Maayan Simckes, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Epidemiology, was named a finalist for the Graduate School Medal Award for her interdisciplinary work at the intersection of social justice and public health during her doctoral program here at the University of Washington (UW).
The Graduate School Medal highlights scholar-citizens who promote political, cultural, and social change through their academic work and civic engagement. While another student was ultimately selected as this year’s medalist, Maayan was selected as one of only 4 finalists across the UW and is the first Epi student in the UW School of Public Health (SPH) to be recognized for this honor.
In addition to having been a teaching assistant for several courses, Maayan spent the first three years of her doctoral program developing the curriculum for and training students participating in the Student Epidemic Action Leaders (SEAL) Team with Professor Janet Baseman. The SEAL Team gives SPH students the opportunity to get applied epidemiology experience through methodology training and field assignments with local and state health departments. Maayan helped expand this program’s reach internationally through an exchange program with the Zimbabwe Field Epidemiology Training Program and the SEAL Team.
In her academic work, Maayan has focused on addressing population health problems through research that sparks solution-oriented conversations. Under the mentorship of Associate Professor Anjum Hajat, Maayan designed a dissertation examining the relationship between policing practices and deaths caused by law enforcement officers in the field.
“Maayan’s research tries to draw the links between police militarization and health, something that has not been rigorously examined from a public health lens,” said Anjum Hajat. “The Graduate School Medal seeks to recognize students that try to make real societal change, which is exactly what Maayan is trying to do with her research.”
Maayan drew from literature and methods in the fields of sociology, criminology, and philosophy to develop an innovative approach to answering her research questions. She integrated a multidisciplinary set of data sources, ranging from federal law enforcement and U.S. Census data to public tracking of lethal use of force. Maayan also prioritized involving as many stakeholders as possible in her work. An avid advocate for equity, diversity, and inclusion in research, Maayan intentionally used qualitative interviewing methods drawing on the collective wisdom and experiences of a broad range of community, academic, and professional experts.
“It was essential to me that my dissertation be relevant to law enforcement and public health audiences with the potential to influence policy and practice,” Maayan said. “While at times it can feel that we as a society have reached an impasse with regards to the institution of law enforcement and its critics, I believe that public health can help advance the conversation towards safer and healthier communities.”
Maayan has sought opportunities to share her research methods and findings with the larger community. Last winter she spoke to Seattle Children's Hospital pediatric residents during an Inclusion, Cultural Humility, Diversity, and Equity seminar about policing and adolescent health , and this fall, she will be on a panel at the American Society of Criminology about her use of criminal justice data for interdisciplinary data and will present at the Interdisciplinary Association for Population Health Sciences annual meeting. Later this year, Maayan will be publishing a paper describing the qualitative findings of her research in the academic journal Police Quarterly.
“This award celebrates interdisciplinary partnership, innovative applied research, and advancing health equity and social justice, all of which play a fundamental part in my dissertation and other academic and professional activities,” Maayan said. “To be recognized as a finalist for demonstrating these core values and scholarly goals is particularly meaningful to me and feels like an acknowledgment of the specific challenges that I have faced in doing this crosscutting work.”