My Research Backstory

People don’t often expect an English professor to show up in a fire station or in the back of an ambulance. But I have always had one foot in the healthcare world, either through my studies or by accompanying family members to doctor appointments, serving as their advocate when needed.

Climbing into the fire tower at MFD Firefighter for a Day. Photo credit: Dawn Haase.
Climbing into the fire tower at MFD Firefighter for a Day. Photo credit: Dawn Haase.

Wanting to help people, I majored in psychology in college because I wanted to be a clinical psychologist. And in addition to working as an academic tutor in college, I worked at a veterinary hospital, first as a kennel technician (a fancy phrase for “I got to hang out with dogs all day and made sure they were taken care of as if they were my own”) and then as a veterinary assistant where I assisted with surgical procedures and client education. At that point, I thought about going to veterinary school–and then I took basic chemistry, killer of my dream of being Liz Angeli, DVM.

So, after struggling a lot with what to do after college, and after studying in Rome at the John Felice Rome Center, I was stuck, but I knew two things: I wanted to go back to Italy, and I knew I still wanted to contribute to medicine somehow as long as I didn’t have to take chemistry. Thanks to a helpful reminder from my dad, I remembered that I had been tutoring since I was 12 and that I was pretty decent writer. It made sense: I would go teach English in Italy for a year or so after college, and then when I returned to the US, I would figure out what to do next.

After looking into what training I needed to actually teach English in Italy, I stumbled upon a master’s program in ESL at UW-Milwaukee. I applied, was accepted, and started teaching this thing called “first-year writing,” which I had never heard of before that time. Long story short: I fell in love with this field that first-year writing was a part of, rhetoric and composition, and I truly felt called to teach and research writing.

I didn’t go back to Italy after I earned my master’s degree. Instead, I went to Purdue to pursue my Ph.D., which is where I learned about technical communication and the rhetoric of health and medicine where researchers study written communication practices and education in healthcare. These fields offered the ideal overlap for what I cared about: medicine, people, writing, and advocacy work. Then, during my first year of my Ph.D. program, I had a technical writing internship with a hospital and volunteer rescue squad. From the first moment I stepped into the squad, I felt like I had come home. I was hooked. (For a more detailed version of what happens next, check out Chapter 1 in my book.)

So, a Ph.D., a National Registry of Emergency Medical Technician-Basic certification, and a book later, here we are. My research continues to evolve, I continue to publish, and my research now informs my consulting firm, The Report Doctor, where I work one-on-one with first responder agencies to implement my research findings.