My work with Dr. Epperson, as part of the Penn PROMOTES Research on Sex and Gender in Health program at the Penn Center for Women’s Behavioral Wellness (PCWBW), has been the highlight of my undergraduate career. Majoring in both Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies and Biological Basis of Behavior, I am able to apply these two fields to my honors thesis: My Transgender Brain Study (MyT, read “mighty,” for short). The idea for this project came up to address the relative lack of research on LGBTQ health. For transgender and gender expansive individuals, little is known about the cognitive and behavioral effects of gender-affirming hormone therapy (GAHT). My study proposes to use brain imaging, cognitive tests, and behavioral assessments before and after 3-4 months of GAHT to observe individuals assigned female at birth who identify on the transmasculine spectrum.
During the spring semester of 2017, I learned how to develop an IRB protocol and prepare grant proposals with the help of Dr. Epperson and the rest of the PCWBW team. This was very eye-opening because I had a chance to be a part of the scientific process from the very beginning phases of our clinical research study. I feel very honored to be collaborating with professionals across multiple departments at the University to put together this initiative. Because of this, I was able to get a sense of all the details and complexities that go into the scientific process. Even completing an in-depth literature review was a new challenge for me.
Our protocol was just recently approved by the IRB over the summer, and we look forward to beginning our recruitment in the fall. I am very excited to interact with study participants, collect data, and become more familiar with how to administer the interviews and patient ratings. This will be an ongoing project with an estimated timeline of two years.
In the meantime, I am working on writing an article for publication. I have grown so much personally, academically, and professionally because of my research experience here, and I cannot wait to get this study off the ground in September. The best is still to come!