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Internship Spotlight: Lingxiao Zhang, MPH ’24 (Chronic Disease Epidemiology, Modeling Concentration)

October 03, 2023

Research assistant for an outcome and effectiveness research project in the COPPER center at Yale, remote; Funding: American Cancer Society

What is your career goal?

In general, health care consistently remains my area of deep interest, with a particular focus on the realm of real-world evidence. Within this domain, individuals possessing an epidemiology background and relevant skill sets have the potential to offer significant contributions. Through the analysis of data with regard to the effectiveness of studied medical interventions and the generation of novel evidence to inform practices, I believe this sector aligns well with my academic and career pursuits, allowing me to apply my learned knowledge to real-world situations. Ultimately, this could result in improved public health outcomes.

What were your duties/responsibilities during your internship?

My responsibilities were building evidence-generation frameworks and gathering information to fulfill the framework. Umbrella review is one approach to achieve this goal in the outcome-research field. I searched articles in databases according to predefined criteria, then reviewed them and identified the eligible ones from which we could extract data about comparative cancer therapy sequences for targeted populations.

What did you take away from your experience as an intern? What was the value of the internship to you?

This internship provided me an opportunity to dive into the process of one field of epidemiological studies and to learn from the beginning how to form a research question and how to design a study to answer that question. I gained a profound understanding of epidemiological principles and methods that I learned in my first year, particularly in areas such as systematic literature reviews and meta-analysis, quality assessments, and cancer epidemiology. Personally, this project was my first exposure to outcome research, and it helped make me learn how this kind of research can be conducted.

What was the most rewarding aspect of your internship? What was the most challenging aspect? The most surprising aspect?

The most rewarding aspect of working on this project was that I knew how meaningful this can be to not only lay a concrete and novel foundation for comparative effectiveness studies, but also gather high-quality evidence for health care practitioners and policymakers to make informed decisions on choosing treatments for cancer patients. Like what we learned from our first epidemiology course, public health studies would be meaningless if the results cannot be applied to solve real-world problems.

Even though the first-year curriculum equipped me with the knowledge I needed to start my project, I still needed time to get familiar with and smoothly perform some tasks when I was really working on the project. Sometimes I needed to go back and correct my earlier work because new information would come in. That was the most challenging aspect.

The most surprising aspect would definitely be the amount of literature out there and the inconsistency. There could be multiple articles studying and comparing the same pair of treatment sequences, but with different conclusions. This demonstrates the importance of this project in gathering information, evaluating data, and ultimately generating high-quality and reliable evidence.

How did your first year at YSPH prepare you for this internship?

The coursework I completed in my first year was instrumental in equipping me with the essential epidemiological skill sets required to decipher the terminology prevalent in this field. This encompassed both quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis techniques. Moreover, the faculty's continuous support and guidance fostered an environment where exploration of personal interests was encouraged. They readily extended resources and opportunities to enhance our practical skills and expand our knowledge. In addition to my academic pursuits, I dedicated time to think about my career aspirations and trajectory. Engaging in discussions with professors proved invaluable, ultimately leading me to select an internship that aligned with my goals.

What would you say to a student who’s considering a similar internship?

Don’t hesitate to connect with faculty members overseeing projects that intrigue you. My recommendation would be to make the most of your summer break by delving deep into your chosen learning experiences. However, it's important to remember that it's never too late to assess your affinity for a particular field or project. If you find that your interests or motivations lead you in a different direction, remember that your summer break holds the potential to shape your future.

Submitted by Sabrina Lacerda Naia dos Santos on October 03, 2023