School of Public Health

When school is out, Epi students make the most of it

UW Epi News
Friday, September 15, 2017

When school is out for summer, it’s time to put the classroom lessons into practice. Some try to build on their newly-earned skills by attending summer courses or institutes while others focus on their research projects. Regardless of the experience, one thing is clear: epi students aren’t waiting for graduation to get their first foray in the field.

Here’s how three of our students used the downtime over the summer to gain some practical experience.

The Internship
Thirty six hours after wrapping up his last exam, Nick Graff flew out to Washington, D.C. to start his three-month summer internship at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Global Health Fellows Program. Working in the Office of HIV and AIDS Research Division’s Implementation Science (IS) branch, Graff got a first-hand look at the field of implementation science within the context of a major global development organization.

“Working at a funding agency is interesting because it’s different from doing research. It’s the organizational side of things,” said Graff, an incoming second-year MPH student. “USAID’s role is in forming partnerships to support global AIDS research.”

Graff worked with the IS team to help support a diverse portfolio of over 50 ongoing IS studies located in 21 countries. During his day-to-day, he performed literature reviews, and supported the group with the reporting and strategic planning for his particular country portfolio.

Graff’s experience took him to Tanzania for a week to meet a team working on a study evaluating a new model to deliver HIV/AIDS medication.

“Instead of making people go to health clinics regularly, this new intervention distributes antiretroviral therapy through community-based HIV services,” Graff said. “Community health workers bring medicine from the hospital to remote villages and distribute the medication to patients.”

Graff found this opportunity through the UW School of Public Health jobs listings. He was one of 21 interns hired out of an applicant pool of 1,200.

“Watch the SPH job postings. There’s really good stuff on there,” he said. “Give yourself a little credit and do apply for that dream position or internship because you really might get it. You never know unless you try.”

The Research Conference 
Laura Chambers first heard about the STI & HIV World Congress two years ago when she was starting her MPH program. As this summer’s congress in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil approached, Chambers—now a PhD student—could not turn down the opportunity to be in the same room as well-known international researchers who also study M. Genitalium, a little-known sexually transmitted infection (STI).

“I remember two years ago when faculty and students were preparing for it. I thought if the timing worked out as I was finishing up some research, I’d try to go,” said Chambers. “It would be a great way to hear about other researchers’ work.”

The STI & HIV World Congress brings together more than 1,000 prominent researchers in the field of sexually transmitted infections to present their work, share interpretations of the data, and discuss the implications of their finding for health policy and patient care, according to its website.

During the conference, Chambers presented a poster on a mathematical modeling study of M. genitalium to an audience of STI researchers, clinicians, and public health practitioners. Following her presentation, she was invited by her mentor, Professor Lisa Manhart, to an ad hoc meeting of researchers from three continents who were all interested in collaborating on a future modeling study of M. genitalium transmission and resistance.

“It was exciting to be invited,” she said. “I found it interesting to hear about the work people are doing and the different perspectives on putting together an M. genitalium model.”

Another highlight from the trip, Chambers had an opportunity to network with some researchers about future postdoctoral opportunities.

“It was really fun to start brainstorming potential postdoctoral projects and to learn about the most relevant topics from the wide variety of scientific sessions,” said Chambers.

The Summer Institute
What’s a good way to keep newly-acquired statistics skills sharp over the summer? For Naomi Schwartz, it was by attending the 9th Summer Institute in Statistics and Modeling in Infectious Diseases hosted by the UW Department of Biostatistics.

Interested in exploring autoimmune diseases for her master’s thesis, Schwartz took two modules offered by the institute: Microbiome Data Analysis and Spatial Statistics in Epidemiology and Public Health.

The first module, Microbiome Data Analysis, looked at ways to do multivariate analyses of microbiome data using the program R. The second module was an introduction to spatial methods which are often used in epidemiology and public health. Each module was taught over the course of two and a half days in July.

“These modules exposed me to a lot of things that are important, such as familiarity with terminology and concepts,” said Schwartz. “I came out with a better idea of where to even start if I wanted to know more about these topics. Now that I’ve taken a short course in it, I’d like to delve into it in a longer course.”

Schwartz found it valuable to be exposed to the complexity of the statistics in more niche fields of public health and science. It helped her realize how her first year statistics class was just an introduction to the possibilities of statistics.

“I think it’s definitely worth looking into institutes like this one after your first year,” Schwartz said. “There’s no test at the end, you get to sit there and observe it. Everyone should experience that kind of learning because it changes how you absorb the information and how you reflect on it afterwards.”