Kristan Elwell: Graduate Fieldwork and Research in Malawi

Kristan Elwell, via Elwell

Kristan Elwell, via Elwell

Kristan Elwell found her calling in Anthropology while conducting research in a National Institute of Health study on children’s health in the Philippines. It was here and while she was conducting her Masters work in applied and medical anthropology at Northern Arizona University that she saw the contribution of anthropology to public health and how this perspective could contribute to understanding of health disparities in low-income populations. She sought out a PhD in order to teach courses in medical anthropology and global health, and conduct research on global health issues from a critical perspective.

Since beginning her graduate studies at MSU, she has enjoyed her involvement in the university. For the past two semesters, Kristan has been teaching ANP 370 “Culture, Health and Illness”, and ANP 201 “Sociocultural Diversity.” Prior to this, she was a research assistant for Dr. Linda Hunt on her study of “Clinicians’ Concepts of Racial/Ethnic Differences in the Management Of Chronic Illness”. In addition to this, she works at the MSU Gender Center to help with the publication of the Gendered Perspectives on International Development publication series. Kristan is also a Research Assistant for the project, Linking Community Engagement to Public Health Biobank Research, which addresses ethical issues related to use of neonatal biobanks within Michigan.

For her dissertation, Kristan is looking at social and structural factors that affect HIV positive women’s choices in seeking health care and programs to prevent mother to child transmission in Malawi. She is specifically interested in how gender inequalities may shape HIV-positive women’s ability to access treatment for AIDS. From December 2011 to December 2012, Kristan conducted research in Malawi, worked at a district hospital in urban Blantyre, and several rural health centers. Prior to this, she was granted funding through the Foreign Language and Area Studies Program to study the Chichewa language in 2009, and during the summer of 2010 she was granted funds to conduct pre-dissertation research to identify her field sites and meet contacts. She exudes passion for her research, and loved working with the community.

Kristan also had outdoor adventures while in Malawi. During her year in the field, a friend made her a wooden kayak, which she paddled for 5 days down the coast of northern Lake Malawi. She employed her skills as a former kayaking guide and taught her co-paddlers how to kayak. She enjoyed surprising villagers with her knowledge of Chichewa and was very pleased when they promised her that the only crocodile in the region was a “vegetarian.” The highlight of the trip was trading a kayaking lesson with a fisherman for a lesson on paddling his fishing boat.

Throughout this process, Kristan continues to have incredible support from her committee, Anne Ferguson, Linda Hunt, James Pritchett, and Rebecca Malouoin.

[This article is featured in the Winter 2014 Department of Anthropology Newsletter]