My Career Benefiting from the Intersection of Nutrition and Mental Health
How it works
I want to pursue a Master of Public Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School because I want to extend my career interests to the intersection of nutrition and mental health. I will be focusing on age-associated conditions which influence the development of disabilities such as poor mobility and dementia. After earning my PhD in Public Health on the relationship of nutritional biochemistry and epigenetics of vitamin D metabolism and cancer, I turned my interests to broader associations of nutrition and health outcomes.
After an exciting summer internship at the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and completing my PhD, I joined the Behavioral Epidemiology Section in the Laboratory of Epidemiology and Population Sciences as a post-doctoral fellow. My work has shifted toward examining the effects of nutrition and genetics on trajectories of cognitive performance in participants of a health disparities study in Baltimore City. This work has prompted me to seek additional training, so I can prepare myself better and become an independent investigator after I leave NIA.
Since I was a child, I believed I would choose a career in the medical field. My father was a physician and my mother is an educator. From a young age, I was exposed to the intricate details of both worlds from a career perspective. However, I have always wanted to combine them in my own way rather than following suit or choosing one over the other. I ask myself every day, “How can I enrich my society while leaving a mark in ways more than one?” In other words, “How can I give back more than I have ever received?” The Bloomberg School’s vision of “Protecting Health, Saving Lives—Millions at a Time” is the perfect answer to all my queries, and it comes with enormous hope. It tells me: there are opportunities, perhaps some, beyond my wildest imagination.
Staying true to myself, I have been gradually preparing for this stage in my career since the undergraduate years. After several years of Nutrition studies for my undergraduate and Master’s, I decided it was time to focus on public health for my doctorate as part of the bigger picture. Although I might have believed that my PhD prepared me for a wide range of career options, I’ve begun recognizing I’m not quite ready for the career that I really want to pursue. My goal is to push the existing high-caliber, high-impact research as far as I can, perhaps exceeding present boundaries.
An MPH has become crucial to continuing my training because it will complement my existing knowledge while extending additional skills that are essential for advancement of my career. The key reasons I want to pursue a career in mental health research within the realm of public health, is to examine diseases of the brain and related health outcomes in general population. For instance, I want to examine ways in which prevention may improve mental health by fortifying the existing support systems and reducing adverse mental health issues across the community. There isn’t a better place to pursue my Master’s in Public Health (MPH) than Johns Hopkins University.
I want to focus on the social and genetic aspects of cognitive decline in aging population and examine the underlying health disparities that may contribute if not exacerbate such conditions. I also want to study the specifics of neurodegeneration over time and look for any mechanistic differences in the population, concurrently. My passion in mental health, for both professional and personal reasons, has initiated a collaboration with renowned researchers in the field of psychology and heath disparity for my postdoctoral work. While there have been numerous studies in the same area of my interest- very few, if any, have looked at it from the disparity’s and/or combined genetics standpoint. This is my primary motivation to pursue a career in mental health. What adds to the mix is the relative inconsistency of findings around neurodegeneration in community-dwelling adults across the board. This gives me hope and strength that I will be adding to the literature by exploring a relatively uncharted territory. Attending the Bloomberg School of Public Health will allow me to reach my destination through its unique and diverse online MPH program.
As a Public Health researcher, my interest is primarily in the cognitive health of community-dwelling older adults in relation to environmental factors in Baltimore e.g. diet, exercise and other lifestyle variables. In the process of developing my postdoctoral research plan, I realized soon enough that I need some reinforcements in terms of my educational background. What I am planning to study over the course of the next three years or so falls largely under the “cognitive neuroscience” umbrella. This requires extensive knowledge in cognitive processing, good understanding of the pathogenesis as well as neuroimaging to fully equip me for my proposed research.
I can’t think of a better institution than Johns Hopkins University with which to partner while embarking on this new journey. The University offers an online part-time Master’s in Public Health (MPH) in multiple concentrations. The online option is important to me because I plan to pursue my postdoctoral research simultaneously, a plan also encouraged my mentor at NIA. In addition, my research interests align perfectly with courses like “Psychopathology for Public Health”, “Public Mental Health”, “Statistics for Psychosocial Research: Measurement”, “Neuroimaging: Methods and Applications in Mental and Behavioral Health”, “Introduction to Behavioral and Psychiatric Genetics” and “Psychiatric Genomics”, just to name a few under the concentration of mental health. Although it is understandable that the MPH has some core course requirements, the degree of flexibility around choosing my specialization and offered courses are incredible. This gives me room to really focus on the topics that would be helpful for my career in the long-run. Also, logistically speaking, I already work in Baltimore, and I am near all the facilities at Johns Hopkins, which will make any coordination much easier should there ever be a need.
Professionally, I feel that I have utilized every path of opportunity and challenge at my current academic level. Although my major in nutrition major was deeply satisfying for my undergraduate and Master’s, I chose to broaden my horizon when applying to a PhD program. I wanted something that would help me utilize my existing knowledge base and expand it on a more practical level. Public Health was the perfect balance of both and I have not regretted it. While I was getting my feet wet into the world of independent research work as a second year PhD, I found the field of epigenetics to be extremely intriguing. I realized that, not only there is a strong nutrition connection, but one can approach chronic diseases (e.g. cancer) from a perspective unknown to me before that point. It was not a difficult decision to pursue cancer epigenetics for my doctoral research with a renowned faculty who has spent his entire career researching Vitamin D and colon cancer. While it was a win-win for both me and my advisor, I wanted to take my experience yet another step further for my post-doctoral work.
Spreading the knowledge on something that I have studied for all these years is not work for me. It takes time to learn how to ask the right questions, find the right answers, or days of careful planning and organization and exhortation when it comes to completing a task. It may take years of tinkering to get it right. But it’s what I love, and I enjoy it; it certainly doesn’t feel like work. Teaching nutrition or public health for me, therefore, hinges on the balance between the content and my skills. Teaching is exciting and personally rewarding. It has allowed me to grow as an individual as well as be sensitive to other people’s needs. I believe it is more important is to share what we know and, in a way, that someone without our expertise can easily understand. I have benefited from the experience as a researcher – it has improved my presentation and writing skills a lot, as I reviewed and presented topics in di?erent ways, with broad perspectives, and to newer audiences. Being in the classroom makes me a better nutritionist and a public health researcher at the same time. Teaching is my vocation and my avocation. Building on my academic background and volunteer work, I was able to expand my research capacity, develop and complete projects and reports throughout my time at UMass Amherst and my previous academic institution. Public Health has increasingly presented itself as an exciting and dynamic field, and I look forward to immersing myself further.
The untimely loss of a few loved ones to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, have reaffirmed my life’s mission. I want to contribute to society, and more significantly, to those who have suffered losses same as mine. I want to create an example for what can be accomplished through perseverance and hard work despite going through multiple significant losses. I consider myself extremely privileged to have the opportunity for my post-doctoral research at the only place in the country where I can expect to get the best experience on the most cutting-edge, aging research, here at the National Institute on Aging (NIA). I enjoyed my time at UMass Amherst as a core nutrition researcher. I am sure my time at NIA would not only compliment my existing skillset but also boost my analytical abilities as the years go by. I have established a publication record with my NIA mentor since last summer and hope to widen my range of analyses manifold by the time of the completion of my fellowship. I consider myself a fast learner and I am confident in my abilities to perform better than my best each time I work on a new project.
As a Public Health professional, my long-term goal is to secure a faculty position at research university where I can pursue R-01-funded investigations. As a nutrition scientist who is also a woman of color, I believe it is important for me to push the limits to prepare myself in every way I can before I enter the extremely competitive academic field. This degree, without a shred of doubt, will take me one step closer to my goal. It will help me establish my credibility as an independent researcher which is critical when applying for any faculty position at a reputable institution. After a successful completion of my doctoral degree and an exciting new beginning at NIA, I am looking at this degree as the stepping stone towards the enriching of my career development.
To secure a faculty position in any research university, publications and grant writing experience are critical. I have already received a dissertation grant from UMass (only 10 spots from the entire university) . I recently submitted my first post-doctoral grant at the NIA. I have gathered considerable teaching and research experience over the years, through my PhD. I am using my time as a postdoctoral fellow at NIA, to accumulate grant and research success, which would eventually help me secure a K-99 grant leading up to my first R-01. This MPH will strengthen my application when I am finally ready for my first job. My short-term goal is to successfully complete my post-doctoral fellowship and join a reputable academic or research institution in the US to take my work further. I want to continue my work on aging, especially Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) or Parkinson’s Disease (PD), in aging population in the US. Throughout my post-doctoral work, I will try to explore the mechanics of these diseases of the central nervous system (CNS) to the best of my abilities. My long-term goal is to join an academic institution where I would be able to continue my research and teach at the same time.