What is your current job?
I am a program director in the Tobacco Control Research Branch at the National Cancer Institute.
Describe your work and why you find it rewarding/challenging.
As a program director, I am responsible for developing and managing a portfolio of NIH-funded grants. This can involve everything from developing funding opportunity announcements meant to stimulate research in priority areas, to meeting with applicants before or after their proposals are reviewed, to monitoring the scientific progress of current grantees. My portfolio is primarily focused on tobacco-related health equity research and tobacco prevention and control policy research. In addition to grants-related responsibilities, I help manage a large national survey of tobacco use among U.S. adults, the Tobacco Use Supplement to the Current Population Survey, and conduct my own research projects on the side.
The most rewarding part of my job is supporting applicants and grantees. I see so many interesting and impactful projects, and it’s such a privilege to support researchers as they navigate the lifecycle of a grant and bring those projects to fruition. That said, grants are complicated, involving many policies and processes, so sometimes, when grantees have tricky questions, the most rewarding part of the job is also the most challenging. Still, I love the problem-solving involved in answering these complex questions.
How did YSPH prepare you for your current work?
Broadly, YSPH gave me the scientific foundation to do my job. Serving as a graduate research assistant with the Yale Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science and taking classes in epidemiologic methods, biostatistics, and health policy equipped me with the subject matter expertise to work with grantees across a variety of disciplines.
More specifically, Dr. Xiaomei Ma’s course on grant writing, Developing a Research Proposal, provided invaluable exposure to the NIH grants process and prepared me well for this job. Both the lecture material and hands-on activities were informed by Dr. Ma’s incredible success with the NIH grants process and her wealth of experience serving as a reviewer on scientific review groups. In addition to writing and workshopping our own grant applications, we conducted mock reviews, which were extremely realistic.
Do you have a favorite YSPH experience you can share?
As an MPH student, my graduating class was my favorite part of YSPH. The Class of 2016 (16ers, as nicknamed by a classmate) was such a driven, brilliant, compassionate, and FUN group of people. Back-to-back classes in Winslow Auditorium during the first year of the program will really bond a group together!
As a PhD student, I loved being a teaching fellow for Principles of Epidemiology II. It was a great opportunity to keep my Epi skills sharp while also honing my teaching and mentoring skills, but it was the community of Teaching Fellows (TFs) and professors that really made it special. I still reach out to other TFs to “nerd out” or discuss epi-related questions.
What advice do you have for current/future students?
Take advantage of everything available to you at YSPH, from faculty to classes to seminars and interest groups, but also take advantage of everything available to you through YSPH. The network of alumni is extensive and almost always eager to help, whether you’re hoping to learn more about a job sector or institution, interested in collaborating on a project, or just looking to connect with other people in the field.
Were there any faculty/staff mentors who influenced your YSPH experience?
See above about Xiaomei Ma.