BECOMING AND BEING A BEHAVIORAL INTERVENTION RESEARCHER: WHAT DOES IT TAKE?

What we find changes who we become.

—Peter Morville

As we have discussed in previous chapters, conducting behavioral intervention research can be challenging, involving complex decision making. Intervention development takes time, limited funds may be available, and multiple roles and skills are needed for success as one advances an intervention along a pipeline. Consequently, participating in this form of inquiry is not for everyone. It requires a wide range of skills and a particular disposition to become and be a behavioral intervention researcher.

The skills required to be a behavioral intervention researcher are manifold and differ as one proceeds with advancing an intervention. Besides envisioning an intervention and having sound research training, an intervention researcher needs to possess critical-thinking and action skills that include but are not necessarily limited to knowing how to (a) hire and effectively manage staff; (b) build and nurture teams;

  • (c) communicate with and effectively involve multiple and different stakeholders;
  • (d) write competitive grant applications to support intervention design and testing;
  • (e) budget, rebudget, and monitor expenditures; (f) problem solve recruitment and retention challenges; (g) troubleshoot protocol violations; (h) address potentially serious adverse events that may or may not be related to the intervention or study; (i) publish and present findings to diverse audiences; and (j) either be responsible for or work with others who lead the efforts to translate, implement, and disseminate a proven intervention. Additionally, along the way, a researcher may need to develop new measures that are sensitive to the impact of the proposed intervention; be involved in cost analyses to determine intervention feasibility; and/or work with statisticians to identify different statistical analytic strategies for identifying who benefits and why, and all areas for which little to no previous exposure or training may have been formally obtained.

Unlike cross-sectional or epidemiologic studies that are typically time limited, involve secondary data sets, or require a well-defined and prescribed skill set, intervention research is much more dynamic in terms of its demands and continuous need for on-the-spot troubleshooting and learning of new techniques and strategies.

As it involves engagement in dynamic and changing contexts (e.g., diverse populations, clinical settings, communities, agencies, policies; see Chapter 1, Figure 1.2) and interactions with real people and end users of an intervention, participation in this line of work requires a particular disposition that includes persistence, tenacity, and flexibility, as well as being a proactive problem solver and team leader and having a high level of energy and dedication. Paramount, of course, is holding a firm belief in the value of an intervention—that the intervention can make a real difference in a person’s life or a community—and then having the patience and, above all else, the passion for its advancement.

This chapter is about the real work of being a behavioral intervention researcher. We discuss a range of common challenges and professional considerations in the conduct of behavioral intervention research, and offer guidance where possible. Specifically, we examine “hot button” issues related to staffing, collaborating with others, leading teams, and career development and intellectual property considerations. As these aspects of behavioral intervention research are rarely written about, discussed, or formally presented and there is no consensus on, or documented, best practices, our discussion necessarily builds upon our many years of field experience. Our discussion encapsulates considerations that arise in, or are relevant to, any stage of an intervention’s development, although some issues may dominate one phase along the pipeline versus another. However, understanding the considerations we present is helpful regardless of whether one is a novice or expert, at the beginning phases of developing an intervention, or seeking to translate, implement, or disseminate it.

 
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