As I wrap up my first year as a research assistant, I have been reflecting on what has made my experience in the “Living Free Lab” so fulfilling. The addition of a research assistantship not only provided me with the opportunity to expand my knowledge of research in the context of social work, but it has also given me great first-hand experience facilitating groups and delivering interventions.

During a normal week, I spend 8-10 hours on research work between classes. It has been so helpful to be able to have a flexible schedule that can be tailored to my classes as well as exams. During the fall semester, most of my time went towards preparing for and co-facilitating a 16-week Appetite Awareness Training (AAT). These weekly classes took place on campus during the early evening. Between weekly lab meetings to run through lesson plans, putting together all of the physical materials, and setting up and facilitating our weekly meetings with study participants, I was easily able to keep up with my required hours. After the completion of our 16-week study, my responsibilities expanded to include data entry, helping to sort through papers for a systematic review that we published, and preparing for the start of a qualitative study. Over the summer, I have been focused on conducting semi-structured qualitative interviews that explore Black women’s eating behaviors. Recently, I have also been able to sit in on meetings and give input in creating an app designed to help Black women learn about their eating behaviors. All of these experiences have given me such great practical experience not only working as a researcher but as a clinician facilitating group dynamics and following intervention protocols.

What I think has been most impactful in my experience as a research assistant, has been having the opportunity to work with Dr. Rachel Goode in making the experiences of Black women more visible. Over and over again women in the AAT study as well as our qualitative study have shared how important it is for them to have a space that is made for Black women that validates their shared experiences concerning their relationship to food. As an MSW student, it has been even more clear to me how often many marginalized people are excluded from research, and therefore often are not provided with interventions that are culturally sensitive or designed for them. I love that this research shares perspectives of Black women that have often been left out.

While I will not be able to continue with research during the second year of my MSW, I know that I will take all that I have learned with me. The Living Free Lab has helped me develop my interpersonal skills as a clinician and researcher, and as I move on to be a PrimeCare student and begin working in medical social work, I plan to incorporate more evidence-based research like the studies I have been involved in to develop a more culturally sensitive practice.

—Oona-Ifé Olaiya

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