Talking to Houseplants

As I began developing my project for the Brackenridge Fellowship and my future Bachelor of Philosophy thesis, it was difficult to feel fully satisfied with the language I used to illustrate its purpose. This is the danger of acting as though research is a solitary process; the right words to describe goals, methodologies, and meanings become caught in a spiral of statements that are obvious to the researcher and indecipherable to the audience.

My project centers around use of the war metaphor in emotion regulation in women with metastatic breast cancer. In my early elevator pitches, it felt half my time was spent explaining examples of the war metaphor and their prevalence in social and clinical conversations surrounding cancer. Next, I would define emotion regulation, going into lengthy detail about the framework involved in the project’s initial iterations. Finally, I would explain what it meant for breast cancer to be metastatic, referential to a medical definition and its implications in this project. The pitch was less suited for an elevator ride amongst colleagues and better allotted to lengthy travel to and from a conference. Long story short: it was dense.

The pitch was less suited for an elevator ride amongst colleagues and better allotted to lengthy travel to and from a conference. Long story short: it was dense.

I had to take a new approach. By staying within my own field, it was easy to get caught in parsing out detail from detail and creating the most specific proposal possible. This was not a productive method of communicating research to others, especially when doing so meant learning to share these ideas with experts from other disciplines. Months of quarantine meant that, for a considerable time, the broadest audience for my research proposal was that of my social pod. (Other times, my houseplants – featured in the associated image – leant their unyielding attention and served as my audience.) I gave my elevator pitch to future engineers, aspiring nurses, and other psychology majors time and time again. As I began the Brackenridge Fellowship and enjoyed a community of interdisciplinary scholars, my proposal efforts began to take shape.

Much like our houseplants stretching to grasp the complexities of metaphor or biology as we ramble on in our passionate way, it is our responsibility to grow.

These communication efforts are imperative to the success of research. Through this project, my group intends to make recommendations for future clinical interaction and greater empathy in cancer care. Our findings can be disseminated to medical professionals, support group leaders, and other influential individuals involved in cancer care. Arguably most importantly, however, this study encompasses the lived experiences of women with metastatic breast cancer. It is necessary for our findings to make a difference in the lives of patients, but this can only be done if those findings open conversation between field experts, healthcare providers, and patients. As a current student researcher and future physician, I aspire to be a leader in this process. Much like our houseplants stretching to grasp the complexities of metaphor or biology as we ramble on in our passionate way, it is our responsibility to grow, especially when it has the capacity to improve the lives of others.

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