Charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent

RuPaul is my shero.

RuPaul and the Drag Race girls give each of us permission, and encouragement, to be whatever or whomever we’d like to be. Whether you’d like padded hips or pink heart-shaped lips, HUGE orange hair, a boy chest, towering heels, madonna realness or whatever… Use your charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent to make the world more beautiful.


Why do you do what you do?

Y’all remember this?

Yesterday, at the request of a stranger with a fancy title and a PhD, I took a half hour meeting with a company that I have partnered with on one past project.

I will never get that time back.

In the 20 minutes we were together (the requester was 10 minutes late to their own call), I got slimed. The person announced they were new to the company (obv). Asked me to talk about my work (If you don’t know who I am, why did you ask to meet with me?). Interrupted and didn’t listen to the answers (Spiraling the drain here!). Urged me to “get back to them either way” if I am, or am not, interested in engaging their for-profit company.

Those are not my people.

May our evaluation metrics show that we give back more value than we take.

We got married: May 9, 2016

Eric Vandervort and I have been a team, really, since the first day we met in March 2011. It was spring of my first year of the PhD program at Carolina. I was taking Bud McCallum’s linear regression course (the next-to-last-year he taught it; yes, I’m lucky), and had regular SAS homework in the HB methods course. I was up to my ears in graduate school and still trying desperately to do my work, well, at innovation Management (thank you Kevin and Ann for putting up with me). Neither nor Counter Tools existed yet.

Eric would take me out on the boat and I would read and study in the sunshine while he caught bass after bass. I remember the first day on the boat. “Put this on.” I didn’t want to wear my life jacket, snippy smart ass Allison. “You have no idea how fast this boat goes, do you?” So I did.

Here it is in writing folks: Eric is generally right.

So on Friday evening, May 6th, when he announced that it was time to get married after several years of discussion, and at least a fair amount of occasional pestering on my part, I agreed. (Actually he started repeating “Okay!” really loudly from the couch across the room and it took me a while to get it but when I looked and saw the emotion and the repeated “okays”… I got it!)

My family was already in town for the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health “Hooding Ceremony” for PhD graduates, and we would leverage the opportunity.

We made a plan: Keep the whole thing a secret at the hooding ceremony and graduation party. Make the announcement to our family on Sunday evening May 8th, at dinner, and meet them at the court house in Hillsborough on May 9th, when they open.


Dad paid $20 to the Magistrate. After we did the paperwork at the Register of Deeds office, we waited in the tiny lobby of the Magistrate’s office. The same place where you wait in handcuffs if circumstances are different.

Yaya, Mom, Sophia, Allison on a very special day:


Yaya was my witness, which has really been my only wish for a long time. Dad was Eric’s witness, which makes us all extremely happy and fills a Myers tradition of at least two generations.


At some point, I gave the Magistrate ‘a look’, through the glass.


And then we got to finally go stand out in front of the court house and formally declare our intention to be sweet to each other, now and forever more. The vows were read from a crooked photocopy, long since held at the Hillsborough Magistrate office, our names carefully written in the blanks: Eric, Allison, Eric, Allison, the whole page through.

North Carolina, love each other, number one fan, better or worse, sickness health, I do, I do. Lana photographed the whole thing with Kyle on FaceTime from the airport.


And then I tried to eat Eric’s face and body, while he stayed calm, which is our usual:


Here we are, the happy couple, the most exciting kiss ever, dedicated to our one wild and crazy life as the VanderMyers.



Finishing a PhD

It’s strangely anticlimactic, frankly, finishing your PhD.

One day you do a song and dance in front of a crowd, wise elders ask perplexing questions and then say “Congratulations!” (the academic equivalent of “You’ve done enough, dear one”) and then it’s over.

Next comes the doctoral hooding ceremony; it’s a funeral of sorts, marking both an exit and an entry. UNC prints your name, department, dissertation title, and Chair in the program for posterity:

In the program!

And you walk across a stage, draped in the $100 black polyester gown, noting the few graduates whose parents clearly paid for the $700 premium, silky Carolina-blue gown.

Careful not to trip on the stairs.

At center stage you receive your doctoral hood. Careful not to knock off the hat. Smile for the camera! A man, the Provost? – What does he do?, says “I know how much this means.”


Shake the Chancellor’s hand. Take the empty blue tube, with letter as placeholder for your diploma.

Down the stairs. Pose for a picture. Back to your seat.

Eric and me, post-hooding-ceremony, with the hundred-dollar hat.

And that’s it.

OUT into the world you go, fledgling.

Now what: AJ edition

[PhD program update: Defense is in 7 days.]

Yesterday I enjoyed a visit with a dear friend who lives and works in Singapore. It’s a big deal when she comes to town! AJ takes care of me: helps me pick clothes of the right color, delicately encourages an immediate trip through the car wash, coaches me through the emotion I feel when smacked with poverty on a Muni train, sees through my chatter to the real issues.

What was it you said, AJ? Something like “What’s your relationship going to be like, now that you’re getting rid of the third person in the room?”

Thanks for the amazed girl covering mouth with hand image,

AACK! I haven’t thought about it like that. What is LIFE going to be like, now that I CAN’T HIDE because I have “so much work”?!?!

When I woke up in the middle of the night last night, as I do, I googled “phd program recovery” and found sites dedicated mostly to finding a job. I have a job, and it’s not that.

What is it, instead?

Gulp. I’ve got an opportunity to get to know myself again, get to know Eric again, my family, friends, my place in the world. For six years I’ve been hiding: made a(n excellent) choice to pursue this degree, but it’s meant serious sacrifice, especially recently.

Who am I without the elephant on my shoulders, and what does that even FEEL like?

Let’s find out, friends!


When your shopping store makes you sick

Since 2011, our UNC/Counter research team has been advocating for healthier stores.

Lots of Americans live in neighborhoods where their chances for living a healthy life are slim, in part because the accessible retail stores are loaded down with tobacco products and junk food.

And, combustible tobacco use — smoking cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos — remains the leading cause of preventable death and disability in the world. It kills half a million people in the US every year and we largely ignore it, because the tobacco industry is now hanging out in retail stores (to the tune of $1 million/hour spent keeping tobacco cheap and visible) where they can hook (OUR) children into smoking and make it virtually impossible for current smokers to quit.

We KNOW how to fix the tobacco problem. All we need to do is decide that creating the opportunity for a tobacco free life is a value we share. Here’s a paper we wrote about transitioning toxic neighborhood stores to places that can promote health. It’s a tangible start to creating the conditions for health in neighborhoods that desperately deserve them.


Thanks to the CDC for publishing our art.


Why tobacco retailer density matters

Picture it. Me, crouched in a far corner of the Sheraton Grand Chicago, home of the 2016 annual meeting of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco, giving an interview with Rose Hoban of NC Health News.

Thank you, Rose, for giving me the chance to tell the story of why tobacco retailing matters for health. It’s clear from the map below that poor folks have the distinct problem of living way, way too close to too many tobacco retailers. Even more simply put: your neighborhood may be toxic to your health, but it doesn’t have to be.

Nice effort, Amanda K, and others from our UNC/Counter Tools/ team. This is work that matters!

Full article here.


Now what?

According to a sweet little app on my phone (DAYS), I started the PhD program 2,006 days ago. Just a few minutes ago, 4 days in advance of the deadline, I sent my “complete” dissertation to my committee, because those are the rules.

UNC guidelines stipulate that you (1) send your completed dissertation to your committee five weeks in advance of your defense, then (2) defend it publicly in front of God and everybody, then (3) privately with your committee (April 5th), then (4) make any last revisions and (5) turn it in to the graduate school by April 14th at 4 pm in time for May 7th graduation.

So today begins the line of events that call me “phinished”. Done. Graduated. Dr.


Now what?

Whoa, such possibility! That’s the beauty of shipping my art out into the Universe, I guess. As I sit here in one of my favorite spots, at the kitchen table on Iva Ada Drive, there is a buzzing silence. Charles the dog is snoring. I see a breeze outside; Carolina blue sky. Spring is in the air, all things fresh and new.

Here we go!

Dissertation Fever

It’s a special time in my life.

Data collection for my dissertation Studies 1 and 2 (of 3) ended about three weeks ago, and with that milestone, I came down with “dissertation fever“. I was warned about this by a mentor and it’s here: I’m stubborn, meanly focused, and glued to my chair and computer screen, even more than usual. In my fever, due to break with my dissertation defense in March 2016, I’m a different version of myself. Thankfully, folks who have been through this, or watched from the sidelines, totally ‘get’ my desire to lock myself in a room until only one of us will emerge: it’ll be me or the dissertation, and I’ve got my money on me.

I’ve had a few come-to-Jesus meetings with myself. Data analysis is hard for me. The kind of difficult that makes the voices of Resistance, Fear, and KFKD Radio, scream with delight in my head: “YOU SUCK AT THIS”. It reminds me of a day in Gabon fifteen years ago as a Peace Corps Volunteer when I decided I wanted to quit and go back to the US. The equatorial sun was blazing, it was hot. Going to the US required getting money from the bank for a train ticket. Getting to the bank required a long walk in the hot sun and a bush taxi. Getting money required a 2-hour wait in line. The bank wasn’t open anyway — Holiday — so I had to wait through the weekend. The “express” 24-hour-ish train didn’t leave Franceville for another 2 days after that. I had to wait. The only way out was through. Chin up, keep marching, if it was easy everyone would do it. (I stayed and it was beautiful.)

Three years in at Counter Tools, we have a high performing team that will hold down the fort for me while I work strictly part part time, suffer the fever and conquer the dissertation. I’m grateful for that, big time. It’s also an exercise in giving what you can, trusting your people, showing up to give your best work within the boundaries that exist, and letting the rest go.

It’s important to me to own up to this season of dissertation fever. I’m excited, scared, ready.

Muppets Sometimes scientific discovery requires a meep of faith