Jeanine Guidry, Ph.D. student in the Department of Social and Behavioral Health
Like many graduate students, Jeanine Guidry approached her thesis project with apprehension and perhaps a little dread. Who, after all, enjoys countless hours of research?
“Apparently me!” Jeanine said with a laugh. “As I was working on my thesis, I realized I loved it.”
So much so that after earning her master’s in strategic communications from George Washington University, she decided to pursue a Ph.D. She is on pace to graduate in 2018 from the medical school’s Department of Social and Behavioral Health.
“I’m loving everything about it so far,” Jeanine said. “I’ve always had a real passion for nonprofits and helping people who are struggling in life.”
Jeanine’s area of focus is on the use of social media and mobile technology in health communication, as well as the use of social media among nonprofits. Her recent work analyzes how the public uses social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest to communicate their experiences, fears and thoughts on such timely topics as vaccines, depression and Ebola.
Pinterest users, for example, pair text and graphics, like the person who expressed just how debilitating depression can be: “I lost myself somewhere in the darkness.”
“The range of experiences and the range of topics is incredibly broad,” Jeanine said. “Health affects all of us, and it affects all of us differently. With social media, we can express that in a totally new way.”
Jeanine’s research examines how the public uses social media like Pinterest to communicate their experiences, fears and thoughts on such timely topics as vaccines, depression and Ebola.
She presented her paper “Framing Public Health Issues with Images: How Pinterest Tells Stories of Depression” at the Digital Disruption to Journalism and Mass Communication Theory Conference in Brussels, Belgium, on October 3. She presented another paper about vaccines over the summer in Montreal.
“More people than ever are getting information from social media platforms like Twitter and Pinterest, and it’s imperative that we as researchers understand how this type of information exchange is affecting public opinion and knowledge of public health issues,” said Jeanine’s advisor, Kellie E. Carlyle, Ph.D., assistant professor and graduate program director. “Jeanine’s research into understanding how public health issues are portrayed in social media gives public health researchers the information needed to design effective messages that promote healthy behaviors.”
Jeanine would not be able to conduct her research, she said, without the support and encouragement of Marcus Messner, Ph.D., associate professor at the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. Jeanine is an affiliate graduate researcher with the School’s Center for Media+Health.
“They make what I do possible,” she said.
At 47, Jeanine is not your typical student. She grew up in the Netherlands and earned her bachelor’s and first master’s in health sciences from Maastricht University. She moved to the United States in 1991, met her future husband Chris and married in 1997. She has worked in community development and with nonprofits since.
Even as she works toward her Ph.D., Jeanine is the lead singer for the Offering, a band that plays for organizations that can’t afford to hire musicians. She also is the executive director for Arts in the Alley, a Richmond-based nonprofit that turns rundown streets into works of art through murals. “My days are incredibly fulfilling,” Jeanine said. “I love what I do.”
Jeanine is looking forward to tackling her dissertation on social media’s changing landscape. While Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest may be three of the most popular platforms today, it could be very different by the time she finishes her dissertation.
“Just look at Pinterest,” Jeanine said. “People at first thought it was just a visual platform, but it’s amazing to see how people talk about their struggles with depression or their fears of Ebola. Who knows what’s next.”
Many people turn to social media not only for information, but for support in dealing with a chronic illness or the loss of a loved one.
“We don’t know what platforms will be popular in a few years,” Jeanine said. “Social media is developing at such breakneck speed. There are so many conversations happening out there that we can get involved in and use social media for great good.”
Did you know?
- Facebook has more than 1 billion active users
- Twitter users send 500 million tweets every day
- 23 percent of Pinterest’s 70 million total consumers use it at least once a day
- 70 percent of Snapchat users are female
- 23 percent of teens consider Instagram their favorite social network
- 12 million-plus people blog via social networks
By Janet Showalter