During the 2019-2020 academic year, Wellesley College student Nora Pearce ’22 was awarded the Morse Fellowship through the Class of 1967 Internship Program at the Wellesley Centers for Women. She was paired with WCW Senior Research Scientist Jennifer Grossman, Ph.D., as her mentor, and the two worked together to study how teens and their families talk about sex and relationships. In this video, Megan Cassidy, director of marketing and communications at WCW, interviews the pair about their experience. The transcript of their conversation below has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Megan Cassidy: Hi, I'm Megan Cassidy. I am the director of marketing and communications at the Wellesley Centers for Women. And right now we're going to talk to Nora Pearce and Jenny Grossman about the internship that Nora did at the Wellesley Centers for Women. So Nora, can you introduce yourself please?
Nora Pearce: Sure. As Megan said, my name is Nora Pearce. I am finishing my second year at Wellesley class of 22. I'm an education art history double major and I've been working this year with Jenny at the Wellesley Centers for Women.
MC: Great. And Jenny, can you introduce yourself as well please?
Jenny Grossman: Sure. My name is Jenny Grossman. I'm a senior research scientist at Wellesley Centers for Women and a lot of my work works on teen health, and teen sexual health, and how families can support that health, particularly through conversations about things like dating and sex and relationships. And I've been working with Nora this year.
MC: From my understanding, Nora worked with you on a specific grant-funded research project, is that right?
JG: Yes. It was a project funded by the National Institutes of Health to look at particularly how support for teens from extended family members, which could include aunts, uncles, siblings, people like that can support their health and what those conversations with extended family about things like dating and relationships look like with teens in their lives.
MC: Nora, can you tell me a little bit about what you did working on the project?
NP: Sure. So during this project I read through interviews, I coded them and organized them into codes using NVIVO, analyzed the interviews for sub-themes. And I also got the opportunity to write a proposal for an American Psychological Association conference this summer and to begin writing for a potential article in the future.
MC: Jenny, can you explain what it means when you say “the coding process”?
JG: Sure. So you know where we'd be doing statistical analysis if it was quantitative data, with qualitative data, what we have is these transcripts of interviews. So this is what the interviewer said, this is what the participant said. So we have them written out. So we'd basically be looking at say what the comfort is in talking about sex and relationships.
So if we're looking at a sibling interview, we would look through, and what a lot of what Nora did this year is, she looked at that whole interview and when does the issue of comfort come up? And then she would basically be kind of chunking into categories. So we have from all 39 interviews in this study, what's all that people said and had to say about comfort. And then we read those and try to understand, well, what are the common patterns that come up?
And then we kind of, as Nora said, it kind of keeps going where you keep going back to the data and look at it and talk about it. But that first step is really just kind of chunking together different kinds of content areas or things like that that are common across interviews to be able to understand them.
MC: Nora, was there anything you were particularly surprised to learn or something that you think was really interesting that you came across while you were doing this work?
NP: Honestly, I think everything has been a surprise. Everything has been interesting because it's the first time I've ever done this sort of research. I think I was surprised by how much goes into qualitative work, and how complex it is to interact with these interviews, and the data and to make meaning out of this, and how much you can learn from reading but also talking about it and working with it and continuously going back to it.
MC: And how did you first become interested in the Wellesley Centers for Women internship program?
NP: Well, I first heard about it through spam that was posted on campus and especially in the campus center. And after being able to attend the informational meeting on campus, I was really interested that it has to do with social science research because that's what my major is in and where I feel very comfortable and very excited. It was kind of on a whim that I applied and I'm so happy that I did. And it's such a privilege to work with Jenny, especially on this project, and how it deals with relationships with family. And I see it as a very important dimension for sex education.
MC: Since we all left campus and have switched to working and learning remotely, this internship is probably a lot different than you both envisioned at the beginning of it. So how have you been able to continue the internship remotely?
JG: Well, there were a couple of weeks there where I know Nora, things were in flux for you in terms of even figuring out where were you going to live, or are you going to be able to stay in the States? Like how is it going to work? So we did have a little bit of a break. But I think we've been able to reconnect via Zoom and back working together through the end of the semester. And I think for me we've been able to move forward, especially because we were done with the coding process, which I think would have been trickier to do remotely. But I think for me it's really brought up like how fortunate I am that we can keep connecting and doing this work. And like every week I'm excited that we get to meet and that we can kind of move forward and I can hear how she's doing. We can kind of just check in interpersonally too because we've been building a connection for the whole academic year. So it's a challenge but it also makes me realize we can do this work remotely.
MC: How does your research benefit from working with Wellesley students, working with Nora?
JG: It's a huge benefit. And actually Nora and I were talking about this before because I said when we work together and meet every week, it keeps me excited about the project. It gives me accountability to be moving forward with the project. So those were kind of like structural and affective things. But I think perhaps the most valuable thing is students bring different perspectives, different ideas about how they see the world, different experiences. And especially when we're working with qualitative data, I think those perspectives are invaluable. So when we read the same interview, Nora and I might see it different ways because of our experience, because of our history, because of our gender, our age, all of those different things. So she might see things that I don't see and can help me understand that perspective and vice versa as well. So I think the value is really in so many different dimensions of working with students.
MC: Do you think having gone through this internship experience and gotten some hands-on research experience, has that helped you as you think about what you want to do after Wellesley?
NP: I think after Wellesley it's gotten me more interested and excited in the dimension of community engagement in education and of family engagement as far as knowing where these students are coming from, what these teens are exposed to, how they talk about different subjects at home and how that would influence their time at school or pursuing education. And I think it's also given me the hope of being able to do research myself because that's always seemed like something, I don't know, unattainable or very separate. But being able to see the huge value in being able to make meaning and articulate these concepts.
MC: Is there anything that you would say to Wellesley students who are thinking about applying for the Wellesley Centers for Women internship program?
NP: I would highly recommend it. Definitely. I think it's incredible to be able to do this work as an undergraduate. It's incredible that it's social science research because I know that the Science Center does a lot of things for STEM-related fields, but being able to get this experience with qualitative and quantitative social science research, that it's near campus, but situated far enough away that it feels like you're leaving, I guess like the quote-unquote bubble. And I hope that soon we'll be able to return to campus because being in the actual house and that environment is so refreshing and I always look forward to going to work at the Wellesley Centers for Women and the people that you meet there and the conversations that you have. But I think it's a one-of-a-kind experience and a really welcoming and empowering community, and the fact that there are fellowships related to it so that you get stipends throughout the year in exchange for the time and efforts that you put in is really great and hopefully making this more accessible to a wider student body.
JG: And Nora, I love hearing what you have to say and just you've contributed so much this year and I'm just, I'm really grateful.
NP: Me too.
MC: Well thank you both so much. I think people are going to be really excited to hear what you have to say. And a lot of the points you touched on are exactly the reason that we have this program. So folks will be happy to see that what you got out of it is what we're trying to provide. So thank you.
NP: This has been a highlight of my time at Wellesley, so I'm really grateful for you guys.
May 26, 2020