Bridging the Perceived Divide Between Qualitative and Quantitative Research


The Brackenridge here at the University of Pittsburgh offers an experience like no other, connecting people working under vastly different areas of study.  A microcosm of this program is exemplified by my cohort containing distinctly unique individuals. From tackling peanut allergies, to the societal use of they, to the perception of love and music and how that affects society, these researchers tackle the breadth of life’s deepest questions. While I seek to conduct my own research, I also seek to learn much about techniques and topics from these other scholars. I work with oral cancer pain combining quantitative research through data collection and qualitative research through work with patients and analyzing questionnaires about their experiences. I hope to learn different ways of interviewing and collecting qualitative data from some of my peers in a way that I was not taught through my regular curriculum. Additionally, I am excited to learn about these different fields as I believe they pertain to life in a non-biological way; teaching us about connection and development of society that allows us to understand where we come from and characterize where we can go from here. An extra bonus would be learning about different biological systems or technologies that might interplay with my field of study.

Investigating my cohort’s blog posts, I became excited about these different topics. Some, like Judy Zhang or Wyatt Kriebel, were on the cutting edge of science development, looking for new ways of treating certain conditions that we already have a basic functional understanding of. Others like Rutha Chivate, Annika Agarwal, Daniel Turillo, and Hannah Kirsch seek to understand the nature of what they are studying and provide a base for change or comprehension. Others like Frances Harrington and Rachel Rosenstein seek to investigate interpersonal relationships and communities throughout history. Being infatuated with the immune system, Judy Zhang’s project working with developing a treatment for peanut allergies especially caught my eye. Evidently, I will have a lot to learn from these people throughout the summer and I look forward to doing so.  

On a superficial glance, I would say my project falls more into the boundaries of trying to characterize a condition to provide a base or change, but hopefully within the future, my research will turn into a project with a goal of treatment rather than understanding. While I am seeking to characterize the sensation of oral cancer pain and the reason for its development, my work is part of a larger attempt by my lab  to develop certain medications or treatments to alleviate these patients’ pain. My research is significantly different than those looking throughout history, but I hope to gain knowledge from these projects irrespective of our differences.

Working with people across disciplines gives you a change of perspective. It gives us a fresh page and a clear head to perceive not only our own research but also our lives and society in a way we may not have even thought of. Working with this many people, I am excited to learn about life, whether that be biologically, societally, or culturally. While some people additionally perceive the lack of similar jargon as a detriment, I see it as a benefit. Interdisciplinary communication makes you slow down and truly process your own research in simple terms to better convey your thoughts and ideas to others.

One obstacle to interdisciplinary work is that not all research is the same. Not in the way of one field is better than another, but in a way that certain techniques that seem enticing may not be translatable between fields. One way of questioning people and finding out information, might not work as well in a mouse model where the mice cannot give us verbal answers back. Therefore, it takes a little more effort and elbow-grease to translate approaches in other fields to my certain area of study.

Obstacles and benefits considered, the Brackenridge program definitely develops researchers in a way that few other programs have the capability to. I am excited to hear about these other projects and am curious to see the conclusions other researchers come to.

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