Megan Schmidt-Sane awarded NSF Doctoral Dissertation Research Grant

Megan Schmidt-Sane was awarded a highly competitive National Science Foundation (NSF) Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant for her proposal entitled “Doctoral Dissertation Research: A mixed-method study of health vulnerability and social resilience in Kampala, Uganda.” The NSF grant allows doctoral students to undertake significant data-gathering projects and to conduct field research in settings away from their campus that would not otherwise be possible. Megan will be conducting fieldwork from July 2018 – June 2019 in urban Kampala, Uganda.

Her project abstract is below:

Risk, vulnerability and resilience are major frameworks employed in social and biomedical sciences to explain persistent health inequalities. Risk often focuses on health outcomes, while vulnerability frameworks emphasize economic scarcity. Resilience, meanwhile, focuses on a community’s strengths and opportunities in light of stress. Despite excellent work on risk, vulnerability, and resilience addressing a variety of health outcomes, scholars have not reconciled these concepts and have yet to fully address wider factors that influence patterning of health inequalities. This research will be conducted in urban Kampala, Uganda, where job availability is on the decline and the local government has instituted a number of policies to regulate the informal economy, where a majority of Ugandans are employed. These regulations, while beneficial in theory, are putting a large number of people out of work. Community mechanisms such as “bar groups” build on historical ways that people organize themselves in this context. These resilience mechanisms may protect against economic pressure while unintentionally facilitating unhealthy behavior in a context of a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS. The researcher has conducted preliminary research in Kampala since 2016, which led to the study hypotheses.

This project focuses on men in two communities where job scarcity is the norm and “bar groups” are an important aspect of the social fabric. The researcher will assess individual patterning of key factors that encompass risk in the communities. Moreover, this dissertation will also assess pathways between men’s risk, resilience and/or vulnerability and identify the social, political, economic, and legal structures that shape differential health outcomes. The study will take place over one year in Kampala, Uganda and consist of community census, surveys, in-depth interviews and participant observation in this ethnographically-grounded study. Findings from this research on health inequality will be disseminated widely in academic and public health settings, providing insight into the factors that are simultaneously resilient and vulnerable, and the potential pathways to resilience.


We are proud of the unparalleled success of the students in our graduate program in Medical Anthropology and Global Health in obtaining highly competitive national grant awards to support their doctoral dissertation research. You can see the full list of past and present NSF awardee’s in our graduate program here.

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