Mon travail

July 8, 2008 at 3:19 AM | Posted in Paris 2008 | Leave a comment
Several people have asked what I’m actually doing in France (besides eating cheese and taking walks), so I thought I’d clear that up. I am working at the French equivalent of the NIH–the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Medicale (National Institute of Health and Medical Research), or INSERM. For 15 or 20 years, the French government has collected data on the health of 20,000 federally employed gas and electric workers. The name of the gas/electric company is Gaz de France/Electricite de France, so the cohort is called GAZEL (Gaz/Electricite). Every few years, they send out a survey to the workers, who answer about 300 questions about their lives, health, and demographics. Those surveys are linked with their medical records and are collected in a huge data set, which is housed at INSERM. My advisor has been working with GAZEL data since about 1993, specifically with questions about the workers’ social networks, mental health, and exposure to stress at work. She has come here every summer since, and has co-published many papers about the GAZEL data (a few examples are here and here). We are now working on a paper about work-family conflict–conflicting demands from work and home–and sickness absence from work, to see whether high levels of work-family conflict are related to certain kinds of sickness absence (psychiatric, infectious disease, etc, as well as number of short- and long-term absences). I’m currently swimming in data, and the analysis is much harder than anything I’ve done before (not to mention that the data is in French). It’s a lot harder than analyzing data for a class assignment, where the professor is asking specific questions and has cleaned the data nicely. Plus, the study uses different programming commands than I’m used to (for SAS nerds, we use proc genmod instead of proc glm, since it’s a Poisson distribution with a categorical outcome). So I spend every morning working on the data, and usually by lunch I’m totally frustrated. Then I take a nice long lunch and do my paid job in the afternoon. The hardest part is that sometimes I feel like I work on it for hours and have absolutely nothing to show for it. I’m learning a lot, though, and my stats (and French!) skills will definitely be better by the end of the summer.
On a more fun note, my housemate had one of her closest friends, Anna, in town–Anna is Italian and is a professor of French literature. She was here for a conference, and she’s a fabulous cook, so last night she made dinner for all of us. She made “melanzane parmagiana”–eggplant Parmesan–and it was really delicious. She made two kinds–one was “traditionelle” and one was “nouvelle.” She originally meant to make two of the same, but we ran out of almost all the ingredients for the second one, so she improvised and made it with a little bit of tomato sauce, baked eggplant pieces, chevre (goat cheese), pine nuts, and golden raisins. It was incredibly good. She spoke about as much English as I speak French, so our conversations were really funny–a lot of pointing and laughing. Here, she was making the “traditionelle” dish.

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