Research in Quito

Hola! This will be my first time fully explaining what I’ve been researching here in Quito in English. I’ve become accustomed to giving brief synopses of my work to my host family, new friends I meet, cab drivers, store owners, etc. in Spanish and actually, my research has been conducted 100% in Spanish as well.


I work in a well-established foundation in Quito, Ecuador that has partnerships with both UCSD and the University of Minnesota in the States. La Fundacion CIMAS de Ecuador was co-founded by a husband and wife duo, Drs. Suarez and their son, Dr. Jose Suarez (Jr.) is my research mentor at UCSD SOM. CIMAS conducted an 8-year long study of children and adolescents who have at least one parent who is a worker in the flower plantations in a northern county of Ecuador called Pedro Moncayo. El canton de Pedro Moncayo is one of the top producers of flower export for the entire country and exports internationally as well. Unfortunately, to produce such a massive quantity of flowers to export, the flower plantations use many pesticides, specifically organophosphates. The ESPINA project that ran for 8 years between 2008 and 2016 study the effects of these pesticides on the children of flower plantation workers, specifically focusing on neurocognitive development, growth, and attention deficit disorders. Joel Klas, a current MS3, was my predecessor in Ecuador through the GHAC. He was fortunate enough to work alongside researchers conducting the final data-collections for the ESPINA project last summer.

My Role:

Since this study is complete, both CIMAS and I needed a different focus this year. There are four other primary researchers/statisticians at CIMAS who have been analyzing other factors affecting the population in Pedro Moncayo county in comparison to the rest of the province, Pichincha, and the rest of Ecuador. I have joined in on some public health-focused projects, specifically regarding natality, mortality, and causes of death plaguing the 5 parishes within Pedro Moncayo, the entire county, the province of Pichincha, and the entire country. For the past 5 weeks, I have been using databases that CIMAS possesses that contain birth and death data between 1999 and 2015 for the entire country of Ecuador. I have been analyzing and extracting data that pertains to Pedro Moncayo county and its 5 parishes (Tabacundo, La Esperanza, Malchingui, Tocachi, and Tupigachi). Specifically, I have been assessing the standardized mortality ratios (SMR), trends of causes of death, infant mortality, maternal mortality, and birth rates between 1999 and 2015 in the parishes, county, province, and country and comparing them all. The goal is to be able to collaborate with the rest of the CIMAS team who is analyzing morbidity and malnutrition, specifically in children under the age of 5, and publish our data so the Ecuadorian Ministry of Health might elect to provide more aid to this sometimes-troubled region.

Challenges and Learning Opportunities:

I would say the most difficult part of my job in these 5 weeks thus far was probably at the very start when I was presented with 32 IBM SPSS databases, each containing more than 70,000 rows of information, entirely in Spanish, on my first full day in Quito. Not only was my Spanish a bit rusty, but I also had never seen or even heard of SPSS before. In my previous research positions, I had always used Microsoft Excel as my primary database of analysis and SPSS is a massive beast in comparison to Excel. Now add to this the fact that the entire version of SPSS on my work computer is programed solely in Spanish. My first day in the office was a bit overwhelming, to say the least.

That being said, I think my two proudest moments during my time working in Quito have been becoming fluent in Spanish to a level I never have been before. I have primary thoughts in Spanish now and I have even had a few dreams in Spanish as well. I feel like sometimes I even structure my English sentences like I am speaking Spanish (I will probably need to correct this habit once I return to the States!) when I speak to friends and family back home at night. These nighttime phone calls and texts are the only words I utter in English all day. My host family and all coworkers are native Ecuadorian (mostly native Quiteño) and only speak Spanish. All of my meetings at work with the team are conducted in Spanish and I have had to present my work and research in Spanish. All of the graphs and charts I have created are in Spanish and I am contemplating writing my final paper in the language as well since I think it will be able to make more of an impact here in Ecuador in the language of the people.

The second proud moment I had was teaching myself some simple code in the SPSS system. I took the simplest CS class at Stanford as an undergrad solely to fulfill the computer science requirement, so I have very little background in coding of any sort. For my first week at CIMAS, I was tediously manually analyzing data with essentially the “search” function as my only tool. I decided I needed to figure out a better mechanism if I was going to be able to get through all of the databases I had been provided. After exploring on the Internet a bit and asking a Spanish-speaking-only coworker for some pointers, I was able to figure out the SPSS essentials I needed to analyze databases much more efficiently. In the past few weeks, my knowledge of the SPSS coding language (mind you, still all in Spanish) has expanded tremendously and my job and life are so much easier!


I have only a week and a half left in Quito and I have a few more databases to get through but I certainly can finish my analyses and a bit of a literature review necessary to begin writing at least a primary draft of a (hopefully publishable) paper before I depart for the States! I also have some weekend outdoor adventures planned so please be on the lookout for “las aventuras finales en Ecuador.”




A break from research: views from a 10 mile run along El Chaquiñan Trail in Cumbaya, a region on the outskirts of Quito, nestled in the beautiful valley below the city

El fin por ahora,

Li-Li (Caitlin)

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