Annie's Summer Research at the Exercise and Health Lab

I am an incoming senior at Northwestern University studying the biological sciences and psychology. Since last fall I have been interning at Feinberg School of Medicine's Exercise and Health Lab, where I have worked on the development and implementation of an app-based exercise program for breast cancer survivors. I will be living in Chicago this summer and continuing my work in the Lab with a project that interviews survivors about what they would have liked in an exercise program while they were undergoing breast cancer treatment.

A little background about my work this summer…

Hi everyone!

I am so excited to share more of my experience at the Exercise and Health Lab (EHL) with you. I joined Dr. Phillip’s lab at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine last fall to help with the Fit2Thrive study, an app-based exercise intervention designed to help breast cancer survivors become more physically active. Everyone knows that exercise is good for your overall health, but it is particularly beneficial for women in recovery from cancer treatment because it can help fight fatigue and prevent cancer recurrence. It is also a good way for women receiving chemotherapy to keep up their strength.

Looking to do an independent project with Dr. Phillips, I applied this spring for a Summer Undergraduate Research Grant from Northwestern and was fortunate to receive the grant! One of the advantages of being a student at Northwestern is the many resources the university makes available to us. You can keep reading to hear more about the special project for which I received the grant.

Most exercise interventions are considered to be “pull” programs because they require participants to actively seek out the intervention materials for support. Obviously this requires some motivation! Instead of a pull intervention, we are interested in what a “push” intervention would look like in breast cancer patients and survivors. Push interventions send materials and motivating messages directly to individuals through texts or emails, taking out the need for them to be motivated to go look for it.

One model for push programs is the “Just in Time Adaptive Intervention,” or JITAI, which involves using sensors and inputs from a smartphone to send targeted messages to an individual. This type of intervention would use a wide array of inputs on current context (i.e. location, weather, days since treatment dose), intrapersonal states (i.e. motivation, symptoms) and responses to prior intervention output (i.e. snoozed message, increased steps)  to “push” the right intervention strategies (i.e. text messages, telephone support calls, etc.) to individuals at the right time (i.e. text message encouraging activity promotion when fatigue is low). Currently, no JITAI studies have been done in any cancer population, so we are looking to figure out the best types of information we can gather from a smartphone to use to push messages to breast cancer patients and survivors to motivate them to get active.

My special project this summer is to follow up with breast cancer survivors from the EHL’s recent IMPACT study to learn from them through surveys and interviews what they would most want in an exercise JITAI program during chemotherapy. The survey will go out to survey participants online, but the interviews are more complicated. I will call about 32 breast cancer survivors and talk to them for an hour on the phone, recording our conversation so it can be sent out for transcription. Then I will write a code book so that I can perform qualitative analysis on the transcripts and determine what it is that breast cancer survivors would have wanted in a chemotherapy exercise JITAI! Getting here will take many steps and lots of work, but I am excited to figure out what a lab like the EHL can do to be most helpful to these women who have been through so much.

My interview and survey project is only one small part of a larger study that I am helping to design for this summer. In my week one update post I will share a little bit more about the broader study and other happenings during my first week of summer!



This summer I will be continuing my work at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in the Exercise and Health Lab with an independent project interviewing breast cancer survivors to determine what they would like to see out of a technologically based exercise program for women receiving breast cancer treatment. I was fortunate to receive an Undergraduate Research Grant from Northwestern to fund my work this summer, and look forward to sharing more about my research process and how I spend my time over the course of the summer!