Kathleen Utter King
I became a doctoral student at the University of Rochester in something of a roundabout way I started by first becoming part of the faculty.
I graduated from the Syracuse University School of Nursing and went on to practice in a labor and delivery unit. I then decided to become a midwife and attended a graduate midwifery education program at Columbia University in New York City . My internship took place at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx , and in time I returned to Syracuse . I practiced in several settings including a health maintenance organization, a private obstetrical midwifery practice and a hospital clinic caring for vulnerable populations, the under-insured of the city. Many of the women for whom I cared gave birth in a birthing center in Syracuse .
Some years ago, I was invited to teach in the new nurse midwifery educational program at the University of Rochester and eventually became the academic director of that program. Teaching midwifery and women's health courses were rewarding for me but I did not as yet have a Ph.D. And it is generally wise for a member of the faculty to get one.
I considered various topics for my dissertation research and it so happened that in 2000 I found myself becoming extremely interested in genetics. I applied for and was awarded a fellowship from the National Institutes of Health at Georgetown University . The Summer Genetics Institute offered classroom and lab experience in human genetics. The capstone assignment was to design a genetics-related federally fundable research proposal. The proposal that I wrote became the basis of my doctoral dissertation study.
My evolution from faculty to doctoral candidate was in some ways a natural one. Unlike many students, the doctoral process revealed no major surprises for me, but then I was prepared for anything. My colleagues at the School of Nursing were quite enthusiastic in drawing me to academic research.
The University of Rochester School of Nursing has an absolutely outstanding reputation in terms of quality, education, federal funding. In fact we are currently ranked twelfth in federal funding. Both in my experience at the National Institutes of Health, and in the experience of others I've spoken to in conferences and meetings in different places around the country, it's accepted without question that graduates of the University of Rochester are superbly prepared to design, carry out, and evaluate research.
I also knew before I enrolled that the School of Nursing curriculum was outstanding. We are educated in statistics, in methods of conducting, evaluating, and applying research. We are also educated in epistemology a process of weighing different perspectives to ensure that we examine the philosophical and theoretical underpinnings of our (and others') assumptions from which we derive our research questions and interpret results.
I also found that the enthusiasm and collegiality in the people who worked and studied there was an attraction to the program an enthusiasm as vivid in the students as it was in the faculty.
A doctoral degree from the University of Rochester is a powerful professional accomplishment. That goes without saying. What is not said often enough is how powerfully and subtly the teaching process at this University develops students' abilities as scientists. By way of example, I was taking a course with Dr. Harriet Kitzman, who suggested that I work with Dr. Jane Tuttle on developing a project that would lead to publication. So I used the knowledge and experience that I had gained in previous courses to evaluate narrative data and make interpretations based on that data.
That is the sort of cultivation one receives here. A professor facilitates the growth and development of students in ways that leave them not so much taught as professionally mentored. Professors do not merely pass along information, but model thoughtfulness, academic professionalism, and collaboration.
Students are offered personal and professional courtesy as well. I often found myself encouraged to submit proposals to conduct presentations, attend, and network at professional research society meetings and in some cases I was awarded travel and conference funding for doing so.
When a professor from outside of the department comes to chair a dissertation defense, there is an inevitably a remark made about his or her amazement at how many people show up for the dissertation twenty, thirty people packed into a room. Why so many? Because the doctoral candidate's colleagues, faculty, students, friends and family are there, supporting and cheering the candidate on.
At the University of Rochester School of Nursing (unlike many other doctoral programs), we are encouraged to design and carry out our own independent research projects. We can, of course, design and investigate an individual component of our mentor's research, and many students do. And we do work with an advisor's approval and supervision, of course. But we are encouraged to build our own research studies from ground up. That is quite unique. The members of my dissertation committee, Drs. Kathleen King (no relation!), Jeanne Grace, and Chin-To Fong, gave me independence and responsibility for the design and conduct of my research. Yet they were always available for consultation and support at times when I needed it.
The aspect of my doctoral education that will always stand out in my mind is that I was empowered to design my own study, write the Research Subject Review Board application, recruit and interview 350 women, and draw blood samples from each woman. I was also responsible for isolating the DNA from each sample and genotyping for five different variants, conducting the statistical analyses and interpreting my findings. Additionally, I sought and was awarded funding from outside agencies to pay for a relatively expensive dissertation project and thus to select and purchase equipment, consumables and reagents for the study.
It was a tremendous responsibility and, accordingly, a tremendous opportunity that will serve me well in planning and carrying out future research endeavors.
Given the comprehensiveness of my dissertation project, I needed to learn that it's OK to ask for help. I did learn that. And also that, here, at the University of Rochester , when you ask for help, help will always be provided. Resources will be identified and possible contact persons found. I was not accustomed to asking for help. But a single human being will always have limitations, and face multiple roadblocks. None of us know (or can do) everything. And the wonderful thing is that those who request assistance aren't simply handed the wheat. They are given the seeds and shown how to plant and attend to the wheat. Faculty help students to develop critical thinking skills so that students can discover the answers.
It's common in academia to measure success in terms of getting grants or publishing a large number of papers. I don't measure it that way myself. For me, the greatest success is to answer a research question I am passionate about to be able to truly and fully understand something that I really want to understand. And by persistently facing every challenge, minor and major, I can find the solution to the research question that has caught my attention.
The School of Nursing and the University of Rochester as a whole, including mentors from the School of Medicine and of Dentistry have made all of the difference in developing my abilities and resources to carry out research. What I have learned has only been possible because I have been part of a learning community.
I recently completed my dissertation study to see if genes that are associated with type 2 (adult-onset) diabetes were also associated with gestational (pregnancy) diabetes. I tested for five variants and found one Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (a part of a gene) that was significantly associated with gestational diabetes. This is an exciting finding, but further research needs to be conducted to determine the meaningfulness of this finding in relation to the biophysiologic pathways by which gestational and type 2 diabetes develop.
In the future, I would like to do post-doctoral research in the genetics of complex disorders (molecular epidemiology) to look further at the relationship between genes and the metabolic syndrome gestational and type 2 diabetes, hypertension, obesity, heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and so on -- as it applies to women.
My background in midwifery may come into play here. We know that women who have diabetes are five to seven times more likely to have a heart attack. Diabetes is a significant risk factor for heart disease, and the mechanisms by which diabetes and heart disease and how they interact aren't well known as yet. Having an understanding of the interaction of genetic, non-genetic and epigenetic factors will surely hold some of the answers.
Regarding the University of Rochester School of Nursing, I can only add that I could have asked for no better place to prepare me for the lifelong task of asking questions and designing and implementing studies that will provide us with answers. It is a challenging and collaborative environment in which one can learn to design and conduct and evaluate research of the highest level.
I have no doubt that the preparation I've received here, and the friendships I've formed, not only with my fellow doctoral student colleagues but also with my teachers and faculty, will serve me well throughout a life-long career which I hope to dedicate to research, and to helping to find explanations for affliction and disease. Based on these findings, research studies could be designed to test strategies that would prevent or delay the onset of, or ameliorate the complications associated with diabetes in women.
Kathleen Utter King , CNM , MS , is the recipient of a Bachelors degree from the Syracuse University School of Nursing, a Masters degree in Midwifery from the Columbia University School of Nursing in New York City , and pursued a PhD in Health Practice Research at the University of Rochester School of Nursing. She passed her doctoral dissertation and received her Ph.D. on September 25, 2006.
Her publications include Intergenerational Family & Sexual Risk Behavior by ( T uttle, J., Landau, J., Stanton, M.D., King, K.U. & Frodi, A., MCN, 2004). Kathleen's awards include a National Institutes of Health Kirschstein NRSA Individual Fellowship, an American Nurses Foundation Award: Ada Sue Hinshaw Scholar Award, an International Society of Nurses in Genetics Research Award, a Sigma Theta Tau Omicron Chapter (Syracuse) Research Award, a Sigma Theta Tau Epsilon Xi (Rochester) Research Award, a National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Nursing Research/Georgetown University Summer Genetics Institute Intramural Research Training Award Fellowship, a March of Dimes Graduate Scholarship and a Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender and Women's Studies Research Award.