Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Final Stretch

Two final papers (40 to 45 pages in total), two final exams (Statistics and Research Methods), article presentation in class and reading summaries/questions for three evidence-based practice articles (Epistemology), and a research proposal powerpoint presentation - then Fall quarter is in the can.

whew.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Resilience

I came across this definition of resilience in an email from UCLA's Urban Planning Journal...

Derived from ecology, the concept of resilience is defined as the "measure of the persistence of systems and of their ability to absorb change and disturbance and still maintain the same relationships between populations or state variables" (Holling 1973). A resilient system is formed by the dynamic interplay between deterministic forces and random events, structural factors and human agency, linear paths and contingency. Such heterogeneity and variability allow resilient systems to absorb unforeseen shocks, continually adapting and evolving so as to resist collapse.

Any thoughts or reactions to this dynamic and interactive definition?
How will any institution that children and families depend on (including LAUSD), adapt and evolve "so as to resist collapse" in the face of so many shocks, changes and disturbances? With so much at stake, what are our best ideas?

Evidence-Based Practice (EBP)

One development in the human services that shows great promise for linking practice and research is evidence-based practice: the conscientious, explicit, and judicious use of the best evidence in making decisions about human service assessment and intervention. According to this approach, the best evidence is knowledge that has been gained via the research process (from Applied Social Research: A Tool for the Human Services, 2008).

What is the point of conducting research and finding approaches or interventions that relieve suffering and make people's lives better, if no one knows about them, reads about them or uses them?

How can we all bring about the "great promise for linking practice and research" - what will this take? What can this look like? How can we capitalize on the advantages of current technology to help?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

One of the Perks

One of my classmates is recovering from a flu that knocked her out for four valuable school work days. A friend of hers (an advanced doctoral student) told her to enjoy the flexibility of being in school and to do at least one thing every week that she might not otherwise be able to do if she was working.

It is Lila's (my UCLA carpool partner) birthday on Monday.

Yesterday, after statistics support with Todd (2 hours) and before Research Methods with Aillee (5 hours last night), we decided to celebrate Lila's birthday at Palomino's in Westwood. We had berry martinis and appetizers at 1:00 in the afternoon! woohoo!

What will I try next week? Any suggestions?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Week 8

SW 245A, Epistemology (the philosophy of knowledge)
Everyone agrees this is thee most difficult course in the program. It is offered first up, welcome to the doctoral program! A bit of hazing, if you ask me. Every week there are about four articles and a textbook chapter of reading on a different epistemology (positivism, post-positivism, hermeneutics, social constructivism, interpretivism, critical realism, critical theory, feminist/standpoint theory, etc.). Every Friday a summary and three questions from the readings are due. Sometimes, this means posting assignments online just before midnight. Reading is often slow because the material is dense. Philosophers don't seem to speak or write plainly. It is beyond jargon, it is another language completely. I am learning abstract and difficult concepts in an entirely new language.

Our midterm assignment was a paper describing a well-researched theory which we will later analyze epistemologically and ontologically. Ontology refers to the nature of things that we know - are they real or ideal, independent and objective or socially constructed? I chose to examine Attachment Theory and how it explains our vulnerability to PTSD. Why don't all who are exposed to traumatic events later develop symptoms?

Despite the incredible challenges, this is my favorite class this quarter. The reading has become more and more fascinating and thought-provoking. The professor, Zeke, is knowledgeable and brings many real world examples of research using the different epistemologies, including his own. Zeke doesn't seem to mind all my questions. Even when I persist in challenging an assumption of our beloved Critical Theory.

SOC210A Statistics
This is a three-quarter series on Statistics taught by sociology professors. First up is Gabriel Rossman. He is a 32 (!) year-old UCLA and Princeton alum. He writes about pop culture, like music and the movie industry. His examples are fun in that they help explain the how and why of t-tests or bootstrapping or sampling, but also become interesting stories in themselves. He writes about the halo effect of teamwork on movie sets and its impact on the success of movies. He also uses mythology and quotes from rabbis to make his points. I like all this. I forget now which stats point he was trying to make but he told us about the ancient Hoplites and how they lined up for battle with the youngest in the front and the oldest in the back. This was not so much because the youngest were strongest in battle but because it prevented the youngest from turning around and running away in fear. This reminds me of field instructors and interns. Would any intern actually follow through with a biopsychosocial assessement and parent interview without the veteran field instructor holding the line?

I know that Gabriel is a Princeton alum because I actually wore a Princeton t-shirt to class one day (isn't wearing a t-shirt and yoga pants and a pony tail one of the perks of being back at school?). Anyway, when I reached over to get something out of my backpack, he noticed my t-shirt and asked me something about it, only I didn't hear him on account of I wasn't really paying attention yet because I was reaching for my legal pad for notetaking. Anyway, there he was smiling at me and waiting for a response and I didn't know what to say. Also, there is no back and forth conversation in that class. There are about 20 students and no dialogue, even when he asks us direct questions. It's a quiet group. My classmate thinks it is a sign of the fact that everyone is lost. Anyway it finally dawned on me, after a very pregnant pause, that he was asking about Princeton, I told him I had not attended but bought it on campus when I was back east for a conference. What conference he wanted to know. I was feeling uncomfortable in the spotlight, as usual. I am a horrible extemporaneous speaker. When I told him it was at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation nearby, he said his wife did health policy work for them, then went back to his lecture. My carpool partner said I will get an A in that class for wearing that t-shirt (thanks, Pia!). Then I wanted to know where he attended undergrad.

Every week we have one chapter of reading. Homework problems from the chapter and a lab assignment (using STATA not SPSS, Gabriel hates SPSS) are due every Tuesday. There are two 2-hour lectures every week (Tuesday and Thursday) and two 1-hour labs with our TA, Yool, every week (Tuesday and Friday). In addition, Todd Franke, a SW professor, offers a required Stats support session every other Wednesday from 11 am to 1pm. There will be a cumulative final in 3 weeks. I'm wearing the t-shirt again for good luck.

SW286A Survey of Research Methods
This is an optional course in the program, but I figured a review would help. The last time I took a Stats course was Summer 1994. I highly recommend that class. It was a math course taught by Michael Allen at Glendale Community College. I took it as a prerequisite for my admission to the MSW program at Berkeley. Even with all the Stats instructors I have this quarter, I am leaning on what I learned in that summer to get through Stats this quarter. The last time I took Research Methods was three semesters at Berkeley (Spring 1995 to Spring 1996). This is the course that gets my short-shrift. The reading is good but I rarely have time for it. The mid-term paper was the first half of a research proposal and I chose to use the South Los Angeles Resiliency Project to develop reasearch questions, hypotheses and a lit review. I figured it may serve me when I have to submit a publishable paper in my second year. This course is great in that it is walking us through every aspect of research - questions, hypotheses, units of analysis, reliability, validity (face, criterion, etc.) sampling, survey methods, etc.

I have to admit I took a break last week. I felt the exhaustion in every cell of my body. Not even the salmon oil was working. We got a new bed and that helps with having a refreshing good nights sleep (no body aches and pains upon waking). I had a massage, an accupuncture session (and left with Chinese herbs for energy), a color appointment (I was overdue by 2 weeks!), a nice walk at Descanso Gardens and another around the Rose Bowl. I read, A Round-Heeled Woman, in one day (I could not put it down) and now I am feeling restored again.

Monday begins week 8 of the fall quarter and that means we are close to the end of this round of boxing. Finals week is three weeks away and a three week break will follow after that. If the first year is all about survival, then I suppose I can say, with confidence, that I am indeed surviving. But it feels like so much more than that. When you pursue your goals, dreams or set about on your intentions, it feels like so much more than survival, it feels like living, real living, no matter how hard, it feels like being alive, like the pit in your stomach wants to burst out and scream, this is real, this is really happening, I am doing this now!

Thank you, Yesus, again and again and again...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Critical Theory

Epistemology is the philosophy of knowledge or the ways of knowing. How do we know what we know?

One of the epistemologies used in the social sciences is Critical Theory. Critical theory makes the assumption that all of us inherently want to be free. Critical theory further argues that oppression can’t continue without the acquiescence of the oppressed, however, proponents of this theory assert that the oppressed don’t know that they have a choice.

If you knew you had a choice, would you pursue freedom? No matter the cost?

After Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, they grew tired of eating manna from heaven and wanted to return to Egypt - where they had been previously enslaved!

There are rules that we learn because we are good students of our family, culture and society. But what if those rules were learned in coercive conditions? What if those rules serve an oppressive other but don't serve us - that is, serve to frustrate our freedom? Do we perpetuate them or do we challenge them?

Is it impolite to disagree? Who does this rule serve? And why is being polite more important than voicing your perspective? You may walk away with the self-satisfaction of being agreeable. But maybe the oppressive force who created this rule and sold it to generations, is the real winner, or at least ends up with the last word.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cultural Rules?

I am the only brown person in my Statistics course (19 students) - the rest are White, Asian, and European nationals. No affirmative action rules apply at UCLA.

Sometimes I feel like I am missing Thee Rule Book. That is, when and when not to ask questions. What kinds of questions are okay and which are definitely not okay. What is appropriate and what is just not done. I know I have overstepped the bounds of propriety when I get the squinty-eyed look of contempt and half-smile in response. I anguish over having said too much, been too much for my environment.

Then I think, if someone did give me Thee Rule Books for how to be successful in middle-class white society or even how to be a good Latina in Latina society or how to be a nice Social Worker in Social Worker society or a properly coiffed woman in woman society, it wouldn't change a thing. I might still break the rules. I would still be me. One of my older sisters used to say to me, has de hacer lo que tu quieres - you're going to do what you want. Nimodo que haga lo que tu quierras - what else am I going to do, what you want? That leads me to my favorite question, "What do you want?" Feel free to reply and post your answer.

Either way, there is a price to pay. Follow the rules and belong to the group (but what part of you do you lose?). Break the rules and risk being an outsider (and lose the group). What is the middle path? Is it really okay for me to be me and for you to be you?

The Rule Book would still help. Then I could break rules with intention and not out of ignorance. Heard any good rules lately?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Status Update

Reevah (my longtime clinical supervisor and mentor) always said, "we feel ambivalent about everything" and "we have a right to our thoughts and feelings." With those sage assumptions in mind, I am feeling all my feelings right now. I am feeling confident and overwhelmed. Tired and stimulated. In control and out of control. I am so grateful to be having this experience and cranky that it is kicking my butt. Dr. Susan Crimmins might call this noticing, without judgment, tracking, orienting and pendulating. Asking for help and leaning on my support system is helping. Now I am planning the rounds with all my healers - chiropractor, accupuncturist, massage therapist, pedicurist, colorist, etc. I am tackling self-care in a way that is tested and true - through the body (especially, when going to the gym for a sauna & steam bath after a work out sounds like too much work).

Thank goodness for my primary resiliency factor, spirituality. Thank goodness for the humanistic-existentialist approach that I learned by reading and listening to Irvin Yalom and Carl Rogers. Also, thank goodness for buddhism and mindfulness. They have saved my life more than once. The self-awareness and self-acceptance espoused by these approaches allows me to face my challenging new experiences full-on in order to integrate them and come out whole. Stoicism is over-rated and inauthentic. Who needs it? There's nothing weak about being real - in fact, it takes a whole lot of courage and confidence to be vulnerable and lift the veil on the horribly beautiful truth that there is a lot we don't know, we are imperfect. And isn't that grand? Where does striving to reach "perfection," internally or in polite company, lead to anyway? What a relief to be human and just as we are. The sign that the revolution took hold is being able to say (quoting Wanda Sykes) "I'ma be Me."