My Path to LGBT Health Research: Q&A with Dr. Kathryn Macapagal
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.
How did you become interested in a career in LGBT health?
Initially, I never thought of LGBT health as a career option for me. As an undergrad, I was always interested in sexual behavior in the context of relationships, particularly in same-sex couples. However, I ended up getting a master’s degree in counseling, because I was also really interested in helping people figure out their careers. I went away from what had really interested me in undergrad to doing a master’s in something completely different, but over time I thought again about what I really wanted to do. I applied to Ph.D. programs in psychology where I could focus on sexual behavior, which led me to meeting Dr. Brian Mustanski, the director of the IMPACT Program, and learning more about the career opportunities in LGBT health.
Describe what you do in your current role and how it advances the field of LGBT health.
I have been doing all kinds of things here at IMPACT since I started as a faculty member a few months ago. My role as a research assistant professor involves a lot of writing, whether it’s manuscripts for publications or protocols for projects. Another large part of my job is managing ongoing projects such as the ASAP project, which uses quantitative and qualitative methods to look at LGBT adolescent perspectives on the risks and benefits to participating in HIV prevention research. For projects such as this one, I oversee research assistants, recruit participants, communicate with collaborators in different sites, and basically make sure that the studies are running on time. In terms of advancing the field of LGBT health, I do this every time I work on projects and write reports on old and new data we collect. I also informally mentor people who are interested in LGBT health.
What do you like about working in this field?
What I love is that there is so much unknown about how to best improve the sexual health and wellbeing of the LGBT community. For so long people didn’t do this kind of work, and the government didn’t fund or support unless it was directly HIV- or cancer-related. It’s an exciting time now to be involved in LGBT health, because more people care about these issues and more opportunities for research are becoming available. There is a lot to be done, but there is also this wide-open space to carve out your area of interest, which is not something you get in a lot of different fields.
What advice would you give to someone interested in a career in LGBT health?
Don’t think that the lack of programs is a barrier to you. There are a million paths to a career in LGBT health; just because you may not find a training program doesn’t mean that it is not something you can do. Making your own opportunities is more crucial than hoping that opportunities will just be available to you. Reach out to local health organizations to see what opportunities may exist to volunteer, learn more, and develop your interests.
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