected things that happen in life. It’s an outlet to express the things that matter, and it gives me a window into how others in my life are experiencing their lives, as well. And, for those who know me and my complete inability to keep my emotions inside, there is nothing more rewarding than being able to share experiences and genuine happiness with important people who play a part in my life story.

And, of course, there’s the fact that in four days it will be one year from the day Puerto Rico was changed forever… and that 45 is an insensitive narcissist who expels filth every time he presses “tweet.” At first, I thought it was good that I decided to take a break that coincided with his word vomit. It is only distracting and anger-provoking, and that time would be better spent working on things that matter (which, is 100% accurate). But then, I watched two documentaries that have stayed with me: CNN’s film on Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Mr. Rodger’s “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.” In different ways, both films reminded me that, when shit hits the fan, you cannot sit idly. Words have power, and action creates change. While, yes, it’s true that posting a livid message on Facebook will do absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of 2018’s debacle, expressing yourself does a few other things.

Expressing my pain last year led me to share information on ways to help and mobilize my immediate network via FB and IG. Expressing my anger in light of the response to Hurricane María helped others stay aware that the situation was far from over and find ways to contribute. Sharing our work through Puerto Rico Stands provided people with proof that grassroots mobilization is effective at getting people what they need. Using my blog to write about Harvard’s study (the first of three reporting excess death rates after the hurricane) let people unfamiliar with public health research understand the validity and transparency of their findings. And, more importantly, it gave me a vehicle to express my emotions: my grief, sadness, resilience, and desire to make home a better place. A place where people are provided the dignity they deserve.

So, I’ve decided to stop my hiatus. Instead, I’ll be setting some boundaries to see how it fares. Time limits. Maximum visit limits. Posting limits? Maybe I’ll go full-on grayscale. Or keep social media to every other day. We’ll see how it goes (any suggestions, please add below!). The goal is for it not to interfere with the other things I have going on, like meditating (which is soooo hard) and finishing up my post on Summer 2018 (on it!). Intentional use only.

And, I’ll also be playing around with randomly calling my friends and loved ones… for as much as their presence on Facebook and Instagram make me smile, I need to play catch-up on quality phone time. So, don’t get scared if you see my name and number show up on your phone… just calling to say hi! 😘

OII SDP 2018

For those of you who have been following my #phdjourney, you know I’ve been pretty vocal about the challenges it brings. It can be a pretty lonely and daunting process at times, particularly if you embark on a more independent path. That is why this summer at Oxford was so special.

During the first two weeks of July, I had the pleasure of experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with 29 other magnificent individuals at the Oxford Internet Institute‘s Summer Doctoral Programme (OII SDP). The OII SDP is a two-week intensive summer program tailored to doctoral students who are focusing their dissertations on topics related to the Internet and how it continues to shape society. During the program, faculty from the OII provide multiple seminars and workshops related to their research and the current Internet landscape. As a public health practitioner, I can now confidently say I know what TOR, the dark web, STS, and affordances are… and can proudly differentiate between supervised, unsupervised and reinforced machine learning. It was also mad entertaining: I mean, where else do you get to have academic discussions about the importance of memes and their role in society? 🤓

While these two weeks are designed to give students the space to learn about a myriad of novel topics related to Internet studies, they also provide the invaluable opportunity to learn and receive feedback about your dissertation from faculty and – most importantly – your peers. This, I would say, is one of the most rewarding aspects of the program. These are people going through similar hurdles and understand the challenges that come with researching an ever-changing media landscape. Being able to listen to and constructively critique each others work in a collaborative environment is something every PhD student should have the opportunity to experience.

Another strength of the program is the diversity among the student body. Not only is it culturally and geographically diverse (literally every continent but the penguins was represented), but it is incredibly interdisciplinary: Communications. Law. Journalism. Science, Tech and Society. Media Studies. Health. Anthropology. Sociology. Critical Theory. And the list goes on. As a PhD candidate in Public Health, this was exactly where I needed to be to gain exposure to new literature and novel research in the realm of social media. It provided me with additional methodological rigor and validation that my innovative methods are in line with how others are approaching social media research in their respective fields.

What made this experience even more rewarding is that I didn’t just meet 29 PhD students who happened to be at Oxford at the same time. I met 29 brilliant, vibrant, soulful humans from around the world, all critically thinking about how the Internet continues to shape our lives and society. I learned so much from each and every person there. We are all doing such creative and important research, full of passion and thoughtfulness. The input provided has been invaluable, and couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. It re-energized me and let me know I am not crazy for doing the kind of work we do – so thank you! I now have a group of friends and colleagues whom I will not only cherish forever, but also bug whenever I have a question or unconventional idea to research.

Yet, it wasn’t just about the seminars, presentations, and workshops. It was about the laughs whilst exploring Oxford, the 3am courtyard “shut ups”, the punting and unexpected diving into the river, the Five Guys evening runs, the morning coffees at The Missing Bean, the “chisme”, the Ashmolean memes, the World Cup escapades, the 7:30am “wake-up calls”, the late night conversations about life, the lovely hugs, the epistemological bonding… and all the other things I’m missing here, yet we all cherish.

So, to anyone considering applying to the OII SDP, I would encourage it wholeheartedly. Not only will you gain incredible colleagues and networking opportunities, but you will have the unique pleasure of bonding with talented, young professionals with passion for the work they do. And that is invaluable.

And a special thanks to Vicki, Jordan and Solenn for making this experience so special. Your thoughtfulness, attention to detail and planning of fun events made our time there that more incredible.

Lastly, to my OII friends: I am truly honored to have been part of the OII SDP 2018 cohort. You are all brilliant – but, most importantly, BEAUTIFUL – humans. So much joy! I already miss you all dearly. Thanks for making this experience 1,000 times better than I ever imagined! Can’t wait until the next conference to see you all again! img_8313


Summer 2018

As you already know, this summer was a whirlwind. Last I wrote, I was wrapping up my first wave of dissertation research in Tampa, and right about to head out to England for a two-week summer program at Oxford University.

Needless to say, it was amazing. But the summer didn’t end there – it was followed by a three-week trip around the UK and Ireland… one that I cannot adequately or succinctly put into words.

Several people have asked about the trip, so I’ve decide to share some short posts for each of the places we visited during our travels. I’ll be writing about places to visit, where to eat and just all-around fun experiences about the trip. You can check them out below (I’ll be linking as I write):

  • Oxford and the OII SDP
  • Cambridge
  • Stratford-upon-Avon
  • The Cotswolds
  • Wales
  • Ireland
  • Northern Ireland
  • Edinburgh
  • London

While summer is almost over, I was able to squeeze in a second trip to Tampa for some more dissertation interviews, and am just coming back from a quick trip to Puerto Rico for my cousin’s wedding. Then, on Tuesday, I embark on a new journey: I start teaching my first course at Johns Hopkins called Social Media and Public Health. I’ve always dreamt of teaching my our curriculum at the college level, so you can imagine how excited (and good-nervous) I am about this experience. All I can say is that I hope to inspire a new group of young, inquisitive minds to think outside of the box and critically assess our realities.

All in all, it’s been a great summer. These trips have both challenged me and forced me to be more introspective. I’ve grown substantially more comfortable in my own skin and abilities, and can’t wait to use the next three months to hit 35 as the best version of myself.


Best. Meringue. Ever.

Guys… Look at this meringue! 

I found this incredibly massive piece of deliciousness on Wednesday while walking the streets of Oxford with some friends from a doctoral summer program I’m attending.

We ended up going to Baker and Spice (thanks to Emily – check out her IG hair diary!), and saw these meringues through the storefront window. For those who don’t know me, I’m a sucker for desserts… and I absolutely love a good meringue. When done well, they are crunchy, sugary pieces of heaven that melt in your mouth… and that, it did!


They had two flavors: chocolate and strawberry. I went for the chocolate one, which is more of a traditional meringue, with powdered chocolate on top. It’s massive, definitely enough to share with several people… if you choose to go that route. We, however, decided to each get one for ourselves. 🙃

The easiest way to tackle and not make a huge mess is with a knife. I took a few direct bites, but it was a little difficult to maneuver. The outside is super crunchy. Because it’s so large, there are some hollow parts inside, and some parts that are a little softer (for those who like the “mushy” part of meringues). Think of it as the best of both worlds. I ate half there… and once I got to the dorm and changed into my pjs, I proceeded to unapologetically finish the other half. Divine!

Definitely check it out if you have a sweet tooth and want to try something delish while in Oxford!


Navigating that #phdlife: Dissertation Diaries

Let the dissertation games begin!

When I first envisioned this series of essays about the PhD experience, I thought I would write about them chronologically… how to apply, what to expect, how to pick your mentors/advisors, how to manage the first few years versus the latter portion of the doctorate trajectory. However, I’m currently smack in the middle of collecting data for my dissertation… as a matter of fact, I just got back home after a month doing fieldwork in Tampa. So, instead of waiting to write about this later, it feels right to share my experience – and all its challenges – as it happens.

(If you want to know a little bit about my dissertation, here you go!

Prepping for data collection

When the time comes to decide what your dissertation project is going to be, you have several choices. Of course, there’s deciding what methods you will use: Quantitative? Qualitative? Both? Then, there’s deciding how you will get that data. Some decide to work on an existing project, teaming up with an advisor or another faculty member to add-on to a study that is already ongoing. This may entail in some primary data collection, but not necessarily. Others may decide to embark on a project that uses already existing data to conduct a secondary data analysis. And yet some others (like myself) may decide to develop something from scratch. Primary data collection and starting a project from scratchwas the right decision for me, as I really wanted to delve into a topic that hasn’t been explored in public health and cancer health disparities research. It was fun to develop my proposal and go through the oral examination process (I’ll write about that at some other time) – especially because my proposed (highly qualitative) mixed methods are a novel approach to social media research.  

That being said, doing something from scratch means extra work: you have to secure funding to conduct your study; you don’t necessarily have a study team supporting the little things that need to get done (like printing flyers, recruiting participants, organizing materials, budgeting expenses, scheduling travel, etc.); and you are responsible for all facets of planning and implementation.

While I defended my proposal a year ago, it took until this summer to start data collection (in part, due to my focus on relief efforts in Puerto Rico after the hurricane). Getting ready for data collection required a lot of prep time: submitting to IRB, preparing study tools and resources, preparing a data management plan, securing sites to conduct my private one-on-one interviews, and recruiting up the wazoo. Not only this, but I decided to conduct my study pretty far from where my PhD program is located, meaning I had to schedule travel, lodging and transportation.

Given some other projects I have on my plate, my first data collection trip was limited to June… which meant I had less than 30 days to recruit and conduct as many interviews as possible. This meant a lot of hands-on work, planned and managed by myself. My goal: to get 15 of the total 30 interviews finalized by end of the month… and not lose my mind while at it. 🙃

A visit from Mr. Imposter Syndrome 

When I finally arrived to start recruitment and data collection, I was a little overwhelmed. Even though I had previously lived and worked in Tampa (where study interviews are being conducted), I still had a lot of hands-on work to prep and start recruiting participants. Since it’s just me, I had to make sure I was really organized and had every day planned out.

As I tried to secure my interview sites, recruit participants, and have a few practice runs of the two-hour interviews, I started to have a lot of self-doubt and anxiety. In essence, I was dealing with a major case of imposter syndrome. What did it look like? For starters, lots of sporadic ugly crying. Even though I knew I had extensive experience conducting quality qualitative research, and that my proposed methods were very well thought out, I was still having a hard time believing in myself. The days leading up to that first interview had me questioning my approach, my ability to do a good job… even second guessing my research proposal. Anxiety kept creeping up, while I constantly envisioned worst-case scenarios: What if I panicked and forgot an important question? Would they know? What if my findings weren’t rigorous enough? What if I made a mistake in my proposed design? What if? Those “what ifs” got to me – especially the day before my first interview, while I was practicing with my husband and had a hard time getting through my interview guide. Cue the waterworks. (In hindsight, I was really rough on myself and was extremely exhausted. I started my practice round at 9pm, after a long day of flyering. NEVER DO THAT. Give yourself time to rest.) This self doubt continued the morning of my first participant interview, when I woke up with some crazy heartburn  that was thankfully tended to by a Zantac and Kaopectate cocktail.

Hold on!
A pretty accurate depiction of me, holding on to dear life… Thanks, Charlie 💕

Thankfully, this experience didn’t last too long: the first interview was amazing! It was the exact boost of confidence I needed to keep going. But, it wasn’t just a good interview that helped me get out of the I.S. funk. I am lucky to have a strong, supportive network of colleagues, friends and family who were just a phone call away when I needed it most. My husband always picked up the phone to hear me out when I was having hard time, and reminded me of all the hard work I had put into designing this research. Multiple friends and colleagues told me how excited they were about my study, because I always spoke about it with so much passion and enthusiasm. One friend in particular told me how much she admired my dedication and desire to pursue my goals – and that she, too, had gone through moments of feeling like an imposter, but that we should never doubt our capabilities. My advisor and mentor sent words of encouragement to remind me they believe in my work. I’m also part of a lovely doctoral support group, with three amazing women who share words of encouragement and positivity that keep us going during this intense process. It’s these types of relationships that are essential during the dissertation process to keep you grounded and remind you that you are READY and ABLE to conduct quality research.

Ask and they will come… all at the same time

Like I said above, the first interview was fantastic. Once it started, I knew I was onto something new, exciting and *hopefully* important as hell. We addressed all the questions I wanted to tackle, and had some interesting conversations emerge from these discussions. Once that interview was done, I had another two interviews scheduled (each on a separate day) and was hoping to start hearing back from others. But in the back of my head, there was that constant, “Oh no… they aren’t calling! I’ll be lucky if I hit 5 interviews…”

That’s when recruitment efforts started to bear fruit. Before I knew it, I was scheduling two interviews a day – up until my last day in Tampa. Not only did I hit my target 15, but I also had to start scheduling interviews for when I return in August.

While that has definitely been exciting, it’s also quite exhausting. Each interview takes approximately two hours, and it’s hard to debrief when you have to drive to another location, or if interviews are scheduled back-to-back because that’s what works for participants. That’s one thing you need to take into account when scheduling your data collection plan, particularly if you will be traveling to do so. Ideally, I would have spaced out my interviews to have time to debrief and write detailed memos that capture my thoughts on each interview. Even better, only have one interview a day. In the real world, though, you won’t always have time and resources to space out your interviews. There were several occasions when I was rushing to buy a bag of almonds, an RX bar and bottle of water to wash it all down while I was driving to my next location. Or a banana and a bag of salt and vinegar chips… because, BALANCE, right?

About balance… or lack thereof?

Before arriving in Tampa to start data collection, I thought I would be able to keep my Baltimore daily routine going. In my mind, this entailed exercising at least four times a week, eating (relatively) healthy meals on a set schedule, and even reading a book or writing in my “spare time.”

Truth be told, there was no spare time. Although I managed to keep a relatively normal schedule the first week and a half, things quickly picked up. That meant being flexible and reminding myself that I had to re-shift some priorities for a short period of time.

Yes, I was still able to squeeze in some exercise while I was in Tampa. During the first few weeks, I managed to do some yoga, spin and HIIT to release stress. However, this became increasingly difficult as time went by and I had to schedule two interviews a day. Although not ideal, I reminded myself that the whole point of being in Tampa was to focus on the dissertation. I could have been hard on myself for not being able to work out, but I instead chose to be kind to myself and acknowledge this was a difficult time to keep my regular routine going. Yes, exercise was a fantastic way to decompress, but not at the expense of stressing out because the only classes available coincided with participant interviews. Given my abbreviated timeline, I prioritized data collection and worked around this schedule to fit in exercise whenever I could. (I also prioritized sleep over exercise; de-stressing is great and all, but holding interviews without a full night’s sleep is impossible).

Oh, and cooking happened once. That’s all I’ll say about that. Instead, I tried to pick healthy options when possible. Expect when I desperately wanted Urban Cantina or Sprinkles (seriously – they have a CUPCAKE ATM). I also tried to schedule dinners with friends who live in the area, which was a great way to decompress after a long day and enjoy some good company.

In essence, I focused on being kind to myself, given the current circumstances. I reminded myself that I would get back to my routine once summer is over and I’m settled back in Baltimore. In the meantime, my priorities were to focus on the dissertation and be kind to myself.

Keeping your eye on the prize 

Although this past month was extremely challenging, I am really proud to have met my goal of 15 interviews – which means I’m at the data collection halfway mark. Being malleable allowed me to roll with the punches, and having a supportive network was essential in being able to do so. While “dissertating” feels lonely at times, having people to rely on when you need to talk it out (or just vent) makes it more manageable. So THANKS to all those who were (and continue!) to be there during this process. You know who you are.

I haven’t had a chance to process all the information shared in these interviews, but I’m hoping to be able to do so in the upcoming days, as I had out to Oxford Internet Institute for the Summer Doctoral Programme. ✈️🇬🇧 I leave tomorrow (still haven’t packed, thank-you-very-much), but I’m so excited to share where I’m at with the dissertation with another 29 international PhD students doing internet research on a myriad of topics! I’ll also get a chance to nerd it out with professors from the Internet Institute and learn new ways to approach social media research. 🤓 Then, it’s off to some well-deserved off time in the U.K., before finishing up data collection in August.

So… still have lots to do, but looking forward to it! On my way to turning these Facebook interviews into something special…

We got this.

As I continue to share my journey through the dissertation phase of the PhD, I hope they shed some light to the different experiences and emotions you may encounter during the process. As I’ve said in the past, it isn’t all easy, but it’s definitely worth it if you are doing it for the right reasons. So, keep your eye on the prize and remember: you’ve made it this far because you have what it takes. We got this! 💪🏼

I hope you enjoyed this post on navigating the #PhDLife! To receive updates on future posts, follow my Facebook Page or sign-up for blog updates below.

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