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”

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! 😘

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.


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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Cuatro mil seiscientos cuarenta y cinco…

El pasado martes, 29 de mayo, el New England Journal of Medicine publicó un estudio conducido por investigadores de Harvard University, donde se estiman 4,645 muertes relacionadas al paso del huracán María en Puerto Rico.

He leído varios comentarios del público relacionado al estudio, algunos de los cuales cuestionan la veracidad de estos números, mientras que otros solo se enfocan en esta parte de los hallazgos. Aquí comparto mi opinión sobre los resultados del estudio y sus interpretaciones. Lo intentaré hacer de una manera simple, sin mucho tecnicismo, para que sea más fácil entender de dónde salieron los números estimados y cómo podemos utilizar esta información para mejorar nuestros sistemas de salud pública en preparación para próximos huracanes.

Sobre los métodos

Quiero empezar por darle un poco de contexto a la metodología que se utilizó para calcular estos estimados. Primero, el gobierno de Puerto Rico aparenta no haber querido compartir sus estadísticas con los miembros del estudio. Lamentablemente, esto es  algo bastante común en la isla… las agencias gubernamentales tienden a retener este tipo de información (por ejemplo, han sido extremadamente celosos con compartir estadísticas sobre las infecciones de Zika en la isla). Al no tener acceso a esta información, los científicos utilizaron métodos estándares para estimar muertes en áreas afectadas por desastres naturales. Este tipo de estudio se hace cuando no se puede llegar a todos en la población (primordialmente, porque es demasiado caro y no es costo-efectivo) y/o cuando no hay maneras concretas para calcular muertes exactas (ya sabemos lo difícil que esto se hizo en los meses después del huracán). Los autores dan ejemplos de estudios previos donde se han calculado muertes después de terremotos y otros desastres naturales; en estos casos, típicamente se trabaja por medio de encuestas para estimar muertes. Esta práctica es común en el mundo de la bioestadística y salud pública, donde se diseñan estudios para que los hallazgos puedan representar a toda la población. En este caso, la metodología que utilizaron los investigadores para seleccionar barrios y sectores en múltiples partes de la isla está basada en prácticas aceptables y comunes en el mundo de las ciencias. (Sin entrar en mucho detalle, identificaron y categorizaron barrios desde más cercanos hasta más remotos a ciudades con sobre 50,000 habitantes, y de estas categorías escogieron barrios al azar). De ahí, los investigadores pueden estimar muertes y otros factores al resto de la población.

Otra cosa sumamente importante es que los investigadores han permitido que sus datos estén disponibles públicamente, para quienes quieran hacer sus propios análisis. Para la comunidad científica, este nivel de transparencia es óptima en estudios donde se tienen que hacer ciertas suposiciones en los cálculos. De igual manera, los investigadores del estudio han compartido las preguntas que se hicieron en la encuesta (las puedes leer aquí). Estas son fáciles de entender y no requieren que los participantes hayan tenido que acordarse de cosas que pasaron hace mucho tiempo, lo cual minimiza tener respuestas erróneas en este tipo de estudio. También son muy transparentes en explicar las suposiciones que hicieron en sus cálculos, explicando cómo estas afectan los resultados. Los investigadores reconocen que hay varios factores que tuvieron que omitir, y es por esto que están abiertos a compartir sus datos para que otros investigadores puedan hacer estudios adicionales.

Sobre las muertes estimadas 

En el campo de la salud pública, pensamos tanto en lo micro, como lo macro. O sea, aunque nos interesa capturar las muertes inmediatas, también queremos saber cuántas muertes ocurrieron a causa de condiciones y/o falta de servicios ligadas al paso del huracán María. Los investigadores del estudio consideraron electrocuciones, interrupción de servicios médicos, complicaciones clínicas, suicidios y otros entre las causas de muertes atribuibles al huracán.

Según sus hallazgos, los investigadores estiman que las muertes por causas relacionadas al huracán entre septiembre y diciembre del 2017 pueden ser tan bajas como 793 y tan altas como 8,498. Aunque este es un rango bastante amplio, los investigadores fueron conservadores en sus cálculos, ya que no incluyeron posibles muertes en casos donde las personas entrevistadas vivían solas. En otras palabras, supusieron que ninguna de las personas en Puerto Rico que vivían solas entre septiembre y diciembre del 2017 murieron a causa del huracán. Hicieron esto porque es imposible entrevistar a personas que hayan vivido solas y fallecido a causa del huracán (ya que estarían muertas). Sin embargo, cuando hacen ajustes basados en las muertes que hubo en el 2016 en Puerto Rico para personas que vivían solas, sus estimados suben a 5,045… y al hacer ajustes basados en los tamaños de las familias en la isla, el total sube a 5,740. Nuevamente, los intervalos son amplios, pero siguen siendo números mayores a los reportados por agencias gubernamentales.

(Es importante recalcar que las cifras reportadas no son exactas, sino que son estimados. Las cifras están basadas en las respuestas que dieron los participantes, quienes representan al resto de la población en Puerto Rico.)

A las personas que hemos estado trabajando con comunidades remotas afectadas por el huracán, no nos sorprenden estas cifras estimadas. Muchos hemos escuchado historias sobre cómo el paso del huracán afectó el acceso a atención médica. Como un ejemplo personal, la tía de mi padre tuvo un accidente durante el huracán mientras ella estaba sola: una ventana se colapsó y le dio en la mandíbula, mientras ella intentaba mantenerla cerrada. Por meses después del accidente, ella tuvo muchos problemas para poder ingerir comidas sólidas, particularmente por el dolor que le causaba. Esto le causó una deshidratación y malnutrición severa. Falleció en marzo por fallo renal, después de haber bajado de peso a menos de 90 libras. Esta es solo una historia de muchas, por lo cual es importante no tan solo cuantificar casos como este, sino entender por qué sucedieron.

Sobre los demás hallazgos 

También quiero mencionar otros hallazgos del estudio que considero sumamente importantes, pero que a mi entender, no han recibido tanta atención en los medios. Aunque el propósito principal del estudio era estimar la cifra de muertes, también estima la cantidad de personas que emigraron a distintas partes a causa del huracán. Las cifras reportadas son muy similares a otros estimados y vislumbran posibles cambios en la tasa poblacional de la isla para el próximo censo. Y, claro, están las posibles ramificaciones políticas en los estados hacia donde emigraron estas personas.

Este estudio también estima la cantidad de personas y familias que estuvieron sin servicios de luz, agua y teléfono después del huracán. Me interesaría comparar estas cifras con las que reportó el gobierno local por medio de sus páginas de internet y la prensa local durante esos meses…

Finalmente, creo que es bien importante compartir que los investigadores incluyeron preguntas en su encuesta para describir qué tipo de problemas tuvieron las personas en obtener cuidado médico debido al paso del huracán. Según sus hallazgos, 31% de hogares tuvieron algún tipo de interrupción de servicios médicos. Entre estos hogares, aproximadamente:

  • 14% no tenían acceso a medicamentos
  • 10% no tenían acceso a carreteras
  • 10% no podían utilizar equipo respiratorio que requiere electricidad
  • 9% reportaron que habían facilidades médicas cerradas
  • 6% reportaron falta de doctores
  • 4% no podían costear gastos médicos
  • 3% reportaron problemas con transportación
  • 2% no pudieron comunicarse al 911
  • 1% tenían personas quienes no pudieron dializarse

Esta información le da contexto a las cifras de muertes reportadas en el estudio. Aunque los investigadores indican que no todas estas interrupciones necesariamente causaron muertes, sí ayudan a explicar cómo ciertos factores relacionados a falta de servicios clínicos pueden impactar a personas con enfermedades crónicas. Los investigadores no se limitaron a solo preguntar “sí” o “no” en cuanto a la interrupción de servicios médicos. Esto permite que futuros estudios puedan analizar los efectos que tuvieron los distintos tipos de retrasos en servicios en el total de muertes, al igual que otros factores capturados en la encuesta (como emigración).

Estos hallazgos también nos permiten tener conversaciones sobre cómo el huracán destapó problemas que llevan tiempo “cuajándose” en Puerto Rico, como diría mi abuela. Llevamos años discutiendo los efectos que el éxodo masivo de doctores y profesionales de la salud tendrá en la población de Puerto Rico, particularmente porque esta sigue envejeciendo y padeciendo de múltiples enfermedades crónicas. Mientras no se hagan esfuerzos para reponer y retener a doctores (y otros profesionales) en la isla, seguiremos sufriendo de estas situaciones.

En fin…

Los hallazgos de este estudio, por más limitaciones que tenga, tienen ramificaciones bien grandes. Aunque las encuestas siempre tienen ciertas limitaciones en comparación con métodos que utilizan actas de defunción para estimar muertes, los investigadores demuestran que sus extrapolaciones rindieron resultados comparables con estimados de la población durante otros años. En cierta forma, le dan veracidad a los hechos y confirman sucesos que antes pasaban como simples “anécdotas”… ¡y esto es importante! El trauma que el huracán ha causado no debe, ni puede ser ignorado. Confirmar estos incidentes por medio de estudios científicos nos permite, como pueblo, exigirle cuentas al gobierno y entender cómo podemos hacer mejoras públicas que impactan nuestra salud y bienestar. Además, creo que estos hallazgos demuestran que el gobierno no ha divulgado información suficiente (ni transparente) sobre las muertes y los efectos del huracán en nuestra sociedad. Estudios independientes, como este, son de suma importancia para entender los verdaderos efectos del paso de un huracán de esta magnitud en la isla.

Por mí, que venga el próximo estudio. Pendiente estaré a lo que reporten los investigadores de George Washington University…

Foto cortesía de Tostfilms 

Back at it

A lot can happen in a month.

When I started this very young blog back in the cold, snowy month of March (which feels like eons ago), I thought I would be able to write at least once a week. I figured it would be a way to channel my thoughts and process my emotions as life happens. However, the past five weeks have been pretty intense… not so much in the negative sense of the word, but in the pace at which things have been occurring. Ergo, writing here fell to the wayside.

I’m currently juggling several facets of my life that are all in alignment and important, yet managed to speed-up simultaneously. Since my last post, I was involved in back-to-back activities related to relief efforts in Puerto Rico post-María. I first moderated a panel discussion regarding the social, economic and public health impacts of the hurricane six months after its passing (it was really informative – you can watch it here). The following week, I took over my university’s Instagram account to share a fundraising event for community members in Sector Maná. Thankfully, both events were incredibly successful at raising funds and getting the word out about the needs Puerto Ricans are still facing. This also led to more exposure about PR Stands, which has brought about opportunities for new projects, partnerships, funding mechanisms, membership growth and other very exciting things that require lots of time and planning.

Yet, my month didn’t stop there. Simultaneous to the growth of our organization, the PhD side of things also picked up. I received IRB approval for my dissertation research, which is scheduled to happen over the summer in Tampa. With IRB approved, I finally had the green light to start planning my trip and data collection timeline. A few days later, I received the amazing news that I was selected to attend a summer program for doctoral students at the Oxford Internet Institute for two weeks this July… so I had to start scheduling that in as well. Then, another email came in: I had a manuscript I’ve been working on for quite some time accepted with minor revisions (finally!), which were due by the end of April. Oh, yeah – I also had pending data analyses for a study exploring Snapchat advertising among adolescents… plus two personal trips scheduled smack in the middle of April: one to Puerto Rico to visit my sister, and another week-long trip with my husband to New Orleans.

Needless to say, I’ve had a lot going on; so much so, that the end of March and beginning of April felt like a blur. I was going through the motions, but didn’t have the time to process and contextualize my emotions given the pace at which things were happening. The events related to PR relief efforts left me with conflicted feelings: I was elated that our efforts were successful and impactful, yet I was frustrated with the current situation in the island. I mean, just recently there were two major blackouts within a week of each other, and there are a myriad of social and political issues being trampled upon by the island’s current administration – which is why thousands are marching today. I was also really excited about the professional and academic opportunities coming my way, but felt anxious about getting everything done on time and in a way that meets my standards. It was a lot to try to put my finger on, and it took a bit of mental gymnastics to figure out how to manage it all.

Although things are not slowing down quite yet, I’ve managed to get a handle on the speed at which things are happening. How? This is what has worked for me:

(1) Make a list.

When things start to feel chaotic and messy, I try to realign myself by making lists of what needs to get done. It may sound somewhat mechanical or overly simplistic, but it really forces you to think about what it will take to get things accomplished and how much time is needed to do so. It also compartmentalizes your thoughts into plans that are easier to digest. Making detailed lists for each project has helped me identify what needs to be resolved immediately, and what can be tabled for later. It also lets me visually compare tasks and make a timeline; mine is currently out until the beginning of August. Now that I mapped it all out, it’s easier to tackle each day and build in time for myself. Personally, I use several journals and a weekly/monthly planner to break down my days and write down my thoughts as things come up. Whatever methods works for you, the most important thing is to remember that there are only 24 hours in a day – no matter who you are. So, manage them wisely.

(2) Say no.

One of the harder things in life is saying no, both to things that are out-of-scope and to people who take you off track. Again: our time is limited. Every thing you do takes up a portion of that time. Therefore, when you say yes to things and/or people misaligned with your goals, you are saying no to yourself. Recently, there have been several opportunities that I’ve had to politely decline because I knew that the quality of my work would suffer if I took on another project. And, even if the quality of my work didn’t suffer, my mental health would. Meeting other people’s deadlines and priorities at the expense of unnecessary anxiety and stress is not a worthwhile investment. I’ve also had to say no to people – those who truly matter will understand when you need to disappear for a while and take care of what’s important. Here’s a great essay on the need to say no.

(3) Surround yourself with similar vibes.

Energy flows from person to person. In my experience, this energy has the power to fuel you when life gets difficult. When those around you have ideas and priorities that resonate with your own, it’s much easier to stay motivated and use their energy to fuel your own. Being around friends with similar values has allowed me to stay concentrated on things that matter and refocus my energy on getting tasks accomplished. It also keeps me positive, which is so important when life starts to get stressful. Yet, not everyone has energy or values that align with your own; some people’s energy can be draining. It’s okay to remove yourself from this negativity, if it is starting to influence the way you approach things or the way you feel about yourself. It may be temporary, but it could well be permanent – that’s for you to decide. In the words of Joshua Fields Millburn, “You can’t change the people around you, but you can change the people around you.”

(4) Share your emotions.

With time, I’ve learned the importance of expressing my emotions when I start to feel overwhelmed. Doing so allows me to process things that don’t quite make sense. Sometimes this takes place in written form, when I start making lists and jotting down random thoughts. Other times, it’s more helpful to talk to someone who might be able to share valuable insight – or just lend a friendly ear. There are times when all it takes is listening to yourself say something out loud to find the answers you are looking for! That’s the great part of surrounding yourself with people who care and bring out the best in you: it is easier to share your thoughts and figure out how to best navigate present challenges. Regardless, my experience has been that the more you articulate situations and the accompanying emotions, the easier it becomes to identify how you feel about them. Getting clarity in this regard can help you figure out how to tackle what’s right in front of you.

(5) Take a break.

Seriously, find a way to stop the madness and center yourself. At first, I was somewhat anxious about my two pre-scheduled trips, because that was time I wouldn’t be able to get work done. Then, I decided to do the exact opposite: I did zero work those 10 days. Instead, I used that time to enjoy myself and let my mind relax. Rather than chastise myself for taking this time off, I gave myself permission to do something fun and soaked in every second of it. Whenever I started to feel anxious, I reminded myself I deserved to take a break. Once I returned home, I had the energy to hit the ground running with a new sense of clarity. Although I know it isn’t always possible (or realistic) to take a vacation when you need a break, it is feasible to take some time for yourself – exercise, mediate, sing, dance… whatever feels right. Do it – your mind will thank you!

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed when multiple things – good or bad – happen all at once. Instead of letting it overpower me, I’m embracing the ebbs and flows of life and findings ways to manage the things that matter. Taking this approach has allowed me to find balance and tackle things with a new sense of purpose.

And, before I knew it, time did its thing: it’s no longer snowing or 30 degrees outside. Instead, April showers brought beautiful May flowers… and lots of sunshine. Like I said, a lot can happen in a month!


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Navigating that #phdlife: Why do you want a PhD?


Three simple letters with so much meaning. A terminal degree. Subject matter expertise. Street cred. The pinnacle of your academic training. For me, it’s the ability to finally become an academic researcher and a professor.

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to pursue a career that would allow me to teach, mentor and explore new ideas. I was an extremely inquisitive child – I constantly sat in the front row and raised my hand to ask my favorite question of all: WHY. I also loved the feeling of creating something new, whether it be through dancing, singing, acting or writing. That is why it doesn’t surprise me that I gravitated towards research.

I distinctively remember being in a high school seminar where we were discussing what professions to explore in college. My hand shot up when they asked who wanted to be a scientist. Since I loved genetics, I was convinced my career goal was to pursue a PhD in Biotechnology. Why a PhD? Well, the few scientists I knew all had PhDs, so it was pretty simple: I need a PhD to be an academic researcher. The plan? Linear and concrete: Go to college, get a bachelor degree and go straight into a doctorate program.

my-path.pngFast forward to today: while I’m finally pursuing a PhD, my path was anything but linear. It took nine years after graduating from my undergraduate program to finally start my PhD. During that time, I transitioned from basic sciences to public health, got an MPH, and worked within multiple job settings: Lab Research. Federal Government. County Government. Academic Partnerships. Health Education. Even some retail and serving in between. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way, because these experiences gave me invaluable insight… the exact insight necessary to once again answer the question:

Why a PhD?

If I’m being completely honest, knowing the answer to this question from the start is the key to a successful doctoral experience. Few people openly talk about the difficult aspects  of pursuing a PhD. And, guess what: It is scary, daunting, and by far one of hardest thing I have ever had to do.

Yes, pursuing a doctorate degree is an exciting, stimulating process. It is extremely rewarding to finally be immersing yourself in theory and literature, designing your own dissertation and pushing boundaries. However, it can also be incredibly lonely. Although your advisor is there to help guide you, you are expected to delve into a topic and become an expert on your own. On top of that, you will be partaking in required coursework, completing comprehensive exams, and most likely engaging in other research projects and extracurricular activities. So, finding a way to juggle it all, while also trying to keep your personal life afloat, is taxing.

In my case, I knew I wanted to pursue a PhD after exploring different career options and realizing I was happiest when I worked on designing and implementing new research projects, and while I was teaching. I am also extremely passionate about mentoring others. Academia offers a venue for me to do all of these things. Being clear and decisive about my reason to pursue a doctorate degree has been instrumental in staying motivated and making the journey much more manageable.

Will it be easy

Know there will be periods of darkness, frustration, and doubt. Every PhD student I know has gone through them, at least once. You will inevitably go through phases of the imposter syndrome, and don’t be surprised if you start questioning your beliefs and other aspects of life. If you don’t know why you are pursuing a doctorate degree, these moments will seem much more difficult than they actually are.

So, if you are genuinely considering a doctorate degree, I would encourage you to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why do you want a PhD?
  • What is a PhD going to provide you that another degree will not?
  • What do you envision using your degree for?
  • Why now?

These questions may seem obvious now, but trust me when I say that this will be one of the most difficult phases you will ever go through. Write down your answers and revisit them every time things get challenging, lonely, or you start to question why you are doing this again (because, you WILL question it!). Having a clear end goal has truly helped me navigate my emotions during the process.

Also, be open to these answers changing slightly (or entirely) throughout your doctoral trajectory. Your personal journey may challenge you to reevaluate your end goals, or you may come across something new that inspires you to move in a different direction. The important thing is to have a reference point that will help you navigate your experience and allow you to constantly check-in with yourself.

To clarify, I am not trying to deter anyone from pursuing a doctorate degree. This period has been so fulfilling and I would do it again in a heartbeat! The road to getting a PhD has challenged me in so many facets of life, and has definitely made me a better, stronger version of myself. I only encourage you to make sure you know why this matters to you. Know your reasons for pursuing the degree and have them serve as an anchor and as motivation throughout the process. And, remember: there are no wrong reasons, as long as they make sense to you.

As for me, I’m less than 15 months away from graduating and achieving a goal I’ve had since high school. Although my path here couldn’t be farther from what I had envisioned, I’m sure my 15-year-old self would be incredibly proud.

I hope you enjoyed this first 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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