Author Archives: Alex Whicker

Data Analysis in the Real World

Category : PROspective

By: Nicole Luisi, MPH, MS

In movies and television, when a data analyst is assigned a task they spring to action, typing hundreds of words per minute without ever looking down from their wall of monitors — cut to them presenting the results, glossing over the details on how they scraped all the data from some website, performed a complex analysis, and solved a crime, all in about 60 seconds. Admittedly, it would make for some pretty boring television if they showed the 7 hours that person had to spend reformatting and cleaning a dataset, the 4 hours it took to resolve an error they encountered, or the 2 hours they spent staring at the screen trying to find the missing parenthesis that broke everything and caused them to question all of their life choices. Although we all envision ourselves solving the world’s problems with our fancy analyses, the reality is that real-world data can be messy, and we will probably spend 25% of our time on those fancy analyses and the other 75% on data cleaning and preparation.

In the classroom, we often use examples that demonstrate techniques (working with missing values, cleaning character data, etc.), but there is really no substitute for time and experience with real data. Real-world data is predictably unpredictable! Even the best systems can’t anticipate every issue that will occur during data collection, but it is safe to assume that you will encounter something you did not expect. Some things are just out of our control – your online survey platform could glitch and cause the skip patterns to fail, the intern you are training could accidentally enter data in the wrong table, a teenager might create a bunch of fake identities to repeatedly join your online study and scam you out of incentives, someone may even show up to enroll in person for your study and turn out to be 2 kids in a trench coat.    

So, what can aspiring data analysts do to prepare to work with messy, unpredictable data and stand out to potential employers?

  • Get a solid foundation in the platform(s) you plan to use most. At Rollins we focus on SAS and R which are both widely used in epidemiology, but if you have a dream job in mind, find out what that organization prefers. It’s great to have some working knowledge of a variety of tools, but you want to get really good with one or two. If you like the structure of a class, you can consider formal classes and workshops offered by companies like SAS or R Studio, and there are a number of great online platforms that offer training as well (LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, DataCamp). There are also a lot of useful books out there with companion websites that provide datasets and practice exercises.
  • Get some experience with real data. Again, you can only simulate so much in the classroom – working with real data (and its issues) will expose you to all kind of things. This experience might come through formal opportunities with employment, internships or volunteer work, through a thesis or practicum, or even on your own through the use of publicly available data. There is a ton of public health data available online (Census, NIH, CDC), and if you just want to play around and improve your skills, people have created all kinds of interesting datasets and made them available online (Github, Kaggle, FiveThirtyEight) – go ahead and download a dataset full of Netflix movie reviews, sportsball stats, Twitter posts with the latest controversial hashtag, anything that is interesting to you!
  • Practice, practice, practice. Programming is otherwise known as…learning a programming language. Classroom training is only part of this – it can get you the foundation but to really excel you must put in the time. If you were trying to learn a new language, even after taking a traditional class, you might spend an hour a day on Duolingo, listen to songs in that language, or read books and articles in that language, looking up any words you don’t know along the way…it’s the same thing here. The more practice you get, especially with real data, the more you will have to draw from when you encounter something new. You don’t have to know everything (I certainly don’t), but you will get better at doing things from memory that you have done dozens of times, and you will also remember unique examples that forced you to learn something new. Much like reading will expand your vocabulary, practice will add techniques to your toolbox that you can adapt when faced with similar tasks later on.
  • Focus on other related skills such as problem solving, communication, and critical thinking – it’s not ALL about programming. Even if you are starting out in a position where you don’t have a lot of input, you can still exercise these skills as an analyst. The best data analysts I have worked with are detail oriented people that take the time to ask questions (even of themselves) and carefully evaluate their own work. In some ways as an analyst it’s helpful to be a bit of a pessimist (at least that’s my excuse) – I spend a lot of my time anticipating things that could go wrong to prevent and identify data quality issues. As a hiring manager, I think programming and analysis skills are necessary, but I also think it is important to give equal weight to other skills like subject matter expertise, creativity, communication skills, attention to detail, etc. I would be more likely to hire a well-rounded person that has experience working on a real study, over someone with numerous technical skills and certifications on their resume that has only ever done this type of work in a classroom.

If you want to be a great analyst, in some ways you will always need to consider yourself a student – I learn something new every day doing this type of work. Spend some time early in your program figuring out what appeals to you most in terms of software and data and then get to it!  


Nicole Luisi (MPH, MS) is a Director of Data Analytics and Informatics Projects in the Rollins School of Public Health, and an instructor in the Department of Epidemiology. She also teaches several courses for the Executive MPH program and serves as the EMPH Applied Epidemiology thesis advisor. Featured here is her dog, Doug, doing some casual data analysis.


Featured Image by Sai Kiran Anagani on Unsplash

Health Communication Fellowship in Diabetes, Division of Diabetes Translation

Category : Alumni

The Division of Diabetes Translation (DDT) is now accepting applications for an ORISE Health Communication Fellowship. Please help us spread the word and share with your networks! 

The selected participant will have the opportunity to interact closely with public health program professionals in the Division of Diabetes Translation, and will be involved in the following activities:  

  • Participate in developing, implementing, and learning how to manage national communication and marketing programs, projects, and initiatives for various audiences 
  • Plan, apply, and evaluate various communication science and marketing techniques to achieve optimal program results and promote positive health outcomes 
  • Contribute to the preparation of written documents that reflect a thorough knowledge of complex public health issues and appropriate health communication, health promotion, and marketing intervention strategies 
  • Participate in researching and developing messages and materials that are valid and consistent with program objectives and are based on communication and marketing theory and principles as well as audience research (including concept, message, and Web-usability testing) 
  • Collect data and contribute to the development of products such as fact sheets, program briefings, questions and answers, program summaries, Web pages, and program-in-briefs 
  • Collaborate with Center/Division communication offices and others within the Office of the Director to provide support on communication efforts, e.g., campaigns, observance days 
  • Collaborate with web team members to ensure information is successfully disseminated across the web sites providing clear oral and/or written instructions on this topic, as appropriate 
  • Collaborate with the web team in providing technical support for digital and social media evaluation 

Ready to join this dynamic communications team? Please complete the application by the deadline, Wednesday, January 5, 2022. Questions can be directed to Tanya Hamburger (dln7 [at] cdc [dot] gov) and Lourdes Martinez (gmf5 [at] cdc [dot] gov).   

About the Division of Diabetes Translation (DDT) 

CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation is at the leading edge of the nation’s efforts to end the devastation of diabetes. The division works with other federal agencies, state health departments, healthcare providers, and community organizations to identify people with prediabetes, prevent type 2 diabetes, prevent diabetes complications, and improve the health of all people with diabetes. These efforts have helped millions of Americans reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes and prevent or delay serious diabetes complications. 

Is Research Epidemiology For You?

Category : PROspective

By: Kristina Lai, MPH

One of the things I love most about my career as an epidemiologist is just how flexible my skills are thanks to the broad applications of my training. An area that is less well known is the role that epidemiologists play in clinical research and academic medicine. Research epidemiologists can work in nearly any medical specialty. They may work only with specific physician researchers or on collaborative studies within a larger clinical research team. This type of position is distinct from hospital epidemiologists involved in infection prevention and control.

I graduated from RSPH in 2016 with an MPH in Global Epidemiology. I initially worked in infectious disease surveillance and control at a local health department in Atlanta until I decided to pivot to a position that would allow me to use more of my data analysis skills. Thanks to my network and connections from my former ADAP, I found a dynamic role as a Research Epidemiologist with the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. While I am no longer in this role, the research experience I gained was instrumental in preparing me for my current PhD program and my future career.

Epidemiologists in a clinical research and health services environment use many skills including study design, data analysis, data manipulation, and informatics. In my specific role, I led the collection and management of the largest longitudinal database of pediatric sickle cell patients in the country and served as the primary analyst and statistician for research studies related to sickle cell disease to better understand utilization, clinical outcomes, and health disparities among our pediatric patients. I also consulted on clinical study design and analysis plans, and managed data requests for clinical trials, grants, research studies, and quality improvement assessments. I also helped with the submission of IRB protocols, data use agreements, and other regulatory approvals.

Here are a few of the unique benefits of working as an epidemiologist in medical research:

  1. Because you work with physicians who may not have epidemiologic training, you are often the expert in study design and data analysis for your clinical team. For this reason, most epidemiologists will have at least a couple of years of work experience under their belts before taking on a role like this.
  2. You get to learn about all kinds of new research and hospital data management. I never thought I would know so much about blood disorders, but now I feel honored to have contributed to this important work. I also had the opportunity to work with specialists in informatics, outcomes research, and partners at universities and health agencies across the country.
  3. You get to work with primary data and electronic medical records. This may not seem like much of a benefit, but the amount of data available to us for retrospective studies can answer a wide range of research questions that are just not possible in most epidemiology roles. That means that your research can impact clinical operations and decision-making.

There are many ways to get involved in this type of work. The Emory Healthcare and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta systems are great places to network and get research experience. You can start as a student through your practicum, REAL positions, or thesis by reaching out to faculty members or looking for posted positions. Many clinicians may have a research idea or even full datasets, but they often need help from someone with the bandwidth to analyze it. While all epidemiologists on my team had at least a couple of years of epidemiology experience, one great way to start is by working as a data manager or clinical research coordinator to familiarize yourself with the clinical research environment. So, if you’re naturally curious, interested in applying your epidemiology skills to a clinical environment, and looking to gain valuable research experience, a role as a research epidemiologist might be for you!


Kristina Lai, MPH is a PhD student in Epidemiology at the University of California, Davis and a data manager with the California Department of Public Health. Kristina is also the co-founder of Allen & Lai Consulting LLC. She has broad experience with public health surveillance, clinical research, and international nonprofits. Kristina’s current interests lie at the intersection of health equity, infectious disease, and climate change.




Featured Image by UX Indonesia on Unsplash

HDGH Special Seminar: Using Rights‐Based Approaches to Health for Gender‐Based Violence Prevention & Response, Nov 23

Category : News/Events

Join the Hubert Department of Global Health for their special seminar by Dr. Dabney P. Evans on Tuesday, November 23 at 12 pm.

Zoom link:

Dr. Dabney P. Evans is a Research Associate Professor in the Hubert Department of Global Health at Emory University. Drawing on her interdisciplinary training in public health & law, Dr. Evans is a mixed-methods researcher focused on gender, health & human rights. Her global research portfolio includes projects on: intimate partner violence during the COVID-19 pandemic (US); the commercial sexual exploitation of children (US); & femicide prevention (Brazil). Dr. Evans has published over 50 peer reviewed journal articles & book chapters. She is a member of the Lancet Commission on Gender-Based Violence & the Maltreatment of Young People scientific advisory group.


Racial diversity, equity, and inclusion campus climate survey deadline approaching, Nov 23

Category : News/Events

As part of our ongoing efforts to cultivate a thriving academic community—one that is more diverse, equitable, and inclusive—Emory is participating in the National Assessment of Collegiate Campus Climates. The survey takes about 15 minutes to complete.

Your participation in this process is critical. Survey results will allow us not only to determine where we are as a community but also will allow us to establish strategic and actionable goals that can shift conversations around campus climate. Our current institutional DEI planning process will benefit greatly from the discussions that the survey will stimulate.

Employees who complete the survey by November 23, 2021, will automatically be entered in a weekly drawing to receive one $50 Amazon gift card or one of five $10 Starbucks gift cards. Your chances of winning depend on how many people participate. Recipients will be notified by email. You may enter the survey from here.

ComSciCon, February 24-26, 2022

ComSciCon-Atlanta 2022 is a free online workshop geared towards helping graduate students in STEM build their science communication skills. The Atlanta meeting will be a wonderful opportunity for students interested in science communication to build their skills and grow their networks. ComSciCon-Atlanta 2022 will be held virtually on February 24th-26th and is totally free-of-cost to attend! However, to participate, students must apply by November 22 using the application form below.

Apply here!

Click here for more information on ComSciCon!


RISA E-Board Applications

RISA E-board application is open for the calendar year of 2022! The application is open until next Tuesday, Nov 23, and it will be followed by an interview/meeting by the current e-board member. We look forward to seeing your interests in being in leadership at Rollins! 

Open positions:

  • President/Co-Presidents (1 or 2)
  • Secretary (1)
  • Treasurer/RSGA Rep (1)
  • DEI Officer (1)
  • Communication Chair (1)
  • Events Chair (2)
  • RSGA Representative (1)

Apply here:

Position descriptions: 

GH 510 TA Needed

COURSE NUMBER AND TITLE: GH510: Epidemiological Methods in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies (Spring Break)

QUALIFICATIONS: Previous experience working in a global (preferably humanitarian) setting or previously passed GH 510

DUTIES:  Support updating Canvas, grading quizzes and finals, coordinating breakout groups and demonstrations, other support as needed

HOURS/WEEK: Course is a week long during spring break. Work is full time during the week of the course + 2-4h/week during the 2 weeks before and after the course

FACULTY Name: Eva Leidman and Oleg Bilukha

HOW TO APPLY:  Student should make an appointment for an interview: Email Eva Leidman eleidman [at] cdc [dot] gov or Oleg Bilukha  obb0 [at] cdc [dot] gov

Environmental Consultant, Florida Department of Health

Category : Alumni

This full-time position is a part of the Public Health Research Epidemiology and Population Survey section. It involves performing epidemiologic and GIS spatial analysis, alongside the Environmental Public Health Tracking (EPHT) program, to increase the knowledge and understanding of environmental impacts to population health. The position will use a wide variety of health outcome and environmental data sets and will serve on national and state workgroups related to environmental epidemiology.

The application deadline was extended to December 7.

To read the full job posting and apply click here!

City Research Scientist I, NYC DOH

Category : Alumni

With an annual budget of $1.6 billion and a 6,000-plus workforce across the five boroughs of New York City (NYC), the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYC DOHMH) is one of the largest public health agencies in the world.  We serve approximately 8 million New Yorkers from diverse ethnic, cultural and economic backgrounds and our workforce is as varied as the city we serve, bringing an extraordinary array of languages and dynamic experiences to bear upon the work of public health, as we strive to foster a diverse and inclusive work environment.  In the promotion of health education, disease prevention and control, our most important tool is the people that we serve.  We’re also one of our nation’s oldest public health agencies with a long and distinguished history of innovation and excellence and over 200 years of leadership in the field.

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYC DOHMH)’s Bureau of Hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, and Sexually Transmitted Infections (BHHS) oversees the City’s response to viral hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).  Across a range of programs and through extensive collaboration with other parts of NYC DOHMH and external stakeholders, BHHS leads testing initiatives; prevention, care, and treatment programming; epidemiology and surveillance; research and evaluation; training and technical assistance; community engagement; social marketing; policy advocacy; and racial equity and social justice initiatives. 

The team at BHHS’s HIV/AIDS Care and Treatment Program (CTP) is the Recipient of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program (RWHAP) Part A grant and consists of four units:

1) Administration
2) Program Planning
3) Quality Management & Technical Assistance
4) Research and Evaluation

The HIV/AIDS Care and Treatment Program seeks an Information Systems and Quality Analyst (Civil Service Title: City Research Scientist I) in the Research and Evaluation Unit to contribute to process and outcome evaluation and reporting for the Ryan White Part A (RWPA) program and assist on other projects as needed.  This opening offers a rare opportunity to join a stellar team of analysts and scientists in advancing health practices, policy and scientific advancement through the effective use and communication of scientific research data.


• Support the scientific research epidemiological data-driven quality management and standards of federal and state-compliant HIV/AIDS services provider reporting.

• Support local public health responses to emergencies such as COVID-19 and any other emergency health responses.

• Participate in core unit activities, including cleaning, managing, analyzing and displaying process and outcomes epidemiological data using analytic software packages (SAS).

• Contribute to scientific research data systems specifications, documentation, testing, epidemiological data collection tools, and/or user support/technical assistance.

• Help to integrate scientific research data from different systems as needed to ensure epidemiological data quality and completeness.

• Contribute to scientific research reports, presentations and papers related to evaluation of the RWPA program for public dissemination.

Minimum Qual Requirements

1.  For Assignment Level I (only physical, biological and environmental sciences and public health) A master’s degree from an accredited college or university with a specialization in an appropriate field of physical, biological or environmental science or in public health.
To be appointed to Assignment Level II and above, candidates must have:
1. A doctorate degree from an accredited college or university with specialization in an appropriate field of physical, biological, environmental or social science and one year of full-time experience in a responsible supervisory, administrative or research capacity in the appropriate field of specialization; or
2. A master’s degree from an accredited college or university with specialization in an appropriate field of physical, biological, environmental or social science and three years of responsible full-time research experience in the appropriate field of specialization; or
3. Education and/or experience which is equivalent to “1” or “2” above. However, all candidates must have at least a master’s degree in an appropriate field of specialization and at least two years of experience described in “2” above. Two years as a City Research Scientist Level I can be substituted for the experience required in “1” and “2” above.

Probationary Period
Appointments to this position are subject to a minimum probationary period of one year.

Preferred Skills

• Strong analytical, organizational and communication skills.

• Professional working knowledge of SAS (programming and analysis), as well as Access, Excel and other MS Office software.

• An appreciation for scientific research epidemiological data quality and program quality management.

• Ability to work effectively with a diverse staff of scientist, IT specialists, scientists, planners, clinicians, program managers and service providers within the NYC DOHMH and at external agencies, as well as client/consumers who participate in community planning and research review processes.

• Capacity to maintain multiple projects and function effectively both independently and as part of a team.

Additional Information


Please note:  If you are called for an interview you will be required to bring to your interview copies of original documentation, such as:
• A document that establishes identity for employment eligibility, such as: A Valid U.S. Passport, Permanent Resident Card/Green Card, or Driver’s license. 

• Proof of Education according to the education requirements of the civil service title. 

• Current Resume  

• Proof of Address/NYC Residency dated within the last 60 days, such as: Recent Utility Bill (i.e. Telephone, Cable, Mobile Phone)

Additional documentation may be required to evaluate your qualification as outlined in this posting’s “Minimum Qualification Requirements” section. Examples of additional documentation may be, but not limited to: college transcript, experience verification or professional trade licenses.

If after your interview you are the selected candidate you will be contacted to schedule an on-boarding appointment.   By the time of this appointment you will be asked to produce the originals of the above documents along with your original Social Security card.


The federal government provides student loan forgiveness through its Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) to all qualifying public service employees. Working with the DOHMH qualifies you as a public service employee and you may be able to take advantage of this program while working full-time and meeting the program’s other requirements. 

Please visit the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program site to view the eligibility requirements:


To Apply

Apply online with a cover letter to  In the Job ID search bar, enter: job ID number # 484848.

We appreciate the interest and thank all applicants who apply, but only those candidates under consideration will be contacted.

The NYC Health Department is committed to recruiting and retaining a diverse and culturally responsive workforce. We strongly encourage people of color, people with disabilities, veterans, women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender and gender non-conforming persons to apply.