Researching the Researcher: Part III of the Interview with Cheryl Beck, DNS, CNM, FAAN (Part 3)

Walker: How did you discover your love of research? 

Cheryl: It began during my graduate studies at Yale University. There I received my masters in nursing degree plus became a certified nurse-midwife. At Yale, research is a way of life. The value of research as the most important way to systematically improve patient care becomes ingrained in you. With my masters degree I could read and critique research studies and apply the findings to my obstetrical clinical practice. I was a knowledgeable consumer of research but I wanted to do more. Five years after receiving my MSN I began my doctoral studies at Boston University. I wanted to be able to discover new knowledge not just apply it to clinical practice. So I knew I would need my doctorate to learn more about research designs and statistics.

Walker: Who were mentors and how did they offer guidance?

Cheryl: 15 years ago when I joined the faculty at the University of Connecticut School of Nursing, I met my most valued mentor. He was Robert Gable, Ed.D, a professor in the School of Education. At that point in my research program I had done numerous qualitative studies on postpartum depression and I wanted to develop a screening scale for postpartum depression. I wanted to use the words I had heard repeatedly from the mothers in my studies to develop the items on the scale. In my doctoral program I had not had a course on instrument development. I knew I needed to consult with an expert psychometrician.  How fortunate was I that Dr. Gable, who had written one of the top textbooks on instrument development in the affective domains, was on faculty at UCONN. For the past 15 years he has been my mentor in instrument development.

Walker: How did you first encounter qualitative methodology?

Cheryl: My graduate work at both Yale University and Boston University was totally quantitative. My first study after receiving my doctorate was a quantitative study; that was what I knew and felt comfortable with.It was a study on the relationship of maternity blues and postpartum depression. After completing that study it became clear to me that to improve the care to mothers suffering from postpartum depression, their voices needed to be heard in order for clinicians to better understand this devastating mood disorder.  At that time I was teaching at Florida Atlantic University and on faculty there was one of the pioneers in qualitative nursing research, Patricia Munhall, Ed.D. She was the person who first introduced me to this powerful methodology of qualitative research.

Walker: How have your experiences of conducting qualitative versus quantitative research differed?

Cheryl: I love doing both qualitative and quantitative research. I am a firm believer that for a research program to be most valuable it needs to be knowledge driven and not method limited to either quantitative or qualitative methods. I guess one of the big differences in my experiences conducting both types of research comes in the data collection phase. My quantitative studies, such as when I developed and tested the Postpartum Depression Screening Scale, required much larger samples than my qualitative studies did. My latest quantitative study was a randomized control trial examining the effect of a diet enriched in DHA during pregnancy on postpartum depressive symptoms. I conducted this study with Dr. Carol Lammi-Keefe and Dr. Michelle Judge, both PhDs in nutritional science. It was a longitudinal study that went from 20-22 weeks of pregnancy to 6 months postpartum. Recruitment of the sample was challenging not to mention retaining the participants for 6 months postpartum through multiple data collection points.

Walker: How does someone know they are a researcher?

Cheryl: I guess it is when you get up in the morning and working on your research project is what you cant wait to do. It is the part of your job that you love the most. You have a love for discovering new knowledge in order to improve patient care.

The next and last installment of this interview will include Cheryls thoughts on internet-based data gathering, the future of research, and working in a male-dominated field.

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