In the classroom, political science major Madeline Guth ’19 did a little bit of everything. While securing minors in statistics, Chinese, and health studies, she developed a holistic perspective on each of these disciplines. It should come as no surprise, then, that her thesis quickly became a data-heavy project that used the tools of political science and statistics to study an issue of public health.
“The question that my thesis attempts to answer is how state policymakers can best allocate public family-planning dollars to decrease rates of unintended pregnancy among low-income women,” said Guth. “I evaluated two policy alternatives that involve the funding of long-acting reversible contraception (i.e., IUDs and the contraceptive implant): the Contraceptive CHOICE Project and the Colorado Family Planning Initiative.”
For much of her political science studies, Guth had been interested in the ways that public policies can both irritate and assuage social inequities. The health studies program and a summer internship with the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation exposed her to the vast inequalities that exist in public health and taught her how to explore the nuances of public health from a policy perspective.
“Through these experiences, I knew that I wanted to write my thesis on an area of reproductive-health policy,” she said. “The high rates of unintended pregnancy in the U.S. and the dramatic inequities in these rates by income inspired me to take on this issue in my thesis.”
What did you learn from working on your thesis?
I think my biggest takeaway is the importance of balancing precision with nuance in policy analysis work. Attempting to achieve this balance was one of the most difficult parts of the thesis process for me. Research on topics like reproductive health and economic inequities requires a great deal of nuance. My work in the interdisciplinary health studies minor pushed me to explore nuances in health inequity and policy in ways that were crucial for my thesis. For example, while four of my criteria (cost, effectiveness, implementation feasibility, and political feasibility) are standard to policy analyses, considering reproductive autonomy introduced an additional level of nuance that I thought important due to the history of coercive methods employed to control the reproduction of low-income women and women of color in the United States. At the same time, though, policy analysis needs to be precise, and sometimes that goal can be at odds with nuance. A policy analysis is not useful if it doesn’t result in a set of clear recommendations.
What are your plans for the future and has the thesis process helped guide your future career path?
In June, I’ll join the Kaiser Family Foundation in D.C. as a research assistant for their Program on Medicaid and the Uninsured. I look forward to extending my interest in health-policy research professionally. My thesis process was crucial to helping me determine that I wanted a job focusing on research into health inequities and policy, and I think that it also gave me skills that prepared me better for this field. Research from the Kaiser Family Foundation is cited in my thesis numerous times, and it is so exciting to know that I will be a part of their research soon!
“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.