During my Master of Public Health (MPH, Public Health Genetics, 2012-2014), I worked on a survey project assessing genetics professionals’ views on the relationships between race, ancestry, and genetics. My specific role was conducting a qualitative analysis of free text comment boxes placed throughout the survey, where respondents elaborated on their responses to the fixed-answer survey items.
This project was so interesting to me in part because of my “day job” as a Research Scientist in the UW Genetic Analysis Center. Common practices of genetic data analysis involve estimating and visualizing genetic ancestry. These visualizations are often interpreted through the lens of self-identified race and ethnicity, despite the recognition that race and ethnicity are socio-cultural constructs. Nevertheless, there is some overlap, some partial correlation, between genetic ancestry and concepts such as race. These relationships are muddled and often under-examined, especially by people working with genetic data. Thus my interest in bringing these tensions to light, and prompting more interdisciplinary conversation about how to most effectively and ethically carry out genetic research and its eventual translation into clinical practice.
The work is published in the AJOB (American Journal of Bioethics) Empirical Bioethics. A companion project of a similar survey fielded to anthropologists has been published here and here.