As a Fulbright Study/Research grantee in public health in India, you are in one of the world’s largest public health labs. Of course, you will face challenges you never expected. But the opportunities are just as plentiful as the challenges, if you can learn to identify them.
About 25-50 percent of polio affected people are expected to experience Post Polio Syndrome (PPS), characterized by muscular weakness, atrophy, pain, and fatigue. Based in Gujarat, I aimed to understand the experiences of individuals with polio, to assess the medical and nonprofessional perception of PPS management, to evaluate social support for people with polio, and to increase awareness of PPS. This was a qualitative study in which I conducted semi-structured interviews with individuals with polio, medical practitioners, and lay people to assess their perceptions of disability, polio, and PPS.
Before I left for India, I had secured a field site affiliation in Ahmadabad, Gujarat, which promised between 100-150 individuals with polio for my project. The institution was created with the intention of supporting individuals with polio, and as such, I was excited to get started as soon as possible. Yet as prepared for the challenges that I thought would lie ahead, I didn’t realize the intensity with which they would affect my project.
When I arrived at my field site, I learned that the facility now focused its efforts on Cerebral Palsy, an umbrella disorder characterized by difficulty in movement. Interestingly, this seemed to be a trend I would find among clinics and hospitals that previously specialized in polio. It turns out that the hospitals that previously were founded for, or gained popularity by, treating polio now ceased to see any polio patients. Jarred by the sudden necessity to shift field sites, I rushed to locate a network of polio affected individuals. Eventually, I spread my research to Surat, Bhavnagar, and Vadodara. To date, I’ve conducted 50 interviews, consisting of both groups and individuals.
Admittedly, this was one of the most intellectually challenging aspects of my project as the relocation forced me to reassess my understanding of the project. Nonetheless, these challenges have allowed me to learn incredibly valuable lessons. I have come to embrace the unpredictability that comes with working in such a dynamic environment. Moreover, the beauty of being a qualitative researcher means that even a seeming lack of data is a significant data point. Over the course of my project, I have had to redefine my goals and expectations to fit the reality of my field sites. These sudden shifts have taught me to be receptive to finding help in unexpected places. Finally, I have learned to be confident in my decisions. I realized that while my actions might not have an impact immediately, sometimes, it was just a matter of time until I found my next big link. As you begin your own Fulbright journey, I encourage you to remember the saying my fellow researchers and I have come to embrace: sometimes you just have to “roll with it.”