- August 24, 2009
- As a research specialist for Hollywood, Health & Society, a program of the University of Southern California Annenberg Norman Lear Center, Sheena Nahm, '09 anthropology Ph.D. graduate, helps Hollywood writers and producers keep health-related storylines accurate
After years of cultivating her passion for interdisciplinary studies, recent UCI graduate
Sheena Nahm today is flexing her academic research muscles in the entertainment capital
of the world. Nahm, who received her Ph.D. in anthropology in June, is a research
specialist for Hollywood, Health & Society, a program of the University of Southern
California Annenberg Norman Lear Center. She conducts original research, evaluates
program activities, assists in data collection and analysis, and presents findings
through articles in peer-reviewed journals and conferences. She also recently won
the 2009 Peter K. New Student Research Award for her paper, "Between Stigma and Demand,"
which investigates the development of child psychotherapy programs in Seoul. As part
of her award, Nahm presented her paper at a featured session of the 69th Annual Meeting
of the Society for Applied Anthropology. In the following Q&A, Nahm discusses her
award-winning paper, her new job and her UC Irvine graduate student experience.
Q: "Between Stigma and Demand" is based on research you completed while finishing your doctoral studies at UCI. What is the focus of your paper?
A: My paper focuses on shifts in psychotherapeutic circles. I spent one year in Korea to investigate the development of child psychotherapy programs in Seoul. By interviewing therapists, I learned that although parents are more open to the idea of bringing in their children for treatment, they often hesitate to do so because of residual stigma surrounding mental health issues. At the same time, the drive to improve academic performance has increased service-seeking behaviors. This combination of stigma and demand has opened the door for play therapy to emerge as an appealing option for dealing with psychological issues. Play therapy also appeals because it seems less "clinical" and therefore less associated to stigma. But being perceived as less "clinical" also comes with its own issues, especially for the therapists who specialize in this type of work.
Q: Where do you currently work?
A: I work for Hollywood Health & Society (HH&S), a program of the USC Annenberg Normal Lear Center that provides writers and producers with accurate and up-to-date information for health-related storylines. Although we are involved with shows like "Grey's Anatomy" and "House," our work is not limited to medical dramas. We may, for example, consult on a soap opera in which the story line revolves around a character dealing with cancer. We are funded in part by the Center for Disease Control and also work with CDC doctors, among other experts, to create tip sheets for writers and producers. There are a range of other free services. The aim is to provide credible information, reliable experts and engaging case examples, and to collaborate with communication researchers and entertainment industry executives to study the content and impact of TV health storylines.
Q: What do you do?
A: As research specialist for HH&S, I manage various projects and formulate pre- and post-show tests - mainly surveys that test audience knowledge, attitude and behavior in response to watching a specific show. Data collected through the surveys will allow us to determine whether viewers increased their knowledge about the health issues tackled in the show. Our evaluations contribute to the rigorous research being conducted in the field of health communications. It's also great for writers and networks to know that what they do has social impact.
Q: What was your job search strategy?
A: I started working the week after I graduated from UCI in June. Especially in this economy, I feel doubly, triply fortunate because I really enjoy my job. I was searching from September through graduation, because it often takes that long for academic job interviews. But I also wanted to cast a wide net and look at non-academic jobs, too. At times there just weren't a lot of postings in either pool, but I think there's a lot to be said about being creative and open, and persevering through it all. Just when I didn't want to fill out another application, I kept telling myself, "I have to get out there."
Q: What is your educational background?
A: Initially, as an undergrad, I was pre-med. I ended up double majoring when I developed an interest in cultural anthropology. So I received B.A.s in biological basis of behavior and in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania. It was kind of a hectic senior year because I remember trying to complete an honors thesis for each major, but in the end I think it was totally worth it to have exposure to diverse perspectives. I then earned an M.P.H. (Public Health) at Drexel University, emphasizing in community health and prevention. When I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in anthropology, I chose UCI because the anthropology program is among the best in the country. At Irvine, I was engaged in really interesting, unexpected, very contemporary and very complex projects. It was also a great community of scholars - both faculty and students.
Q: What did you find most helpful during your time at UCI?
A: My dissertation committee - which included Bill Maurer, the department chair, Kaushik Sunder Rajan and my faculty advisor, Mike Montoya - was so amazing. They not only helped me get to the end point of graduation, but they also helped me effectively think through my projects. They gave me a lot of space to come into my own as an independent researcher, and often encouraged me to be more of a colleague than a student. They modeled for me the kind of scholar, researcher and teacher I'd like to be. The Department of Anthropology, as a whole, is just a fun group to be around. The atmosphere is very collegial. And accomplishments, big or small, are celebrated. It's proof that you can be competitive and rigorous but also be incredibly generous to one another.
--Rizza Barnes, UCI Graduate Division