Through the PURM program, I was able to spend 10 weeks this summer investigating e-cigarette control messages and collaborating on this incredible project with Professor Dr. Joseph Cappella of the Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science in the Annenberg School for Communication. Our goal was to monitor social media and other web platforms for any new claims made by the manufacturers, as well as the public health institutions. I was able to help on several projects in the TCORS lab and sit in on research team meeting that allowed me to learn more about the field of public health communication research.
During my time as an undergraduate research assistant to Dr. Cappella and his team, I was responsible for coding survey responses in Microsoft Excel, testing participant surveys for errors, and programming sections for future surveys to be launched through Qualtrics. In addition to these tasks, I also kept tabs on FDA MRTP application proposals, utilized databases to accumulate US and international advertising for heat-stick, e-cigarette, and snus products. Lastly, I compiled images from social media and web platforms for e-cigarette control advertisements from local, state, and federal sources, as well as from e-cigarette vendors. The goal of my project was to compare the themes presented in the vendor vs the public health institution ads to deduce what the most prevalent arguments were. Over 100 ads have already been gathered and the project is still ongoing.
I was mostly thankful this summer for the experience that Dr. Cappella gave me and all his insights and wisdom. He enabled me to think critically about the field of public health communication and to make sense of my data so I could share it with others. This summer, I was not just a research assistant, but I was an individual working alongside a brilliant professor, learning and absorbing knowledge that will continue to shape me into a better student, researcher, and person.