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Finding Success in Failure: What successes and/or failures have you had while adapting to working during the pandemic?

SoAP Box: 
Finding Success in Failure

Summer 2020

Kate Carey, PhD

What successes and/or failures have you had while adapting to working during the pandemic? What advice would you share? What questions do you still have?

Kate Carey, PhD
Brown University School of Public Health

For those of us who study harm reduction interventions for college drinkers, the switch to remote learning this semester has been disruptive to ongoing RCTs. One of our projects designed for students mandated to interventions as a result of campus alcohol violations had to stop recruiting when students were sent home; it is unclear when students will be back on campus again to be referred to us. We were able to adapt the interventions for another ongoing RCT for remote delivery, and that initially seemed to be a good thing, as it did push us to create a delivery option that has potential for greater dissemination. But now we are doing some hard thinking about how to interpret the data we get. It appears that the students who are now living at home continue to drink but not at the peak levels characteristic of on-campus drinking and the opportunities for consequences are more limited when students are under stay-at-home orders. I do acknowledge that less drinking and fewer consequences is a good thing! But because the whole ecology of college student drinking decisions is so different now, interventions that seemed so on target a few months ago may not hit the appropriate determinants of behavior now. And if the overall level of consumption and consequences is being suppressed for everyone, we wonder how sensitive our outcome measures will be at distinguishing conditions. Follow-up surveys for participants who were already in our studies can continue via remote delivery, but the stress and lifestyle disruption associated with COVID-19 has to be introducing noise in the data; our data analysts will need to be creative to detect the signal in what is surely going to be noisy data sets. All this is a reminder that drinking behavior is contextualized within a social and physical environment; it is easier to study the psychological determinants of drinking when the environment is constant, but now the environment is changing and our studies may not have been set up to characterize those variables.

In line with the recent trend of prominent academics and clinicians sharing their “CVs of Failures”, we want to hear about a time in your career that things didn’t go your way. For this next issue, I am hoping someone will share lessons learned from shopping around for a paper that took a while to find a home. Please limit responses to 500 words and send to by October 1, 2020.

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