Alda Alumni: Janet Carpenter
Janet is a Distinguished Professor at the School of Nursing at Indiana University, where she also serves as Associate Dean for Research. Her research has focused on preventing breast cancer through identifying non-hormonal treatments for menopausal hot flashes. Since attending the Alda Center's Boot Camp in 2017, she has concentrated on using the creative arts to teach the public about the science of menopause.
How did you get involved with menopause research?
I was originally a cancer nurse and (because of breast cancer treatment) a lot of women with cancer report hot flashes. They had pretty severe experiences of menopause, so I got interested in helping them. As I did more work in this area, I was invited to work with people who were doing studies on women without cancer and now I work with both populations.
I recently watched a video of you using flowers to show how women in different cultures experience hot flashes. Where did that idea come from?
I was part of a group that wrote a guidelines paper to help clinicians determine what medications and other treatments to recommend to women with hot flashes. I worked with a really good group of scientists on it, but at the end of writing that I thought, this is great for healthcare professionals, but we need to get this information out to women. I started my sabbatical in January of 2017 and spent about 10 months working on developing this idea to get the information to the public. I'm a very visual thinker, so I started sketching my ideas and making visual representations of hot flashes based on the scientific literature. I came up with a series of drawings and I'm working with someone here in Indianapolis who runs a collaboration between artists and scientists to see it to fruition. It will be a large exhibit that people will walk through and it conveys scientific facts about menopausal hot flashes. We have some music, we're going to be developing a film, and we also have sculptural elements as part of the exhibit.
What kind of response have you gotten from the public?
The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. People find it really engaging and informative. The women who have hot flashes feel very validated and empowered by it. Even the men who have come to the exhibit feel like they're learning a lot. And they're also learning how to interact with their wives or sisters or, you know, whoever is in their life. We want to show that it has an impact on people and we're hoping by showing that impact, we will be able to rally some donor funds to build the exhibit full scale and actually take it around the country and even different parts of the world.
What was your experience in the Alda Center Boot Camp like?
The Boot Camp was a lot harder than I thought it would be. It really pushed me in terms of thinking and talking about my science in a completely different way. It was almost like I got stripped of all the tools that I typically use and then had to rethink everything.
It was really kind of life changing for me. I did the Boot Camp in June and I had to give a talk in October at a public venue and that was when I felt like everything I learned came together.
It has really impacted how I communicate with other people. The techniques that we learned at the Alda Center change all your relationships. I have found that no matter how controversial or difficult the subject is, you can always “yes, and” and that makes the communication smoother, clearer, and a more positive experience.
Are there any exercises that you find yourself going back to?
There was one that I really liked. It’s called Half-Life. You talk for three minutes, then two minutes, then a minute, and 30 seconds, and each time you have to pare down your message. I find that it is really helpful in getting to the meat and bones of what you want to say. I do that with myself and I coach other people using that technique as well.
One of the things that makes the Alda Center's training unique is the way it incorporates improvisation techniques that come out of the theater world. What has it been like to bring the arts into your own scientific work?
My gosh, it's been awesome. For a long time art was my hobby and science was my work and I was passionate about both but the science always took priority. It's funny how our culture keeps these things so separated. I've been pretty successful as a scientist, but I'm having more fun now by combining the art and the science together. I'm still being successful, but I'm enjoying it more. I feel like I'm in exactly the right place, because what's most important to me is to make the world a better place. I feel like I have that meaning in my life, which is also really important.