Margaret Balk ’13 has won a Fulbright grant to do research at the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium. She will collaborate with Professor Olivier Luminet, examining how emotional competence affects the quality of life in children with Type I diabetes.
Emotional competence refers to the ability to pay attention to one’s bodily sensations, confront one’s emotions, and communicate them to others. Quality of life can be measured by how much the illness limits activity, the frequency or severity of the physical symptoms, and to what extent the disease causes negative emotions.
Luminet’s findings show that Type I diabetic children with lower emotional competence have worse glycemic control, which is an objective measure of patients’ management of their diabetes.
Early identification of patients with lower emotional competence would allow physicians and psychologists to teach children and parents the skills necessary to cope with the illness, improving their quality of life and overall health.
Margaret herself was diagnosed with Type I diabetes when she was nine years old. She didn’t realize how much her parents had helped her cope with the illness until she was a foreign exchange student in France.
On her own and forced to confront the nuisances that accompany a chronic illness in a foreign country, she relates, “over those months, my interactions with pharmacists went from me attempting to explain my needs, stuttering and red-faced, to being able to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of the French versus the American healthcare systems. During that year I became interested in the emotional strain of living with a chronic illness.”
Margaret came to realize that her experiences could benefit patients facing similar challenges.
After her Fulbright year, she plans to apply to PhD programs in clinical health psychology and hopes to gain experience in different areas of research by working in a psychology lab.
Applicants for Fulbright grants design their own projects and typically work with advisers at foreign universities or other institutes of higher education. Since 1966, some 89 Reedies have won Fulbrights.