Category Archives: PROspective

Considering work in local public health – now’s the time

Category : PROspective

By Allison T. Chamberlain, PhD

In 2017, I had been on the faculty at Rollins for about 2 years.  Thinking back on that time, the best way to describe how I was feeling about my role was that I was indeed liking it, but not loving it.  Something was missing.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at the time, but it had something to do with finding more practice-oriented uses of my research skills within the larger community.

In that same year I had the chance to begin working part time at the Fulton County Board of Health in downtown Atlanta.  I didn’t entirely know what I was saying yes to, but I accepted the opportunity as I knew it would likely provide ways to connect my epidemiologic talents more directly with community-based needs.  Plus, I had never worked in a state or local health department, and that was something I had always wanted to do.

For me, working inside the local health department has been that missing piece of job satisfaction.  I have learned so much about how public health works at that most operational, community-based level.  I have gotten to use my epidemiologic skills to help the health department collect data, analyze data, respond to outbreaks and prepare for the Super Bowl.  In fact, I was downtown sitting with my colleagues at the health department exactly one year ago today (February 25) when the CDC announced that we “will see community spread” of SARS-CoV-2 in the U.S….it was a matter of when, not if. 

So why share all of this?  Because working at the local level is invigorating.  For those of you who are debating whether to apply to jobs or fellowships at the local level, I say go for it.  Get exposure to this environment sooner rather than later in your careers.  You will learn so much.  You will get so much real-world experience.  You will see how much impact your efforts can have on real communities.  You will not regret it.  

Right now, our second call for applications is open for the Rollins COVID-19 Epidemiology Fellows Program.  This program is part of our Emory COVID-19 Response Collaborative aimed at enabling our Rollins School of Public Health to do as much as it can to support our state and local health departments during this COVID-19 pandemic.  This fellowship supports that mission by matching talented, early career epidemiologists with local health departments across Georgia – as well as at the state – to help build Georgia’s epidemiologic workforce.  By keeping the fellows anchored to Emory, we are able to provide them with trainings, mentorship and special events that our top-tier school of public health can provide.

If you have an interest in working at the local level after graduation, now’s the time.  It’s a wonderful place to learn, grow and serve, especially during the public health crisis of our lifetimes.  I encourage you to apply to our fellowship program; the application period closes on Friday, March 5th

 


 

Dr. Allison Chamberlain, PhD, is the Director of the Emory COVID-19 Response Collaborative (ECRC) and a Research Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the Rollins School of Public Health. To learn more about the ECRC, their current projects, and the fellowship program, click here. 

 


 

Join the Conversation

Are you an alumni or current student in the Department of Epidemiology? Do you want to share your professional advice and experiences with a large audience of your peers? We want to hear from YOU! Consider becoming a contributing author for PROspective! To inquire, email your article idea directly to the editors at Confounder [at] emory [dot] edu!

 


Feature image: https://www.integrify.com/blog/posts/how-to-be-a-mentor/


Public Health Consulting

Category : PROspective

One Epidemiologist’s Journey in Consulting 

By Cassie Kersten, MPH (GLEPI, 2020) 

I want to start this off by congratulating each and every one of you—the strength and resilience that you all have shown as public health students and practitioners during a pandemic is truly inspirational. Whether you’ve been volunteering, working REAL jobs with local institutions, or just completing your thesis and getting ready to join the workforce—you’re doing great.

I also vividly remember how overwhelming the job hunt is from my experience last year. Not only do you need to decide what sector you want to work in, you also need to make back-up plans, and back-up plans for the back-up plans. Yet, it’s also incredibly exciting—you’ll finally have the degree that you worked hard for and you can begin a meaningful, impactful career. 

When I was at Rollins, I fell in love with public health preparedness. During my two years, I worked with local Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) units, the Georgia Department of Public Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on a variety of projects. Many of these experiences occurred during my time on the Student Outbreak and Response Team (SORT). During my tenure as 2019 SORT Co-President, I loved facilitating and maintaining connections with leadership from local organizations, strategizing with the executive board to achieve our goals, and coordinating members and professionals for regular meetings and events. Ultimately, it was one of my absolute favorite student experiences and one that I wanted to mirror in my professional endeavors.

Gathering all my experiences, I was able to start putting together the pieces of my career puzzle. I wanted to find something that would incorporate the aspects that I loved from SORT, make an impact, push me outside of my comfort zone, and allow me to grow and evolve as a professional. After talking with career services and the Rollins alumni that they connected me with, I felt fairly confident that consulting was the path for me.

 

Adaptability & the Job Search Process

 

However, the path wasn’t always straightforward. Since I didn’t realize this until my second year of graduate school, I felt like I was behind some of the other students in making those important networking connections and preparing for the consulting application process. I also didn’t realize the importance of referrals when applying to competitive firms. As such, I wasn’t having much luck until the end of April, when I was offered a position with a small firm primarily focused on emergency management. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, they ended up having a contract delayed and kept me at part-time through the summer, which was less than ideal for my budget and passion for doing meaningful work.

While at the time I was frustrated to be back on the job hunt mid-summer after graduating, I had begun to dip my toes in the consulting world and felt confident that it was the correct path—I just needed to find somewhere new to continue my journey. I reached back out to a few networking contacts, including an alumnus who worked for Booz Allen Hamilton. He put in a referral for me and I was interviewed, had my paperwork processed, and onboarded in less than a month.  Since Booz Allen was originally one of my target firms, it felt like things were finally coming together.

 

Jumping into Work & Making Connections

 

On my first day, all I knew was that I was hired as a Senior Consultant on the health account, with a team that focused primarily on military health. I didn’t have any details on my project, and quickly realized that it was because I didn’t have a project yet! I was brought on as a “capability hire,” which loosely translates to “someone we know that we want and aligns with projects that we expect to have, but don’t necessarily have yet.” My first task was networking to find a project—which essentially meant talking with employees who have similar interests and seeing if they have any connections who might be onboarding for projects. As someone who loves connecting with others, I scheduled lots of meet and greets and quickly ended up joining a short-term project analyzing chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) policies. During this short-term project, I was still searching for something that would be longer-term and talked with colleagues supporting a wide array of federal agencies. Ultimately, I decided to join a team that supports a comprehensive medical readiness program for Department of Defense clients. As a public health subject-matter expert, I assist in the development of trainings and exercises related to public health, disaster mental health, patient decontamination, and more. Once COVID-19 travel restrictions lift, I will be traveling worldwide with my team to facilitate these trainings and exercises approximately 2 weeks per month. I’m keeping my fingers crossed to start that soon!

Ultimately, I really enjoy working in consulting. Even as the most junior member of my team and as one of the few without a military background, my input is valued and I have begun taking lead on some product development tasks. Additionally, the wide array of project options displayed to me during my project search demonstrated that I have control over my path—I had options within Booz Allen to branch more into policy, data science, emergency management, or continue to work on the COVID-19 response. There are also communities of practice that meet monthly and function similarly to student organizations—one even focuses on health security and biodefense! Also, my team rarely works over 45-hour weeks, which allows me to maintain a strong work-life balance.  For my future at the firm, I’m planning to expand my expertise into emergency management by pursuing relevant certifications and attending conferences (which are covered by the firm’s flexible education benefit). I’m excited to continue growing and developing as a public health consultant!

 


 

 

Cassie Kersten, MPH (GLEPI 2020) is currently a Senior Consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton. If any students are interested in connecting with Cassie, please contact her at Kersten_Cassandra [at] bah [dot] com.

 

 

 


Join the Conversation

Are you an alumni or current student in the Department of Epidemiology? Do you want to share your professional advice and experiences with a large audience of your peers? We want to hear from YOU! Consider becoming a contributing author for PROspective! To inquire, email your article idea directly to the editors at Confounder [at] emory [dot] edu!

 


Feature image: https://www.vectorstock.com/royalty-free-vector/new-journey-concept-highway-road-abstract-person-vector-28974067


Taming the Chaos

Category : PROspective

Practical Strategies for Keeping your Research Life Organized 


By the time they’ve reached graduate school, every student will have experienced the chaos that sometimes comes with balancing all the tasks needed to thrive in work and in life. In past PROspective articles, Dr. Lauren Christiansen-Lindquist and ADAP Farah Dharamshi have touched on this very topic, offering their own advice about time management and juggling a myriad of different tasks at once.

This short post is meant to provide some inspiration and guidance on elements to consider in shaping an organized and impactful professional life. I will focus on some of the practices I have adopted to keep track of the ever-growing set of tasks an academic researcher can face throughout one’s career.

Academic research disciplines are extremely diverse, and this list of strategies is in no way comprehensive. My intent here is to stimulate some thought on habits, practices, and resources that have helped me, and to point you in a direction that, perhaps, you may not yet have considered.

Folder Structure and Conventions

Like your living or work space, your project space should be kept neat and tidy so that you know where things are when you need them. The projects I undertake typically fall into one of several categories, such as grants, papers, courses, lectures, and presentations. Every category has its own folder. Within each category, every project has its own folder, and each folder has a predetermined structure.

For example, each manuscript has its own folder with the following sub-folders (directories):

  • data
  • figures
  • R
  • manuscript
  • miscellaneous

Importantly, the organizational structure of each project folder is consistent across all manuscripts that I write. Manuscripts often involve a key set of elements (datasets, codebooks, figures, software code, Microsoft Word or LaTeX documents, etc). In my organizational setup, each element has a predetermined and designated place in the folder, and I know where this place is.

I also rely on a set of file naming conventions that simplify keeping track of where the files are in a given folder. This is especially useful when the number of files in a folder becomes very large. In such a situation, I can easily search for files when I can’t find them. For example, I will often create several versions of a manuscript figure, which can create problems if I’d like to find a specific file. But my figure naming convention allows me to narrow down the number of candidate files to facilitate searching. Here is an example file name for a figure in a recent project:

2020_08_09-PS_Overlap-boxplot-grayscale.pdf

Importantly, my naming convention always employs a date using ISO 8601 date/time formats to avoid confusion over whether “08” is the day or month. With this naming convention, I know the day on which the file was created, what the file is for (propensity score overlap plot), what kind of plot it is (boxplot, instead of density plot, violin plot, or other), and that it’s grayscale. A consistent naming convention like the one above allows me to anticipate where my files are when I can’t immediately find them, or search for them (using, e.g., grep commands) easily.

Version Control

Typically, the elements of a project undergo substantial changes from the time they are created to the time they are completed. Sometimes, making changes is accompanied with a lot of uncertainty: “what if I need something in a previous file version?” This is common with many types of documents, and can eventually lead to an unreadable mess of files (Figure 1). If this scenario sounds familiar to you, you should use version control!

Figure 1. If this image looks familiar, you need version control!

Consider the example of a current team project to demonstrate challenges in using machine learning methods. The initial R program for this project was being written by three research team members, and consisted of ~300 lines of code. It relied heavily on prediction as an example to demonstrate the scientific problems. While this code was being written, the research team decided that an illustration based on causal inference instead of prediction would be clearer. This required completely rewriting most of the code, at the same time that other research team members were still contributing to the main program.

With git and GitHub (version control software program and code sharing platform), I was able to create a branch of the prediction program that I could work on to change everything from prediction to causal inference, and then merge both versions (my new causal inference version, with the team-member updated prediction version) to obtain a final working program for our example. I did all this without duplicating (copying + pasting) any files, all while simultaneously enabling collaborators to contribute to their parts to the program (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Example use case of version control. Creating a branch allows for major changes to be made without disrupting the workflow for other team members, and without creating multiple copies of the same document.

Version control programs such as git make both tracking and merging changes to any document (statistical software program, manuscript, or other) easy. Sharing document versions can easily be done with GitHub. While the learning curve can be steep, my experience has been that it is well worth the investment.

Software

There are innumerable software programs developed to facilitate working with a computer, and it can be daunting to identify those that are useful. Different programs serve different purposes, with a handful devoted to minimizing the time spent handling the keyboard and mouse via workflows and shortcuts. Alfred is one such productivity app for the MacOS system (Windows alternatives include Wox, Listary, or Keypirinha) that makes interacting with the computer a much more productive experience. 

Figure 3. Repetitive text entry is common for those who analyze data. In the R programming language, I often (always?) include the above code at the beginning of an R program file. With Alfred snippets, I can enter all 19 lines of the above code by simply writing “ppak” at the beginning of every program.

For example, using calendar workflows with Alfred enables for easy calendar entries with a few keystrokes, so setting up appointments takes only a few seconds. Alternatively, one can create “snippets” that enable the user to write certain keywords to enter any pre-written text one might desire (see Figure 3 for an example). Given the sheer number of repetitive tasks one can make over the course of a year, streamlining the process of executing these tasks can save you from a lot of repetitive typing!

Planning, Learning, and Training

A final aspect I’m going to discuss on keeping things organized is training. I learned many of the practices mentioned here in Jenny Bryan’s invaluable “What They Forgot to Teach You” short-course, offered at the annual RStudio Conference. I’ve learned many other practices reading books and articles, and taking online short courses. Indeed, in November of every year, I devote a few weeks to researching new software, practices, habits, techniques and ideas on staying organized and productive, and it’s one of the best organizational strategies I’ve adopted.

Staying organized is essential for maintaining productivity. When used well, the strategies covered here can do much to help achieve both goals.


Dr. Ashley Naimi is an Associate Professor in the Department of Epidemiology with expertise in causal inference, machine learning, and artificial intelligence methods. In his research, Dr. Naimi leverages these methods to answer questions related to reproductive and perinatal epidemiology, nutritional epidemiology, social determinants of health.

Email: ashley [dot] naimi [at] emory [dot] edu
Twitter: @ashley_naimi


Join the conversation…

Are you an alumni or current student in the Department of Epidemiology? Do you want to share your professional advice and experiences with a large audience of your peers? We want to hear from YOU! Consider becoming a contributing author for PROspective! To inquire, email your article idea directly to the editors at Confounder [at] emory [dot] edu!


Featured image from: https://www.aberdeen.com/tag/file-transfer/


A Mentee’s Journey

Category : PROspective

In last week’s PROspective, our department’s Vice-Chair described her career-long mentoring relationship with Professor John Boring, our department’s first Chair. Her moving description prompted me to reflect on my good fortune to have had outstanding mentoring beginning even as an undergraduate. Today, I will share a snippet from the three main mentors I have had and what I learned from each of them. The main theme is that it is important to learn to take constructive feedback and to act on it.

Rigor


For my undergraduate research opportunity project, I worked in the laboratory of Marie Chow. She was a newly appointed Assistant Professor, and she focused on the genetics and protein structure of the polio virus. She and a post-doc in the lab were the first to sequence the polio virus genome, a result they published in Science while I was working in the lab. At any given moment, Marie might come into the lab and ask what you were doing, what each step in the experiment was meant to do, the importance of each reagent, how you made the reagent, and to show her where you had documented it all in your lab notebook. At first it was terrifying and felt confrontational, but she was an equal-opportunity interrogator. I got the same treatment as the two post-docs, PhD student, and technician. We all heard one another go through it. We became used to it, and came to understand that she was setting a standard for rigor in her laboratory that was paying dividends. When you hear me talk about the importance of rigor, you are hearing me channel Marie Chow.

Sponsorship


My first full-time job was at an environmental health consulting company owned by Laura Green. Laura and Marie were friends from their post-doc days, and I later learned that Laura would never have hired me without Marie’s encouragement. Sponsorship is an important role of a good mentor; Marie made a difference again for me at this critical time. My first writing assignment was to prepare a summary of the carcinogenicity of trichlorethylene. I did the research, wrote what I found, and handed it over for Laura to review. The next morning, she sat down across from me and said, “Did you write an outline?” I thought I would be fired. Instead, she worked with me to improve that piece and many others over time. Laura has outstanding interpersonal skills. Watching her over ten years set standards for communication that I still aspire to meet. She and I talk a couple times each year and I learn something new and important every time.

Collegiality


My first academic job was as a project manager working with Professor Rebecca Silliman. Becky had a growing research program in breast cancer survivorship. She was ultimately a member of my PhD committee and has been a mentor to me throughout my academic career. She is retired now, but I still talk with her every second Monday and value that time immensely. I realize that she is the one person who has only my interests in mind, and she has seen it all in the academic environment. Just last week, she kept me from making a mistake by anticipating the long-view fallout. I once asked her what she thinks was her main secret for success and she answered, “I choose my collaborators well.” When you hear me talk about the importance of collegiality, I am channeling Becky Silliman.

So I have been immensely fortunate to have outstanding mentoring for a long time. There have been others, but these three were easily the most influential. On my side of these mentoring relationships, I have had to be willing to hear their constructive criticism. That is a skill that does not come easily to me, nor to most people. It is a skill, and it can be improved. This week’s extra reading provides a place to start.


 

Join the conversation…

Are you an alumni or current student in the Department of Epidemiology? Do you want to share your professional advice and experiences with a large audience of your peers? We want to hear from YOU! Consider becoming a contributing author for PROspective! To inquire, email your article idea directly to the editors at Confounder [at] emory [dot] edu!


Featured image from: https://startupanz.com/makes-good-mentor-mentee-relationship/


The Boring History of EmoryEPI

Category : PROspective

No one wants to sit through a boring lecture. If given the option between teachers, at least in undergrad, it was common to check around and see who was “the best.”  When I arrived at Emory for my masters, my first class in epidemiology was taught by our department chair, Dr. John Boring. It was a constant source of amusement for us that someone who taught with such an infectious and passionate style carried the name of what no one wants from a teacher.

He walked into the room on the first day and we realized quickly he was, in fact, not boring at all. Instead, we were in the presence of a storyteller and a gifted teacher. His gifts in the classroom were many, as he spread his love for epidemiology across Emory’s campus teaching both at Rollins and at the School of Medicine. He was completely delighted when he saw us comprehend a concept or ask an insightful question and would exclaim, “Yes, yes yes!” He received (and deserved) many accolades in his 46 years of teaching at Emory including the Rollins School of Public Health Professor of the Year 5 times, the Thomas F. Sellers Jr. M.D. Award for being a role model, and Emory’s highest faculty honor, the Thomas Jefferson Award.

Where it all began

Our department, and our entire school, exists in large part because of Dr. Boring. He taught at Emory for 46 years – more than 4 decades of inspiring clinicians and then public health practitioners to save the world. Beginning in the mid-1970s, he taught in the master’s of community health program. After Rollins was established as a school in 1990, Dr. Boring chaired the Department of Epidemiology. Under his guidance, the curriculum evolved, the doctoral program was formed, and enrollment grew. Also under his guidance, the importance of mentoring students was modeled, established, and developed into the culture of the department we still have today.

The 4 C’s of Mentorship

I know how much I have benefitted from the model of mentorship Dr. Boring put in place. By definition, a mentor is “an experienced and trusted advisor.” To me, that definition doesn’t really describe the full importance of what a mentorship relationship can mean. There are also the three C’s of mentorship that add color to the mentor/mentee relationship, consultant, counselor and cheerleader. I think students are looking for, and need, all three when they reach out to faculty for advice and opportunities. But if I could add a C to that list, I would add connection. I love talking about epidemiology with students, supporting their goals, providing advice when asked, and always cheerleading. The fundamental component to all of that for me is connection, whether in the classroom or while mentoring, and is one of the reasons I find academia so fulfilling. I also think these relationships have influence beyond their structured time together.

The Science of the Denominator

Dr. Boring taught the first epidemiology class I ever took, the one I now teach.  As recently as 2016, Dr. Boring gave the opening lecture of EPI530 for my students. Many years after the first time I heard him give that lecture, I was still inspired. It took me back to that class where I first learned about our science. Even as a guest lecturer, he still exuded that same excitement about what he was sure epidemiologists could do to make the world safer. He still was passionate about denominators (“This is the science of the denominator!”). And he told my students, the ones I was only teaching because he inspired me so, “Persistence. You collect data- all of it. And you keep looking for evidence. Keep at it because you can save lives.” I wish I could punctuate that last sentence the way he said it. I can hear it in my head and it was filled with such conviction, belief and hope.  You will save lives. 

An Enduring Legacy

Dr. Boring passed away at the age of 90 two weeks ago. He left an indelible mark on our department and the world of epidemiology. He taught, mentored and inspired generations of fledgling epidemiologists. To me, he was the best teacher I ever had. I was privileged that this man who always taught in a blue shirt and tie, with his huge smile, booming laugh and his left sleeve rolled up, became my friend. We texted often but I did not get to see him this year due to the pandemic. His love of epidemiology and teaching changed the course of my life.

The continued influence of my mentors such as Dr. Boring really cannot be overstated. When I shared the sad news of his passing with a former colleague of ours, the comment was, “I carry some of him with me.” How simple. How profound. I hope I do, too.

 


Featured Image from: http://whsc.emory.edu/home/publications/public-health/public-health/fall2012/epidemiology-professor-john-boring.html


King Week @EmoryEPI

Category : PROspective

To our @EmoryEPI community – welcome to Spring 2021! Although celebrations surely looked different this holiday season, we hope that you were able to find moments of rest and relaxation over the last several weeks. Even though our winter break was longer than usual, some may still feel like it wasn’t quite long enough – whatever your situation, know that you are likely not alone in how you’re feeling. A new semester presents us with new beginnings and opportunities. We know that the road to get to the other side of the pandemic is long; however, vaccines and a national COVID-19 response strategy allow us to begin to see the light at the end of this long, dark tunnel.

 

This past week, we celebrated and honored the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As we work towards a more just and equitable society, there are important lessons that we can take from Dr. King and apply them to our own leadership. Below, I’ll highlight the key points from the linked article, with a spin on what these lessons mean for us as public health professionals.

 

Embrace the “We” Mindset


If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together

– African Proverb

The “we” mindset really is at the core of public health – we’re keenly aware of how interconnected we all are, and that we simply cannot go at this alone. It’s not about what any one of us can accomplish on our own, but what we can do together that will have the most impact on health and wellness in our communities.

 

Embrace Tension


We often need to put in a lot of work to get to this place, but we must get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We know much needs to be done to realize public health’s goals of preventing disease and promoting health. We cannot expect to undo the damage of slavery and institutionalized racism by insisting on living the myth of a color blind society. Growth and progress are the rewards of the tension that comes from stepping out of our comfort zones, and speaking up for what is right. Good intentions are meaningless if they are accompanied by silence.

 

Embrace Learning and Unlearning


Simply put: our learning is never finished. Sometimes, the things that we learn are in conflict with what we already knew – we must remain open to allowing our knowledge to evolve as we gather more information and recognize when we must change our point of view. Although classroom learning will come to a close for our students in the coming semester(s), please remember that it will always be important to continue listening, learning, and acting in pursuit of justice.

 

Embrace Being an Extremist


Bernice King, an American minister and the youngest child of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, reminds us that as we honor her father, we must remember that he was not beloved by America. He was bold in his approach, and forged a unique path that wasn’t always well-received. There will be times when we must be extreme in our approach – where we take the lessons learned from embracing the “we” mindset, tension, and learning and unlearning – and apply them in ways that will have a real, measurable impact on the health of our communities.

I know this may be a lot to soak in at the beginning of a new semester – and some of you may wonder whether you’re really up for the task given all that you have on your plate. If this resonates with you, know that advocacy and the pursuit of justice are part of a journey. We can commit ourselves to this journey while also allowing ourselves to pause and tend to our own emotional, spiritual, and physical health. As we embrace the “we” mindset – we know that this is a journey that we are on together. When one of us needs a moment of pause, the rest of us can continue to carry the torch forward. I, for one, am grateful to be on this journey with each and every one of you.

 


True Grit

Category : PROspective

In December of 2010, Paramount Pictures released their $38 million remake of the 1969 John Wayne classic, True Grit; this time starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and an absolutely indomitable Hailee Steinfeld. The story follows Mattie Ross (Steinfeld), a 14-year old who contracts a hired gun (Bridges) to pursue her father’s killer (Brolin) through treacherous territory to avenge his murder. You don’t have to be a fan of traditional westerns to appreciate Mattie’s tenacity and determination – the all-too-obvious inspiration for the movie’s title. It’s nothing short of thrilling to watch her railroad seasoned trackers, bounty hunters, thieves and murders in order to ensure she is treated fairly and the journey proceeds ethically in a world normally lacking such luxuries.

 

Grit is a special kind of character trait – an alphabet soup of bravery, passion, and pure strength of will – guided, at all times, by an unwavering moral compass. It’s the sort of thing that only gets unlocked within us in response to the greatest of tradgdies or injustices, compelling us to rise to a challenge instead of abdicate or resign.

 

This week, as final exams brought an end to this semester and to the year-of-the-virus that brought it to life, I am reminded of grit because it is this character trait that our community has exhibited so heroically in the face of these truly brutal circumstances. Grit drove students and faculty through a new and complicated months-long experiment in teaching and learning online. Grit helped us to compartmentalize, problem solve, and find gratitude in our shared experience. Grit got you through homeworks, papers, problem sets, and now final exams – while simultaneously applying skills and knowledge to better understand and mitigate the global pandemic. As with our heroine, Mattie Ross, it was nothing short of thrilling to watch your determination in the face of all that stood in front of you this year.

 

From all of us at the Confounder, congratulations on your accomplishments this semester! Enjoy your time off with the satisfaction of knowing that you faced the challenge with grit and persistence, in service of lessening the suffering of your fellow citizens. 

 

Happy Holidays!

 


Featured image from: http://smithdell.blogspot.com/2011/01/true-grit.html


Gratitude

Category : PROspective

Congratulations to the entire @EmoryEPI community for making it to the end of classes for Fall 2020! In August, we all knew that we were staring down a semester that would be unlike any other. As we stand on the other side of the instructional part of this semester, we can be proud of the ways in which we have leaned on each other, though both the ups and downs, to help us make it through.

At the start of the semester, Tim Lash asked us all to “recognize and practice flexibility, empathy, and patience.” We saw these principles play out throughout the semester as members of our community recognized that everyone was experiencing the pandemic differently, and that there were times where we needed to adjust our expectations to suit the moment. We also stretched ourselves in both creativity and resiliency – finding new ways to address the challenges that we faced, and recognizing that we are capable of so much more than we often give ourselves credit.

I have always been immensely grateful for our department’s community, and that gratitude has taken on a whole new life this semester. It is such a gift to be able to wake up each and every day and know that my time at work is well spent. As we settle into this week of Thanksgiving, I know that this time is likely to look quite different than in years past. To reiterate Tim’s recent message to the department, although “2020 has been difficult… many have had a much harder year than most of us. Look for the good in what has past, hope for the future, and recommit to perseverance for the present.”

Of course, I am keenly aware that we are not yet on the other side of this semester: faculty may still need to prepare finals, and of course, students still need to take them. Always remember that we are all on the same team – working together to prepare you to become influential public health professionals, ready to tackle the challenges that we face.

My hope for each and every one of you is that you are able to recharge this week, even if that means flexing your creativity to ensure a safe celebration for yourself, your loved ones, and the greater community. For some, recharging will mean completely unplugging – for others, it means getting caught up while colleagues are on a break – whatever you need, please take it, and remember to practice empathy for those whose coping mechanisms differ from your own.

In closing, I’ll share this quote from Voltaire, which perfectly encapsulates the #WeAreEmoryEPI spirit:

“Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”



We appreciate, and are so grateful for, every member of our @EmoryEPI community – stay safe, be well and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

 


Featured image from Chris Lawton on Unsplash: https://unsplash.com/@chrislawton


After the MPH, is a PhD next?

Category : PROspective

From Dr. Shakira Suglia, Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) for the PhD program in epidemiology: 



As the semester starts to wind down, many of us are figuring out what’s next and while a simple answer may be ‘Spring semester is next’ some of you may be considering what’s next beyond the Spring semester. If you have been considering continuing into the PhD as your next career step after the MPH there are a few things worth considering as you embark on this journey.

 

Should I apply?

When considering applying, think of what you want to do after the PhD, that should drive the reason for applying. Think of your career goals, do you enjoy leading research teams? Developing research projects? Teaching and mentoring? A PhD changes the types of jobs you are competitive for, you move into a lead role conceptualizing and leading research rather than carrying out the research. Think of organizations and positions you may enjoy working in after your PhD, do the people holding those positions have PhDs?

What is getting a PhD like?

Depending on the program and academic institution, the time from start to finish of a PhD can be between 4 and 6 years. Being a PhD student is a full time ‘job’ – in addition to coursework, there are often teaching and research expectations. Compared to a MPH program there is a lot of unstructured time in the PhD program as you work on your dissertation. Some institutions, but not all, provide stipends and may cover tuition and health insurance. It’s important to have a good understanding of what obtaining a PhD is like, so it is a good idea to talk to current doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows or recent grads to learn what their day to day is like.

How do I know where to apply?

Again, do some homework. Research programs websites, read up on the work being done in each institution – are there faculty that do work in the areas that you want to work on? While a perfect match is not necessary, you want to ensure there will be faculty that can mentor you in the work that you want to engage in. If you are interested in something that no one on faculty focuses on, that is not a good match. If you can, try to distinguish between primary faculty and adjuncts who are actively mentoring students. Understand what are the training priorities of each program and how do they align with your priorities. Again throughout the application process you should reach out to faculty, students and alumni of the programs you are considering.

A bit more on the Epi PhD program

The PhD in epidemiology in our institution is offered through Emory’s Laney Graduate School. This program trains students to become independent investigators and to obtain skills to be successful in PhD-level positions in academia, government, and the private sector. Typical time to degree is 5 years, and students typically spend the first 2 years doing coursework and 3 years for dissertation work. Tuition, health insurance and a stipend are provided for students.

You can find more information on our website and you can reach out to sphepidept [at] emory [dot] edu directly with your questions. The application deadline for Fall 2021 matriculation is December 1st, 2020. 

 


Featured image from: https://www.waldenu.edu/programs/health/resource/whats-the-difference-between-a-drph-and-a-phd-in-public-health


To be an Epidemiologist in 2020

Category : PROspective

2020 has brought many challenges for students, staff, and faculty. These challenges resonate with the experiences that people throughout our society have faced. We are working and studying without the usual social supports and infrastructure to assist us, and all the while anxious about our own welfare and the welfare of others. Many are simultaneously juggling dependent care, which compresses a difficult schedule into even fewer hours.

Most of this is true for most people. Epidemiologists and other public health and health professionals have had an added challenge, which is to participate directly in the pandemic response. Towards the end of the summer of 2020, the editors of Epidemiology (I am Editor-in-Chief) decided to solicit short commentaries from a diverse group of epidemiologists, asking them to describe “What it has meant for them to be an epidemiologist in 2020.”

We were not asking for anyone to speak for the profession; rather the goal was to get an overview at the cross-section of a number of personal views. We nominated a long list of potential writers, and then selected a short list with the aim of obtaining a diverse set of views representing a range of backgrounds, work settings (academic, government, industry), and geographic regions. To further diversify the set of writers, we asked each invited writer to nominate a second writer, with the emphasis on suggesting someone whose voice might not usually be heard. Using this process, we obtained 20 short commentaries, which are accompanied by an overview editorial by Sonja A. Swanson, who led the effort for the journal. The entire compilation is available here.

I hope you will find time to read through them – many of us will find a writer whose experiences resonate with our own, and we hope that provides some comfort, inspiration, and maybe even a sense of solidarity as we approach the final stretch of this unprecedented year.

 


Featured image from: https://phys.org/news/2020-03-mathematical-epidemiology-pandemic.html