Featured Investigator: Kodiak Soled, MPhil, MSN, RN

February 2022: Kodiak Soled, MPhil, MSN, RN 

PhD Candidate
Columbia University School of Nursing

Vice President
Lesbian Health Fund

Kodiak Soled is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Columbia University School of Nursing and a National Institutes of Health Ruth Kirschstein Predoctoral Research Fellow. Kodiak’s community-informed research explores multidimensional social support among sexual and gender minority (SGM) childbearing parents throughout the perinatal period. She is particularly interested in the unique ways SGM childbearing individuals are resilient during an intensified period of hetero-and cis-normativity and its impact on perinatal and infant outcomes. She hopes to generate foundational knowledge through this study to develop and test future culturally competent, community-based social support interventions that promote perinatal health and well-being among SGM families.


Q: What are your current research interests?
A: Before becoming a researcher, I was passionate about the intersection of reproductive and LGBTQ+ health justice and translated this passion into a program of research focused on reducing structural and interpersonal stigma, as well as promoting wellbeing and resilience among SGM individuals across the perinatal period. I’m grateful to have received funding as a predoctoral fellow by the National Institute of Nursing Research (F31NR019203) and the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurse's Every Women and Every Baby Award & Hill-Rom Celeste Phillips Family-Centered Maternity Care Award. These grants allowed me to conduct a community-placed, longitudinal study, Queer & Trans PREG,  which explores multidimensional social support among LGBTQ+ childbearing parents across the United States. This study included 64 interviews (n = 24), longitudinal mental health assessments, and photovoice methods — which I found to be a powerful way to advance scientific knowledge on this topic while mutually benefiting the community. I'm excited about the forthcoming community dissemination from this work that weaves personal stories and photography into narratives of struggle and joy during this unique time in the lifespan. I intend to continue using innovative, community-based methods that center communities' needs to create knowledge with immediate and long-term impact. I hope to continue this line of inquiry to understand the unique ways minority stressors emerge during this time of intensified heterocisnormativity, dismantle structural barriers that prevent access to family formation, and identify ways we can intervene to improve health outcomes and wellbeing among SGM childbearing individuals and their families.
Q: Tell us about your career path – how did you end up where you are now?
A: My path to becoming a researcher was influenced by the same thing I find among many SGM researchers—a deep desire and steadfast commitment to social justice. My interest in health justice began during my undergraduate degree at Pitzer College. My worldview shifted after being introduced to critical and queer theorists like bell hooks and Judith Butler. This exposure forced me to examine my privilege and develop a critical consciousness of how unequal social relations create tangible health inequalities. I also learned the value and importance of community-engaged work by Dr. Tessa Hicks, who revolutionized my paradigm of who creates and owns knowledge and truth. For the next several years, I focused on food justice and health. I attended additional schooling to become a Natural Chef and Clinical Herbalist, combining these skills to support the health and wellbeing of populations going through vulnerable life experiences, such as perinatal parents. At some point, I felt limited by my scope of practice and decided to pursue a degree as a nurse, attracted by the holistic approach to health I experienced within the nursing care paradigm. During my MSN at Johns Hopkins University, I had the opportunity to conduct research under the mentorship of Dr. Tonia Poteat, who inspired me through the population-level impact of her work to pursue a research career over clinical practice. Across those years, I was always engaged in community-based volunteer work—founding an SGM perinatal support group, serving on boards advancing community engagement and SGM health, conducting training on SGM competence, et cetera. Becoming a research scientist was the first time I could weave together all the things I cared deeply about — community-engaged work, SGM communities, emotional wellbeing, and reproductive health justice — into the story that has become my career. The diverse skillsets I gained at each chapter of my story — from critiquing systemic issues to running a business to facilitating workshops to assisting in delivering babies — have been integral and influenced my F31 study in more ways than I could have ever anticipated, and I know they will continue to support my future work. I think it's common to feel like you're meandering through your 20's, but looking back I can see a clear through-line and how it's all accumulated to influence the researcher I am today. In many ways, I’m still at the beginning of my career and eager for what the next chapter has in store.
Q: What organizational challenges have you faced?
A: I'm incredibly fortunate to be studying SGM populations in 2022. The accomplishments I've achieved thus far are primarily due to SGM scholars' pioneering work that paved the way for me to secure funding to study SGM communities. Part of that privilege is being part of the Center for Sexual and Gender Minority Health Research at Columbia University School of Nursing and the Program for the Study of LGBTQ Health at Columbia University Department of Psychiatry and School of Nursing. Columbia Nursing’s explicit support for SGM research was the primary reason I pursued my Ph.D. at Columbia University and I can't emphasize how fundamental it has been to my training to be part of a community of SGM scholars. It reminds me that my work is valid, valuable, and needed, as well as helping me understand and rigorously critique my scholarship. The mentorship and support have been invaluable as a trainee. That being said, there is still a long way to go to reduce institutional challenges in conducting SGM research. I’ve encountered obstacles such as being discouraged to pursue community-based research, as well as primary, qualitative data collection. I believe these methods are critical for conducting research within SGM communities and exploring new areas of research where there has been scant evidence (e.g., perinatal health outcomes among SGM individuals). I'm lucky to have exceptional mentors, Drs. Walter Bockting and Maureen George, who have supported me to pursue the research questions I care about, and subsequently the appropriate methods to answer those questions. I’m also very fortunate that NINR saw value in the methods I chose and my area of interest, as well as confidence in my ability to conduct such an intensive study as a predoctoral fellow.
Q: What advice do you have for trainees and researchers who want to work in this area or are interested in applying for NIH funding? 
A: The best advice I received when I was applying for Ph.D. was to choose an advisor, not a school. You cannot underestimate how important this person will be during your time as a trainee, and the power they hold to support or block your pursuit of a career as an SGM researcher. Secondarily, I'd say build your network. The SGM research community is extremely welcoming, supportive, and collaborative. The more of us doing this work only brings more attention to how important and necessary it is to fund this work or as that aphorism goes, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” It's also a relatively intimate community of researchers so you never know how that connection may lead to future connections and opportunities. How to build your network? The SGM Health Research Regional Workshops, as well as SGM-specific conferences like GLMA's Annual Conference on LGBTQ Health, are fantastic ways to meet SGM researchers and build your network. One thing that worked for me was to do a little research in advance to find attendees or presenters who shared similar interests with me. I reached out to them ahead of time and asked if they had time for a 15-minute coffee meeting sometime during the conference. I have yet to be turned down by doing these direct requests. In terms of applying for NIH funding, I was privileged to be trained in an institution with an abundance of resources and support for grant writing. If your institution doesn’t offer these resources, look into whether another department or college at your institution offers training or courses in grant writing. Once you have a good draft of your application, get as many people as possible to read over your grant. I think the one area academics tend to ignore is the art of storytelling. This isn't something you will likely be taught, but especially as a trainee, your background and training potential count just as much as the research proposal. Humans are drawn to stories and frankly, reviewers are busy and likely reading your grant at 11 pm after a long day so you need a compelling narrative to sell your reviewer on why YOU deserve to be funded and keep your reviewer engaged with your application. Lastly, Karen Parker is the godparent of SGM researchers at the NIH. She is an incredible resource for navigating the various institutes and I highly encourage you to leverage her support to ensure your application is going to the right institute for their current interests and priorities.
Q: Do you have any specific advice for working with and involving SGM populations in research?
A: I deeply believe in and advocate for conducting community-based participatory research for several reasons — one of the key reasons being the authentic engagement and collaboration that occurs among researchers and community members engaging in this type of work. This type of research not only supports recruitment efforts and increases the trustworthiness and rigor of our research, but it also encourages the ability of our work to move beyond manuscripts as the outcome and think innovatively about how we can also directly improve the lives of those whom we seek to support.
Q: Who inspires you?
A: Community activists and leaders, particularly those in the reproductive and LGBTQ+ justice space, who are often the ones educating others and advocating on behalf of our communities’ needs, holding space when we need it, and generally resourcing our communities that too often fall through the cracks of structural support and resources. I continue to learn from and be deeply inspired by queer and trans doulas and midwives such as Stephanie Tillman, Erika Davis, Moss Froom, King Yaa, Eri Guajardo Johnson, Jenna Brown, Ray Rachlin, and many others. Also, academics who continually leverage their power to question how things have always been done in ways that reproduce inequalities, authentically partner with and are led by the communities they research, lead and mentor with kindness and empathy even when holding others accountable, and generally live their values through their work. SGM researchers and/or nurse scientists like Drs. Molly Altman, Monica McLemore, Juno Obedin-Maliver, Rae Walker, Jess Dillard Wright, and many more.
Q: Any final words of wisdom?
A: Many will say your Ph.D. will be some of the hardest years of your life. You may find that to be more or less true for your experience. My advice for those entering or currently in training comes from a wise mentor, Dr. Cindy Veldhuis: buoy yourself with people and things that make you feel like you. Keep investing in your relationships, doing the activities that bring your joy, and cultivating the parts of your identity outside of being a trainee. This becomes essential to maintaining your identity as a person and to resist reducing yourself to a single grade, abstract submission, publication decision, or grant application. I think this is probably true for the rest of your career, but you don't have that pile of "wins" to buffer the rejections as an early trainee. Joy is itself an act of resilience and essential to buffer the challenges of building a career as an SGM researcher.
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