Dirk Davis co-founded a collaborative student research group to answer his big questions.
Name: Dirk Davis
Position: Doctoral student, Department of Health Behavior
Time at the Gillings School: Four years (I earned a Master’s of Public Health here, and now I’m in my second year of doctoral studies.)
What I do at UNC Gillings (and why I love it): I work with Clare Barrington, mainly on HIV and health disparities research among LGBTQ populations in Central America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean (primarily Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and Cuba). Ours is very applied research that’s all about improving the quality of health care for sexual and gender minority populations. For example, we work with people living with HIV – both men who have sex with men and transgender women – and we ask them about their interactions with the health-care system in order to design interventions that will successfully improve both their access to care and the quality of care they receive. While this research is both quantitative and qualitative, I really enjoy conducting in-depth interviews. I get to know the stories of the people we’re hoping to help.
What I love about Gillings is how students are given the opportunity to get involved in amazing projects and explore topics that truly interest them. For example: Over the summer last year, my friend and fellow doctoral student May Chen and I started talking about the research questions we really wanted to ask. We got inspired and decided to start an LGBTQ Health Disparities Research Collaborative on campus. It was recognized officially as a student organization earlier this year, and we already have hosted one expert speaker and have plans for several other events this year.
I got into this area of work: through a series of connected events. I’m from North Carolina, and I always knew I wanted to do something related to health. I actually was pre-med as an undergraduate, but then I studied abroad and decided to double-major in Spanish and Latin American Studies, which eventually led me to Guatemala and a five-year stint with the Peace Corps. That’s when I got into public health programming, especially related to global health. I started off working in maternal and child health and chronic malnutrition, but I knew I wanted to go back to school eventually. I came to UNC specifically to work with Clare. She had a large network of contacts in Guatemala and other places that interested me, so I was able to get involved with her HIV research and have gotten to work with wonderful communities and research teams.
To start a conversation with me: bring up good food or good beer! I mean, they go hand-in-hand. I love slow-cooking meat on the smoker, especially pork shoulder (Eastern N.C.-style BBQ, of course). My husband and I just traveled to Asheville this past weekend and got to check out a bunch of great breweries. Some of my favorites were Burial, Green Man and Wicked Weed.
A fictional character I identify with: is Andrew from the new Netflix show “Big Mouth.” It’s all about kids reaching puberty and coming of age, and I think I identify with him because the show is funny but also very real when it comes to that time in life. I wish we could have watched that show in middle school, instead of the horrible sex ed videos we had to watch!
Something I’m looking forward to: is finishing school and having the opportunity to explore my professional options and pursue exactly the questions that interest me most. Now that HIV research has connected me to several different LGBTQ communities, I’m really interested in learning more about other health outcomes within these same groups. Funding is beginning to become available for that kind of research, although it’s still somewhat of a struggle. I’m especially interested in mental health and violence among sexual and gender minorities, and how these issues affect other health outcomes.
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