My job

Pay attention to serendipity

When and why did you develop an interest in research?

My first nursing job was as a staff nurse in an oncology intensive care unit and a bone marrow transplant unit taking care of patients who were participating in high intensity clinical trials. During my master’s degree, I worked as a research assistant for two faculty members whose research was making an impact at state and national levels, and I was able to lead a small research project of my own. During my doctoral and post-doctoral studies, my research interests continued to grow. I find great meaning and purpose in identifying and solving difficult problems through research.

‘It’s important to pay attention to serendipitous moments, coincidences and findings that take the research on a very different path’ believes Janet Carpenter

Who has been most influential in your career as a nurse and as a researcher?

I have been fortunate to have had many influential colleagues, supervisors and professors. Currently, I am most influenced by my colleagues at the Indiana University School of Nursing. We house the US’s, and likely the world’s, largest group of cancer researchers at a school of nursing. These colleagues are working to improve people’s cancer screening behaviour to prevent cancer early or diagnose it at an earlier stage. In addition, my postdoctoral fellow, Chen Chen, is a brilliant young scientist conducting research on dysmenorrhoea. Working with her has re-energised my own work.

Of your published research, which do you think has been the most influential and why?

I developed a hot flash assessment toolkit that combines self-reported and physiological measures. This toolkit is used internationally and has influenced national measurement recommendations. The measures in the toolkit are widely used for assessing efficacy/effectiveness of different hot flash treatments.

You have published widely on oncology and women’s health. What do you think the current research challenges are?

The lack of understanding of what causes hot flashes inhibits our ability to find appropriate treatments to directly address the symptom. Although we know some of the physiological mechanisms, we don’t yet understand the full cascade of events. If we did, we might be able to prevent hot flashes altogether or find a more effective treatment.

Which of your achievements has given you the most satisfaction?

Distinguished professor is considered the most prestigious academic appointment Indiana University offers. Also, as my research focused on the non-hormonal management of menopausal symptoms, I am contributing to reducing breast cancer incidence and recurrence by limiting women’s exposure to hormones.

Working with the National Institutes of Health’s MsFLASH (Menopausal strategies: Finding Lasting Answers to Symptoms and Health) research network initiative has been another highlight. This network has generated a great deal of research to support women’s decisions about which menopausal symptom management therapies are best.

What research projects are you currently working on?

My colleague Julie Otte and I are working with Gary Elkins at Baylor University in Waco, Texas to figure out if there is a simpler version of his clinical hypnosis intervention. We’re testing telephone-based sessions and we’re hopeful that we can make it easier for women to get this intervention in the future.

What tips would you give someone new to research in nursing?

Take good care of yourself because research can be hard work. Everything doesn’t have to be done now – you’ll likely have a long career and being thoughtful is often more important than moving quickly. I also feel that it’s really important to pay attention to serendipitous moments, coincidences and findings that take the research on a very different path. These things often will lead to important new findings.

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