“It’s the boring stuff that makes a difference”
Most people might not consider Jenny Hixon a scientist. She crunches numbers, and writes grants, and stays up to ungodly hours reading dissertations. Jenny is a researcher for many nonprofits here in Texas, often focusing on public health and social problems. Jenny does the not-so glamorous part of being a scientist, but, as she says, “it’s the boring stuff that makes a difference”.
Jenny is currently researching a controversial topic here in Texas-abortion. Specifically abortion funds (nonprofits that help women get abortions) and how communities react to unjust laws. According to her research, abortion funds in texas have tripled since restricting laws have been passed.
Abortion rights were also what got her into this field. She was working on an undergraduate degree in music at UTSA when some anti-abortion protesters caught her attention. When their data did not add up Jenny went to the University Library and started doing her own research. This was the beginning of many many hours sifting through data.
Most of the work Jenny does can be categorized into the field of “Social Epidemiology.” Social epidemiology is based on the idea that an individual’s “health is a product of all lived experiences” Jenny explains to me. What she is saying is that it doesn’t ONLY matter what diseases I might be exposed to. My genetics, stress, diet, where I live, financial standing, it all plays a part in an individual’s health. For example if I am stressed out I am more likely to get stomach ulcers. Everything plays a part in an individual’s health. There are so many strands connected to every person that it seems an impossible job. Yet social epidemiology is about finding a thread and finding the effects it causes, or the other way around. Jenny focuses on how social forces impact health.
The worst part of the job is how time consuming it is Jenny says. She didn’t believe the power raw/localized data had until she saw it in action for herself. But her research often makes its way to Austin, and to the State Capitol. It’s proof that science can change the status quo, if you read enough research papers!