Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014
Like many graduate students, Jeanine Guidry approached her thesis project with apprehension and perhaps a little dread. Who, after all, enjoys countless hours of research?
“Apparently me!” Guidry said with a laugh. “As I was working on my thesis, I realized I loved it.”
So much so that after earning her master’s in strategic communications from George Washington University, Guidry decided to pursue a Ph.D. She is on pace to graduate in 2018 from the Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Social and Behavioral Health in the School of Medicine.
“I’m loving everything about it so far,” Guidry said. “I’ve always had a real passion for nonprofits and helping people who are struggling in life.”
Guidry’s area of focus is the use of social media and mobile technology in health communication, as well as the use of social media among nonprofits. Her recent work analyzes how the public uses social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest to communicate their experiences, fears and thoughts on such timely topics as vaccines, depression and Ebola.
Pinterest users, for example, pair text and graphics, like the person who expressed just how debilitating depression can be: “I lost myself somewhere in the darkness.”
“The range of experiences and the range of topics is incredibly broad,” Guidry said. “Health affects all of us, and it affects all of us differently. With social media, we can express that in a totally new way.”
She presented her paper, “Framing Public Health Issues with Images: How Pinterest Tells Stories of Depression,” at the Digital Disruption to Journalism and Mass Communication Theory Conference in Brussels, Belgium, on Oct. 3. She presented another paper about vaccines over the summer in Montreal.
“More people than ever are getting information from social media platforms like Twitter and Pinterest,” said Kellie E. Carlyle, Ph.D., assistant professor and graduate program director, who serves as Guidry’s adviser. “It’s imperative that we as researchers understand how this type of information exchange is affecting public opinion and knowledge of public health issues. Jeanine’s research into understanding how public health issues are portrayed in social media gives public health researchers the information needed to design effective messages that promote healthy behaviors.”
Guidry would not be able to conduct her research, she said, without the support and encouragement of Marcus Messner, Ph.D., associate professor at the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in the College of Humanities and Sciences. Guidry is an affiliate graduate researcher with the center.
“They make what I do possible,” she said.
At 47, Guidry is not your typical student. She grew up in the Netherlands and earned her bachelor’s and first master’s in health sciences from Maastricht University. She moved to the United States in 1991, met her future husband, Chris, and married in 1997. She has worked in community development and with nonprofits since.
Guidry is looking forward to tackling her dissertation on social media’s changing landscape. While Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest may be three of the most popular platforms today, it could be very different by the time she finishes her dissertation.
“Just look at Pinterest,” Guidry said. “People at first thought it was just a visual platform, but it’s amazing to see how people talk about their struggles with depression or their fears of Ebola. Who knows what’s next?”
Many people turn to social media not only for information, but also for support in dealing with a chronic illness or the loss of a loved one.
“We don’t know what platforms will be popular in a few years,” Guidry said. “Social media is developing at such breakneck speed. There are so many conversations happening out there that we can get involved in and use social media for great good.”
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