Leaders of LGBT Health Research: Q & A with Dr. Brian Mustanski of IMPACT
Written by Paul Salamanca, IMPACT Intern.
We often get asked why we do what we do, so we’re sharing stories from the IMPACT Program’s faculty and staff about the diverse paths to a career in LGBT health. In this interview, Dr. Brian Mustanski, Associate Professor at Northwestern University and Director of the IMPACT Program, discusses his career and the field of LGBT research.
What inspired you to start the IMPACT Program?
IMPACT started when I was on the faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and it emerged organically from a group of projects that began around the same time. I wanted to ensure that we were being strategic—not just working project by project, but building a program where we could see our work going from basic questions like “What’s the prevalence of HIV in young gay men?” to actually creating effective interventions. The only way to do that is to do a lot of it yourself—to do the epidemiology, as well as the prevention work. Our vision back then was to create something that had the full spectrum, from science to application and service.
Why that vision? Why not just pure research?
I went to graduate school at Indiana University. Most of my training was at The Kinsey Institute, a hub for sexuality research. What’s unique about the Institute is that they have clinicians, scientists, archivists, and a library that has the world’s largest collection of erotic and sexual art. I grew up intellectually in this interdisciplinary environment and saw the benefit of it at a young age. We’re very fortunate to get a lot of funding from the public. We have an obligation to take what we’re finding and show it to the public with our blog and videos, going beyond journals. Journals are great, but they’re not necessarily approachable for everyone.
What do you like about working in this field of research?
One of the things I really love is working directly with community organizations and the community. We’re a group that values being embedded in the community, learning from what’s happening on the ground, and trying to have that play a big role in informing the priorities of our research. And vice versa, taking things we’re learning in the lab and trying to find ways that they’re valuable to people in the field. It’s great to be so embedded in the LGBT community and be working in such an affirming space where we can be supporting the development of the next generation of folks.
Is there anything that you would change about this field? Or any criticisms?
There’s not that many faculty who do this research who like to mentor students; it can be hard to find a mentor to work with. We really need more people studying LGBT health. We need a pipeline of smart, young scholars who want to make a difference. Those routes are not as available as they should be. More systematic training experiences like the Summer Institute and post-doctoral training programs could be really valuable.
Do you have any advice for students – grad students or undergrads—who want to get into this field?
Having just talked about the challenges, there’s also been incredible opportunities. We’re living in a time where all these different federal agencies are supporting the LGBT community. New research funding, new training grants, new experiences. It’s an exciting time, and things have changed so much in the last few years. Finding those opportunities and getting connected with people who can help you navigate them is really helpful. I’ve talked about how I did that in a blog I wrote for Psychology Today.
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