I cannot fathom how it is already almost August 2021. Nearly a year ago to the day, I moved to Chapel Hill, and somehow, I’m already wrapping up two months of work with the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) and preparing for year two at Gillings.

It has been a wonderful, albeit very fast, two months of learning about alcohol harm and significant gaps in research regarding various issues in alcohol (I think this is a result of the industry’s influence and attempt to keep negative press away from their products). When I last wrote, I had just completed a briefing and was transitioning into work on a rapid review of calorie labelling for a parliamentary consultation— my work was going to potentially be shared with parliamentary members (how cool!) and I was going to have the opportunity to listen in on some of the discussions to gain a better understanding of how NGO’s initiate the policy-making process through the power of persuasion (backed, of course, with plenty of good old-fashioned evidence-based research). But things have taken a shift, and now I will be producing an interim report that will help IAS’ head of policy and the UK’s Alcohol Health Alliance to prepare for the consultation later in the year. Still pretty cool, and something I’ve worked hard on and will be proud of, but not as fast-paced, exciting, and in-the-moment as I was hoping to end my practicum.

Of course, I began my practicum very interested in alcohol issues, but as the summer has progressed, I’ve realized how very little I know about the world of alcohol and the alcohol industry. I’ve experienced a lot of anger and wonder (an interesting combination) about the relative dearth of research regarding the subjects I’ve been collating information on—but I’ve also experienced hope for a future that offers more transparency and publicly available information so people can make the healthiest decisions for themselves. Regardless of what my post-grad career may be (I can definitely see myself continuing work with an alcohol research organization, but I’m passionate about a number of subjects), I look forward to seeing research expand and alcohol knowledge and policies improve.

Beyond what I’ve learned in my literature reviews, I’ve learned a lot about myself. For the past year, I’ve been saying that I would love to work remotely from the comfort of my home for the flexibility, the lack of a commute, etc., but working remotely has proven to be an immense challenge in the second half of this experience. It is hard for me to find motivation from the place where I also relax and sleep, and it’s hard to find productivity without the buzzing energy of colleagues focusing alongside me. I have at times felt pretty disconnected from the larger picture, but at Tuesday meetings I am reminded of the impact IAS has in the sphere of alcohol policy and research and how my practicum products are meant to feed into that puzzle. While I usually pride myself on my writing skills, I have been fighting away feelings of self-doubt in the past few weeks. I need balance. I need people. I’ve loved the detailed learning that this position has given me, but I think I’m better suited for a community-facing role. This has been invaluable insight for someone who considers herself an introvert and a homebody, who finds herself content in a variety of situations.

All that being said, I am proud of the work I have done and I’m still confident that my report will turn out well. I’m incredibly grateful for this two-month peek into policy research and advocacy, and for the connections I’ve made with such wonderful people halfway across the world.

This past weekend, I escaped to Asheville to enjoy the summer for a brief moment as it was meant to be enjoyed; roadtrips full of music (a given), a day hike and swim, ice cream, good meals with loved ones—refreshing the mind to end my practicum strongly and start the new semester just as bright-eyed as when we began a full year ago.

Here’s to the incredible work we’ve all completed this summer and to a rewarding upcoming year full of learning and human connection.

– Keely