Year of Graduation: 2008
Graduate School: University of Minnesota
Current Position: Graduate Student; NHLBI pre-doctoral fellow
Please give a brief description of your current position:
I am in the PhD of Epidemiology program at UMN. The program requires advancing through course credits and preliminary tests before completion of a dissertation. Presently I am progressing through the preliminary testing, having completed the required courses. At this stage in the program, students traditionally balance the program requirements with work as a teaching assistant (TA) and/or research assistant (RA), while some students may also work outside of UMN. I hold a pre-doctoral fellowship in cardiovascular disease prevention and a majority of my time is dedicated toward research. This generally consists of developing a research question, designing and/or determining the methods to study the question, undertaking statistical analysis, and then interpreting the results.
What path did you follow to arrive at your current job?
I spent the immediate year following undergraduate studies in the Benedictine Volunteer Corps, working in Israel. I encourage students to investigate volunteer opportunities if they would like an opportunity to give service to a community and connect with their fellow human kin. Returning to the U.S. the following year, I worked nonspecific jobs, bettered my GRE score, and applied for Master's in Public Health (MPH) programs. I began MPH studies at the UMN in August 2010, with a focus in epidemiology. During this 2-year program I had the opportunity of working at the International Diabetes Center of the Park Nicollet Institute and was able be a TA for epidemiology courses at UMN, both pertinent as I applied for my current program.
What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career?
Epidemiology and public health in general involve being part of a research team. I use research team lightly for the latter, because public health includes work in areas beyond science such as advocacy, policy, law, health promotion, and so forth. Whatever aspect of public health you are interested in, work to gain experience in that setting. For example, being part of a research group while at CSB/SJU in the areas of psychology or human physiology and learning how to design surveys for study purposes, collect data, and/or conduct analysis, all would have been a benefit.
What skills are important in your field?
While there are skills specific to epidemiology such as knowledge of particular study design methods and statistical analysis techniques, two of the more important skills are to communicate with specificity (i.e., to use brief, exact, and clear language) and to make sure your idea, research, discussion, argument, etc. follows a logical path (i.e., you provide sound supporting information and people can easily follow your thought process from point to point).
What is the most satisfying/rewarding part of your job?
I enjoy generating research questions that have not been answered previously and are germane to the public. I find this exciting. Essentially you are creating knowledge; you are a modern-day explorer, faced with a particular question with an unknown answer and you going somewhere no-one has ever gone before. Hopefully the direction you are going is important.
There are many areas that challenge me, specifically in becoming more competent in research skills. This includes using specific language and having a logical flow of my research. I am fortunate to have great mentors here at UMN in addition to faculty from other institutions who are genuinely devoted toward training student researchers and who help mitigate these challenges. Also, I am not a strong statistician or writer of statistical code which provide me with difficult moments at times.
What activities/experiences were helpful at CSB/SJU (and elsewhere) in preparation for this career?
The research I do is collaborative, so really any setting where I was a member of a team, be it employment, athletic, or academic, where everyone had an obligation to uphold and provide quality work toward a common goal was preparation. I was exposed to these opportunities countless occasions during my time at CSB/SJU and while serving in the BVC. An activity that may not be vocalized very frequently but has helped me immensely is practicing self-reflection. For me this process is often facilitated by experiencing failure, change to my routine, or a challenging of my beliefs. For example, I was not accepted into the MPH program the first year I applied; I did not convey clearly in my personal statement why obtaining an MPH was important for what I wanted to accomplish. This set-back gave me a chance to really think about what I felt, for me, would be a valuable contribution in society. This period of reflection allowed me to strengthen my personal and research statements which I credit with playing a significant role in the ultimate acceptance into the MPH and PhD programs and in the awarding of my current fellowship.