Watching TikToks for Research?!

TikTok is what I like to think of as a guilty pleasure, an app I can quickly open at the end of a long day to turn my brain off and endlessly scroll through short 30-second videos. However, over the past few months, TikTok has instead been an integral part of my research work. Suddenly, TikTok shifted from a leisure activity to an administrative task, a scientific journey, an analytic mission. So, how did I get here and why did I watch thousands of TikTok videos for a research project? Let’s discuss. 

This task was part of my research assistant position at the Trauma and Mental Health Lab at the School of Public Health and I was helping out a Masters of Public Health student with her thesis. Essentially, the project was about the youth mental health crisis and how news media outlets depict mental health and distressing events like the pandemic or weather-related disasters. My job was to watch every video that a news platform released in 2022 and do something called qualitative coding. This means that I used a list of instructions to gather information about the video; everything from basic information like number of likes and comments to more detailed evaluations of the content. This meant I essentially relived every moment of 2022 through the eyes of the news which was super interesting. 

I’ve done a lot of really interesting and varied work with this lab since the graduate students that work with the lab come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Over the summer, I did a lot of work on mental healthcare infrastructure in American Samoa as well as gender discrimination in the healthcare workplace. This has really shown me how broad the fields of mental health and public health are and has given me a much richer research experience. Even outside of my work with this lab, I have been able to conduct a super wide range of research here. One day I may be analyzing participant data for a clinical neuroscience study and the next I may be watching a TikTok trying to figure out if it includes distressing content. 

Before I came to Yale, I thought of research as people in lab coats preparing cell cultures; however, experiences like this have shown me that research is truly so broad, especially at a school like Yale that has such incredible faculty in all areas. I discussed this in some previous blog posts, but there is truly a research experience for everyone here whether you’re interested in history or biomedical engineering or anything in between. Doing research has been one of the most enjoyable and enriching parts of my Yale experience and it has given me some very interesting stories of somewhat obscure tasks (like watching TikToks).