LISTEN: April Ballard on the importance of empathy in public health research

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April Ballard joins the Agents of Change in Environmental Health podcast to discuss finding her identity as a researcher, and her human-centered approach to science and community outreach.

Ballard, a Ph.D. candidate in the Environmental Health Sciences Program at Emory University’s Laney Graduate School and Rollins School of Public Health, wrote an essay in January about her work, Striving for dignity in homelessness research and outreach.

On today’s podcast she talks about being a first-generation college graduate, how representation and diversity in her current department has enriched her experience, and her mission to go beyond treating science simply as a means to publish papers.

“Often researchers go in they get the data that they need .. and then they leave. There’s no sort of reciprocity. And I refuse to adhere to that norm.”

The Agents of Change in Environmental Health podcast is a biweekly podcast featuring the stories and big ideas from past and present fellows. You can see all of the past episodes here.

Listen below to our discussion with Ballard, and subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, Spotify, or Stitcher.

Transcript 

Brian Bienkowski

So now I’m super happy to be joined by April Ballard, April, how are you.

April Ballard

I’m good hanging in there.

Brian Bienkowski

Good, Good, well it’s really nice to see you, you just had your first essay published, you were the first one in this cohort and now we’re going to get to that a little later but I wanted to start way back at the beginning. You grew up on a farm in Kentucky, and eventually became a first generation college graduate, but the journey maybe wasn’t always so much of a cakewalk. You came from an underserved public school system, wondering if you could talk a little bit about some of these challenges and other challenges you encountered, and how you overcame them going into college and pursuing your degrees.

April Ballard

Yeah, so I would say, you know, my, my background similar to everyone’s background has been a constant throughout, throughout my academic career really beginning, you know, when I was applying to undergrad, and then continuing during my masters and my PhD. So, I, I went to a high school with about 1900 kids. So that means that there were about 400 of us, and in my class alone, and we had very few guidance counselors to help you know navigate the college application process. And, you know, going to college was never a question for me even though my parents were not college graduates, but luckily my mom really really helped me out with the application process and scholarship process, because, you know, guidance counselors are stretched really thin, and I was able to ultimately attend the college of my choice, and I got a great education there I was able to run cross country there at a small liberal arts college called Transylvania University, but I was never labeled as first generation. So that meant that I never received any of the resources that came along with that label. And you know I admittedly I really struggled my first year in college but I feel like I spent, you know, all four years catching up to where everyone else was that I remember being in classes and, you know, people would answer faculty members questions with information I had never heard of. I was baffled that, you know, some of the knowledge that my fellow students had, especially going to a private school, there’s, you know, people that have have really extensive and extensive resources, and are able to go to really great school systems throughout their whole life and so, you know, for example, I’m, I’m pretty sure I was never educated on evolution until I was in college, I was in Spanish classes with people who started learning Spanish in elementary school, and I probably knew, you know, 10 words at the time. So it was a lot to navigate, but you know I just studied extremely hard for four years and there are a lot of benefits also that come with going to a small liberal arts college, you know I had faculty that loves mentoring and they love teaching. And that is, you know, those people are really what pushed me through you know their guidance their patience, and that meant the world to me. You know, there were three faculty in particular that took time to guide me and care for my well being and education. And, you know, give them a shout out, there was Dr. Jeremy Paden he’s a Spanish professor. And then, doctors, Sabri and Belinda fly, they really took me under their wings and also ultimately those three individuals led me to continue my education. And I think, you know my background. It also impacted my graduate career in a number of ways, beginning with my options for where I can even pursue a master’s degree, you know I had scholarships for undergrad, and then my parents helped me out with the rest. But I couldn’t afford to go to a top school for my master’s in public health, you know, I couldn’t have afforded to go to Emory for my master’s I didn’t, I didn’t have the money and I also wasn’t willing to take out $100,000 in loans. So I often first state school because I could afford that. And I, I, I was lucky enough to have a fellowship that paid for my master’s so ended up being a great choice for me financially but also personally I wasn’t ready to, to leave Lexington, Kentucky at that point. But during my master’s. I didn’t really you know I didn’t seek out research opportunities. I knew I wanted to get a PhD but I didn’t know what it took, you know, to get a PhD and I had some opportunities that just happens to fall into my lap and again, great mentors, Dr. Wayne Sanderson and Dr. April Young who presented other opportunities to me, but I didn’t know that I, if you wanted to get a PhD, then you should really be seeking out, research opportunities, but many of my peers, you know they had done research over the summers and an undergrad. For me I was focused on all my side hustles for money and doing my, my coursework, and so I didn’t know that I needed that experience.

But, again, you know I had. I was lucky to have mentorships and got some experience, but I think that really ultimately influenced how my PhD application process went to, and you know, I listened to some of the other podcasts and I was really encouraged and inspired with Dana’s stories, particularly about her kind of stumbling through the medical school process and ultimately kind of changing tracks, and I think that’s a really important lesson for all of us you know we don’t, we don’t always succeed our first go around, and that’s okay. And so, similarly you know I didn’t get into any program on my first rounds of applying I got a lot of interviews, but you know I didn’t get in. And I’m sure there are many reasons for that but I think you know being first gen and never being labeled first gen and other parts of my background really, I think culminated in a way that led me to be unsuccessful that first go around. I didn’t know you were supposed to get a faculty member to like help you with your application process and I really just tried it on my own, First time, and obviously it worked out the second time with a lot of great help and the more experience under my belt but what I took away from that I think is a very different perspective, with, you know, thinking through who isn’t getting into programs, how many people still don’t get into programs on a second try and why. And so I try to bring that perspective with me to a lot of different spaces now, I think I try to think, you know, how do you get your foot in the door if you don’t even know where the door is. So, yeah.

Brian Bienkowski

So just a quick programming note, Dana, it refers to Dana Williamson one of our one of our current fellows and you can check that podcast out in the archives. So one thing you mentioned there that no one else has mentioned, is athletics, and I just want to quickly ask you, because I, you know, my experience in leaving high school was sports I didn’t realize for me were kind of a discipline disciplinary tool, it was something after I got done with school you went and I bought and played football and basketball or baseball and it kept me on track somewhat and when I got to college, it, I found myself losing my way a little bit without sports and I’m wondering if cross country anchored you at all in college or if it was a hindrance.

April Ballard

Yeah so I think similar to you I played sports, you know, my whole life, most of the time I was a two sport athlete and student at the same time so I think I gained so many skills from that, especially related to time management, and in college I ended up I only ran for two of my four years, but definitely that first year especially, it was really really instrumental in being strategic about my time, it helped me be an early riser, you know, we had swim practices in the morning, and then we would have running in the afternoon and, you know, squeezing in classes and homework and all of that. But I think it also is so important for for building community I think that was my, my main takeaway I really learned how to just be around a diverse group of people and so that was really important to me but I think this time management piece is probably the biggest takeaway.

Brian Bienkowski

So outside of athletics. Some of your identities queer first generation female academic, um, so can you talk about this transition from feeling like maybe some of those things, you felt like you needed to stifle your voice and flipping that around and recognizing their value, and more of an empowerment tool through your identities.

April Ballard

Yeah so I think you know this really took some introspection and this honestly it’s a constant and iterative process. And, and by that I mean, it changes depending on what environment I’m in, and as my identity evolves over time. And so, you know, I’m at the point now, during my PhD and I think, you know add as a nation, we’re really in a similar place that I realized just how flawed all the systems are that we exist in and interact with. And because of where I’m from, because I’m first gen because I’m queer because I’m a female, because I’m white. I see things a certain way, and in, in qualitative research we call this my positionality. And so, I bring that positionality with me everywhere that I go and it influences how I see things how I think about problems how I solve problems, but it also influences how people see me, and how they interact with me. And so it’s important, in my research but also just in my day to day life. And so I, I use that now as a tool. A tool for thought for compassion for understanding. And what I mean by that is that I often think about, you know how my identity shape how I move through the world, the opportunities that I get that I don’t get how I’m afforded certain privileges and what allows me. What that allows me to do is then think through how others deal with those same privileges and challenges, or how they, you know, they may not know exactly. I may not know exactly what their experiences, but you know I can empathize and I can find commonality in their stories and I can see how someone different from me, can or cannot, you know do certain things and access certain things. And so I’ve been really, really fortunate, I think, to be in a really open department at Emory, and I think that’s allowed me to, to ask questions to pose solutions, and explore ways that you know we can just do better. And I have friends that are better like family to me that have also pushed me to be more comfortable and confident, and this has allowed me to really own those identities. And so when there’s, I think, overall, when there’s space for a person to feel comfortable and respected. I think that is when an identity gets kind of elevated to, you know, more of a superpower level, you know, it’s truly when collaboration can happen, and I know you and I have talked about this before, I’m a bit of an introvert so expressing any idea that I have can take some effort, Until I get comfortable with people that I’m engaging with. But you know, sticking with that example of my department on Emory. I think the transparency and openness of student faculty communication has really allowed me to simply just ask questions, you know, I don’t always have the solution. And I think your question might not seem like a lot but I think asking questions, gets people to think and reflect a bit more. And depending on the question, it can also lead people to think differently about a certain topic. So I think, yeah, that’s been really important to me and then my evolution was my identity and it’s been really, really great for me.

Brian Bienkowski

That idea of positionality is something. Admittedly, is somewhat new to me, and not to just plug the program that we’re here because of, but what I’ve noticed peek behind the curtain so we worked out the essays through ages to change through all the fellows. And I’ve noticed, just the incredible diverse backgrounds we have and everybody coming from different areas has made the writing process and the editing process for me so much richer, And it’s made me really realize the limitations of my traditional newsroom when I don’t have these, the luxury of 12 individuals who have all of these different experiences and thoughts and ideas to really, to really dissect the writing and the reporting and the ideas. So, I’ve learned a lot through the program as well. So I know you told me you listen to the podcast so I’m not able to take people off guard anymore but I’ve been asking everybody. What is a defining moment that shaped your identity.

April Ballard

Yeah so, being an introvert, obviously I’ve been thinking about this for months since I listened to the first podcast because I can’t not be prepared for any sort of conversation. This is not like, not in Maine to not be prepared. So I thought a lot about this and actually the answer didn’t come to me until like two nights ago, but in probably a week ago, it could have been a different answer but moving to Atlanta, actually I think has been incredibly important to me in my personal and professional growth. And I think the move really, it’s represented so much for me in so many ways, so I have my essay, talks about I’d grown up and lived in Kentucky my entire life, and I lived in Lexington, Kentucky for eight years. And that city particular Lee was incredibly important to me it really kind of shaped me into what I see is April 2.0, and living in a place so long you know it lets you get really comfortable. I met and still talk to some of my very favorite people there but I think that comfort can be a little stifling sometimes. And for me that is what happened. Not that I knew at the time. So moving to a new city, where I knew no one challenged me and, you know, made me grow in ways that I didn’t even know that I needed to either alluded to, I didn’t. I’m an introvert, but I didn’t know that until I moved to a new city where I knew, I knew no one so that was an interesting discovery. Second I’ve obviously started a PhD program and I’m hopefully halfway through so that clearly has been important for my personal and intellectual growth and Emory was a great choice for me it’s shaped I’ve been shaped so much by my mentors and my peers. The city of Atlanta is just amazing in general you know there’s so much history here, and I’ve been doing a lot of work with the community members here and that has made me love the city even more I was a little nervous about going further into the south, especially being queer but Atlanta has honestly over delivered for me it’s a very queer friendly city and the people here are just amazing. But I think, you know, most importantly, moving to a new city has brought me an entirely female queer community that was completely accidental, but has been so rewarding and, you know, my group of friends, has really allowed me to be completely myself, I think, has led to the APR 3.0 And that has really been transcended throughout all sectors of my life, so I want to send you know all my love to my friends that are really family, even though some of them have moved to the northeast and abandoned us, but I do want to talk just really briefly about one specific member of my friends circle, I think it’s really important for, for science, specifically, but she’s incredibly important to me but you know she she really represents an important lesson for those of us in science to why representation and diversity matters. And so moving to Atlanta and starting a Ph D program was obviously pivotal in itself to shaping my identity, but my friend Sydney also started the program at the same time as me and, honestly, that and her have been just as pivotal as my experiences in my Ph D program. And so she’s my best friend and we call each other we’re are each other’s lifewise, because it’s like a workwise, but she’s also my wife inside of and outside of work, but she’s a she’s a queer female. She is also a queer female scientist, we have similar backgrounds we study similar things and we’re in the same cohort. And so we quickly identified each other as both being queer she really forced her, her friendship on me as a, as a residential extrovert that she is.

And I bring her up because I’m not sure that I would have been as open and outspoken about my queerness and my background, and just about myself. If she hadn’t also been in my in my cohort and hadn’t been with me along the way. And so we had a running joke for a while that when one of us would mention our queerness to people in the department we were supposed to just mention both of our careers, to kind of reduce the amount of work that we each had to do. But, you know, most people think that we’re the same person anyway so it doesn’t really matter if we mentioned the other one. So, anyway, I was just used, I wasn’t used to talking about parts of myself because in a lot of places I can get fired for being queer or, you know make co workers uncomfortable, but having someone else who can say yeah same really allowed me to take my guard down. And I just think it’s incredibly invaluable invaluable to have someone who just gets it, especially threw out something that can be as challenging as a PhD. So if I experienced, you know, a microaggression. And I tell her she gets it immediately, you know, if I get worried about talking about my queerness she gets it, and she backs me up. So I think it’s just incredibly important to have people in your professional and your personal life who just get it, and honestly Sydney has been just really pivotal to my identity and my except my success in in a Ph D program. I might publicly, I might regret publicly admitting it because our department, make fun of us and will never let me live it down but, you know, she deserves all the praise, so it’ll be worth it.

Brian Bienkowski

Well that’s great to hear. And it’s a good reminder that the fact that you still have to feel like going into a department, oh there’s this, there’s this part of my identity that I’m not sure how it’s going to go over, which is totally foreign to me I’m I’m a white, you know, white, straight male and, you know, my identity I walk in with confidence and not really worried about telling people who I am, I mean that that idea is just, it’s, it’s pretty astonishing but I’m really glad you’ve, you’ve found her and have this relationship that’s really cool. And speaking of your PhD program so your essay we’re speaking right after your, your essay dropped striving for dignity and homelessness research and outreach and it was our first to publish this round. And you spent a beautiful narrative weaving in your own experience, searching with dignity with your work with the people experiencing homelessness. So correctly, correct me if I’m wrong but this topic is somewhat different than your doctoral training and dissertation research, so I was wondering if you can tell me a little bit about what your research is and how it connects to your essay and issues of people experiencing homelessness.

April Ballard

Yeah, so my dissertation work is actually on child exposure to animals and animal feces in Ecuador, so it’s a little bit different, but the overarching theme is that I really focus on this intersection of environmental, social and behavioral determinants of disease related to water sanitation and hygiene. So that’s kind of the zoomed out the zoomed out version, and there’s the intersections both in child animal exposure because we know that certain types of household people that have lower socioeconomic status can can have dirtier environments and and, and things of that nature so there there’s parallels in both, and it’s quite similar, even though they’re different topics to people experiencing homelessness. So that’s kind of the the connection between the two.

Brian Bienkowski

And so as you wrote people experiencing homelessness basically a variety of obstacles and stigmas some of these we think about a lot, you know, food, water, clothing, some we don’t. Can you talk a little bit of how you came to realize that, you know, food water and shelter are obviously very important but dignity needs to play a role in outreach and what are some of the ways you and your colleagues have tried to walk the walk on this.

April Ballard

Yeah, so I really became familiar with this topic. When I was working in Appalachia as a research assistant, so this is before I started my PhD and I was working on quite a few studies where we were focused on people who use drugs, and it was a lot of community based work, you know, we were as I talked about my essay we were setting up a tent like a pop up tent, and we would go to like gas station parking lot, like Walmart parking lot, then we had a grill, there were just three, three of us three white females, and we were just giving away free food and trying to get people to join our study, and and trust us, and so people would be walking by, they would come and talk to us, and they would end up just telling you know, telling us their stories, and then later I was working as a qualitative interview for for a similar project in Appalachia, and I heard even more of people’s people’s stories and people telling me you know they were living in, in what everyone would consider a home but it didn’t have electricity or running water, and then moving to Atlanta, I read a piece that was in I think it was a PHA their journal, and it was about people experiencing homelessness in Atlanta and not having access to sanitation, and seeing, you know, open defecation happening in the city and so that kind of that article made me think, if this is happening in a city where people have tons of access, hypothetically, this is definitely happening with people, people who are experiencing homelessness in rural areas. And so that, you know that’s led to a number of projects from then, from, from that, and, and for me. I just think about if I didn’t have water or I didn’t have the ability to shower, And then people walk by me and just ignore me as I think a lot of people do to people who are experiencing homelessness, that would just be such a horrible feeling. And I’ve heard over and over from people I’ve worked with who, who use drugs and also who are experiencing homelessness, just saying, you know, I just want to be treated like a human, like I maybe use drugs and and I maybe, maybe I’m on house but, you know, I, I’m a person, and I want to I want to be treated like that. And so that has just lead. You know it’s really changed my perspective and led me to think about how, how we can do better and how I can I can shift it doesn’t take no one has to change their research agenda to do work like this, you just shift your approach a little bit. And so that has led me to need to try to do that in every way possible. And so, my work right now is really focused on pragmatic solutions and human centered approaches, and, you know, I try to, try to take a harm reduction approach and so what that means is, you know, we, of course the ultimate goal is to end homelessness. Right, but that’s going to take a long time and a lot of effort. And so in the meantime people deserve to have their health, protected right like they deserve. Health care is a, is a human right. And so in the meantime we can do things, to, to improve the health of people experiencing homelessness. And so that can that can mean you know giving people water for drinking and and for hygiene, and that can prevent things like hepatitis A, and even COVID-19. And so, that not only boosts and just like a plug for the importance of this, it not only protects the health of people actually experiencing homelessness, but it protects the health of everyone. And we saw this there was a multi state out Hepatitis A outbreak that started a couple of years ago. And, you know, the biggest risk factors were people like experiencing homelessness, and, and, and using drugs or injecting drugs at but there were people that didn’t fit those, you know they weren’t experiencing homelessness and they weren’t using drugs, those people also got hepatitis A, and it’s because we interact with people who are experiencing homelessness and people who use drugs whether we know it or not. Anyone can, can, can hold those identities, or they’re not identities can, can, can be experiencing homelessness and use drugs. And so it protects everyone, essentially. And so, you know, what does this look like in practice, I talked about the dignity packs project in my essay. And so I think that’s a really good example we were handing out with my colleagues, alpha Hoover Anna Rodriguez at Emory, we hand out hygiene period and personal protective equipment supplies to people experiencing homelessness. And we directly get feedback from them to improve what we hand out and how we hand it out. And so we’re intentionally centering their needs and their desires and buyers have been so critical to our projects we’ve learned so much and it’s unable, ultimately we’ve changed our approach we don’t hand out pre packaged kits that are all the same. We set up a table we let people select what they want to meet their acute needs, and then we let anyone take what they want. We don’t ask about their housing status or anything, and there are no requirements, you get what you want. And so I think, you know, that’s just one example to kind of demystify what a human centered, You know, dignity. Dignity centered and harm reduction strategy to homelessness can look like and I just look forward to the field moving forward on this and getting creative and seeing how we can do better in our public health practices and approaches because at the end of the day, every person deserves to be seen and to have dignity, No matter if they’re healthy or on the house.

Brian Bienkowski

I want to point out something that, that I’ve picked up from you because of working with you on this essay was that words matter with this and you we have both during this interview said people experiencing homelessness as instead of saying, the homeless, which is kind of common, common use language. Can you, can you talk a little bit about why that distinction is important.

April Ballard

Yeah, and I even caught myself earlier. So, I think, you know, that also practice grace with ourselves and others.

But the people-first language is really important in all in all, all types of ableism OR, or NOT ableism and identities and experiences. So it really is putting the person first, it’s humanizing them, and then it’s, you know, after that, you say whatever you need to, to identify that an individual and so people experiencing homelessness, instead of homeless person recognizes that that person is first and foremost, a human. And then they’re just experiencing homelessness, they’re not tied to that homelessness, people experience homelessness. Sometimes cyclically. Sometimes people experience at once and then never again. And the point is to remove stigma associated with that. That word homeless come, there’s a lot that comes with that. It’s the same as instead of, like, people still commonly say drug addict, it’s, It’s incredibly stigmatizing and so it’s people who use drugs, people who inject drugs. And so it’s really just focused on removing that that stigma and putting the person first.

Brian Bienkowski

So of course the first part of publishing something is though is the hard part of writing and getting your thoughts down but the second part, nowadays is just as important and that’s now you, you have this thrust out into the public sphere. So when you first started this fellowship, I know you weren’t, you weren’t on Twitter, and we are we are common souls in our introverted ness and maybe aversion to social media, but now you are and in this story, as I said, has been thrust out into the public, what’s been your experience, both kind of prior to publishing and after using social media to kind of get your thoughts out there, and any tips for others that are looking to put a more personal touch on their science communication.

April Ballard

Yeah, so I, I, honestly, I learned a lot about myself and my work and my belief in the process of writing that essay, the ideas I outlined in my essay are, are in no way, you know, new topics to me. I think of all my queerness and how others see me and my safety and everything they’re in between every single day and in some form or fashion. And I’m also actively working on various projects focused on people experiencing homelessness and continuing continually thinking about how we can move the conversation related to public health and people experiencing homelessness forward both from a community standpoint and a research standpoint, but I don’t always write these thoughts down right. A lot of the time I’m just having conversations with people about it. I’m definitely not talking about it, like I said in a joint manner, like I did in my essay or in you know just a kind of late, lay term way, so I really had to sit down and write, and take a break, to think more and write some more and talk to my queer friends and my partner and go round and round and so I sent my first draft to one of my best friends, Sydney, the one I mentioned earlier, who just knows me and will will tell me how it is and so she outright said in the first draft, I wasn’t getting personal enough at first, which is pretty typical for me you know I’m not a sharer, you know, at least not a deep emotional share so her advice really helped me, and I had some places where, for example, I was just including kind of facts about LGBTQ rights, and she just flat out said, people don’t care about that like that’s boring. People care about you. Tell me about how this impacted you. And so that really helps the piece get to what it is. And so I think that’s a good approach for anyone who feels, you know, vulnerable, to have people on your team that are like that will push you. And so my friends and I talk about the importance of labeling ourselves as queer, a lot. There’s a lot of stigma about queerness and a lot of stereotypes, especially if you’re a queer woman. And if you don’t like if we don’t label ourselves and stand our ground and demonstrate that we are what we are what queer women look like we are what queer women scientists are like, then people will continue to hold, you know, belief, wrong belief and and stick to stereotypes that they have. And so, we also want you know other people, other queer for folks to feel comfortable bringing their, their whole selves to the table so that is what pushed me to get preferred so personal and to talk about my queerness in such a public way. And I, you know, as it as it. I think I’ve had a lot of response, both from, from people who are queer but those that aren’t. And so I think that has been really powerful and meaningful and I think that is, that is why it’s so important for us to share these parts of our identity. You know a lot of people who are queer have reached out to me but a lot of people that identified with my story because of where they were they were brought up and different parts of their identity, whether it be their gender, or, you know, their religion. There was something in my story that that people who are not queer could identify with. And so I think that’s kind of the moral of the story here and don’t get me wrong, it’s hard and it’s vulnerable to label yourself and to own identities in certain spaces but we need to do it when we can. And I think, I mean, he said he said this in the first podcast of the series that stories are what changes people’s behaviors and minds. So I guess, you know, that’s, that’s the takeaway share your story. Share the human parts of you because those are the parts that matter. They matter in my opinion, more than, you know your intellect. So we just have to show up as our whole self and I’ve been surprised at liking social media you were asking about Twitter. So far, I’ve liked it, I’m just now really kind of diving into it I see the importance of, of using it. And I’ve had some great conversations on there but I also see that as one kind of small piece of the larger science communication puzzle.

Brian Bienkowski

I’m gonna have to take a page out of Sydney’s book and start using. No one cares when I’m editing people’s people’s grades are too nice for for many years now, no one cares.

April Ballard

It’s true I’m a very straightforward person so I don’t need the fluff so when someone says no one cares. I’m like, You’re right, great.

Brian Bienkowski

So do you see this kind of science communication. You know it’s not always going to look like this it’s not always going to be kind of deeply personal and kind of intertwining your experience with your research, but just in general, do you see science communication. Communicating your work to more of a lay audience something you want to play a continued role in your work moving forward.

April Ballard

Definitely. So, you know, I think, first and foremost, what is the point of our science without communicating it to people and in a real life way you know numbers and data are useless without a type of translation. And so I see science communication really as, you know, essential for that. I also think as scientists we have an obligation to communicate our findings, both to the general population, but also to the populations we work with. So for me, science communication needs to be and will be at the center of my work, obviously I work with extremely vulnerable and marginalized populations. And often I think research among such populations is very extractive, and by that I mean, You know, often researchers go in, they get the data that they need for their grants and or their manuscripts, and then they leave. And there’s no sort of reciprocity, and I, I refuse to adhere to that norm, so the people I work with deserve more than that they deserve to know what I’m finding, they deserve a chance to say yes, I agree with your observations or no that is not my truth. And they deserve to see real, real change resulting from their effort and their labor that they put in while they’re telling me their stories. So for me I see you know science communication as storytelling as scientists we are storytellers and we are shaping beliefs about populations about places about people, and we should not take that lightly, and I do not take that lightly. So I plan to communicate my work with other scientists with the general population with policymakers with community leaders and organizations, and with the people I work with, so that will be very central to my work.

Brian Bienkowski

So last question today, what is the last book you’ve read for fun.

April Ballard

Yeah, so I brought my books over here so that I could get the titles and the author’s right. So I just finished two books. One is white rage by Carol Anderson she’s actually an Emory faculty member, but it’s a lot about history, throughout the US, that from, you know redlining to policies from presidents that have really been rooted in racism and I learned still so much in this book, and that no president is innocent. In, in being racist including Abraham Lincoln, So, he did a lot of great things but he also was problematic in his own way, and I think that’s, this, that made me really enjoyed this book cuz I love the world is messy and I like books that kind of hold, hold that hold that as true. and then another. Another book I read is a it’s a series of essays, and it’s called, they can’t kill us until they kill us. And it is about a lot about music. And so, I’m not a lot of people know this about me, but I’m, I just love music so much I listened, my Spotify like listen to hours every year is a ridiculous number too embarrassed to tell you what it is. But this book is all about kind of different experiences and relating it to music and artists and pop culture, and so that was a really, really great book for me to listen to, or to read. And then, I’m currently reading Lovecraft country which is my first go around at some sci fi horror fiction that I have not read before. So I recommended there’s, I think the shows out on HBO right now, that similar to the book, but it is also about kind of directly calling out Lovecraft who is a horror author that was very racist and kind of flipping that on its head and centering black folks, as the protagonist. And it’s just, it’s, it’s a really well done book.

Brian Bienkowski

Awesome. That last book reminds me of what they did with. So somebody asked me recently on the podcast. What book I’ve been reading and I had just reread the watchmen I’m a big graphic novel comic book nerd and when HBO redid that they flipped it and had a black protagonist and I remember thinking, it was just stunning how they had changed the book but anyway April, thank you so much for today this has been so much fun.

April Ballard

Yeah, Thank you so much.

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