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Patrece Joseph has focused on research that benefits young people in underserved communities in Boston

Patrece Joseph

Growing up in the Mattapan and Dorchester neighborhoods of Boston, Patrece Joseph, AG21, didn’t think that a research career was within her reach. Exciting academic internship programs never seemed to recruit Black and Latinx students from her community—and even if they did, few were paid opportunities.

That’s why Joseph’s goal is to run a social science lab where she can train teens from underserved communities to work on her research team, alongside undergraduate and graduate students.

“I want to redistribute resources from the university, and give back to communities like the one I grew up in,” says Joseph, who just completed her Ph.D. in child study and human development.

“I would want teens to help to come up with research questions and analyze data as a way of creating a pipeline for more researchers from underserved communities,” she says. “Research skills, like learning to find and critically consume information, are important in any career.”

Joseph has focused on community-engaged research, especially in Roxbury and Dorchester. She realized well-meaning community organizations were running programs for teens, but didn’t know if they were working, so she set out to fill that gap with research.

When Joseph began a master’s program at the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development, she quickly connected with Sasha Fleary, an assistant professor who taught a class on adolescent health. After two years, Joseph was accepted into the doctoral program at Eliot-Pearson with Fleary as her advisor. (Fleary is now an associate professor at City University of New York’s Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy.)

Joseph’s doctoral work continued research from her master’s thesis, which centered on creating a social media health promotion program for adolescents to learn more about preventive health and the importance of sleep, healthy eating, and physical activity.

Joseph taught the young people media literacy skills to help them see through companies’ advertising techniques, and then let them create their own strategies and social media posts to share on Instagram account she curated, to help themselves and other teens develop healthy behaviors.

In addition, for her dissertation, she researched health identity. She interviewed adolescents and their parents to discover how teens learned about health and how parents taught them about the subject.

“The teens’ and their parents’ definitions of health varied. One teen said, ‘For me, being healthy is being the best you that you can be.’ I love that quote because that’s what I’m going for when I talk about health,” Joseph says.

Using those interviews, she developed a measure of health identity development in adolescents, which assesses the extent to which young people have thought about how health fits into who they are and want to become. Since she had a small sample size for her research, she hopes to use the measure with other groups of teens, such as in North Carolina, where she will start a postdoctoral fellowship at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Public Health this summer.

She’s grateful to all the support she’s received from Fleary throughout graduate school. “She pushed me to step up as a leader in the lab and exposed me to so many different projects beyond my own research,” Joseph says. “She’s always thought about my career, not just my doctoral program. That has been extremely helpful to my success on the academic job market and as a researcher.”

Profile written by Karen Shih.

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