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MPH thesis Metaphors about genome sequencing

For my Master of Public Health thesis research (MPH, Public Health Genetics, 2012-2014), I studied metaphors about genome sequencing. My impetus for this project was having heard quite a bit about the metaphors that dominated up to and during the Human Genome Project — e.g., map, blueprint, and book of life. But what metaphors might people use once they started having access to their own personal genetic information, versus discussing the genome in the abstract?

For this project, I conducted a secondary analysis of existing transcripts from focus groups and interviews done for a prior project at the University of Washington. I coded the transcripts for spontaneous uses of metaphorical language, then identified different metaphorical concepts (e.g., “the genome is a blueprint”) underlying these snippets of language. This process is called systematic metaphor analysis, and I am indebted to my committee member and resident metaphor expert Leah Ceccarelli for teaching me about this process.

My thesis work is published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics. I’ve also blogged about it here. In a fun spin-off project, directly enabled by what I learned in my MPH work, I wrote an Open Peer Commentary in the American Journal of Bioethics with two of my committee members in which we critiqued a CRISPR metaphor analysis.

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