A new adventure begins!

October 23, 2014 by


My name is Tanya Taveras and I’m very excited to share my experiences and perspectives during my time in Ann Arbor. I’m an international first-year student from the Dominican Republic (DR), and I’m very happy and proud to have started the Health Management and Policy program at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, a top-ranked program in the United States.

I’ve already learned so much during the first two months of classes; my frontier of knowledge has already expanded significantly and this is just the beginning! It is such a powerful feeling to know that I’m acquiring strong skills that will influence and define my career in the years to come. My classmates come from very diverse backgrounds, which makes discussions even more interesting and enriching. We’ve already tackled public health issues from the perspective of different professionals such as doctors, economists, lawyers and public health specialists who share their amazing work and school experiences in class.

So, how did we all get here? Everyone has different stories but there is one thing we all have in common: a true passion for public health and a clear vision of long-term goals. When I was going through the rigorous application process, I realized it requires much hard work so that applicants can be sure their passion is greater than all the efforts and sacrifices made. Overcoming this initial barrier will allow you to realize that following your passion will have high returns. Moreover, I’ve learned that there’s no straight line to success. There’s no preset road; you make your own path as you walk along the way, discovering new interests and priorities. It’s an ongoing learning process and only those who are brave enough to leave the comfort zone are able to reach higher.

One of my aspirations is to be able to contribute my knowledge to improve the efficiency of DR’s health system where –according to World Bank data in 2012– almost half the population remains without health insurance and the poor are left to the mercy of an inefficient public health system with one of the lowest government health expenditures as a percent of GDP in Latin America. I’m aware it’s not an easy task, but I already started to take the steps towards achieving my goal.

Have you?!

SPH Symposium

October 14, 2014 by

charles-zhouThe School of Public Health held its 2014 Symposium last Monday (October 6). Held since 1998 and every other year since 2002, this year’s symposium addressed the challenge of chronic diseases from the viewpoint of experts from across SPH and across the country.

The 2014 SPH Symposium was held in honor of Noreen Clark, a professor and former Dean of SPH who sadly passed away last year. In addition to being a professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, Dr. Clark founded the Center for Managing Chronic Diseases, pushed for the establishment of a regular SPH Symposium, and was a well-respected leader in her field. Current Dean Martin Philbert described her as a Jedi—as she was able to do so much and touch so many lives. After hearing all of the stories about her, I was saddened by the fact that I had never met Dr. Clark.

The symposium began like every SPH event begins: with healthy snacks, fruit, coffee, and tea for breakfast, and with introductory remarks from Prof. John Piette, who is currently the director of the Center for Managing Chronic Diseases and helped organize the whole event, as well as Dean Philbert, who butchered my last name (it’s okay, everyone else does and I forgive you). Dean Philbert also gave a very touching tribute to Dr. Clark, speaking of her as his (and many others’) caring mentor.

We then had keynote speeches from Dr. Anand Parekh, a Michigan alumnus and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Health at the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as Dr. Ed Fisher, director of Peers for Progress and professor of health behavior at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health.

ed fisher symposium

Dr. Fisher speaking about how social interactions can greatly aid management of chronic diseases.

Next up was a panel on scaling up and implementing programs to help manage chronic diseases, speaking about various programs and how they were developed and put into place.

Left to right: moderator John Piette and panelists Paula Lantz, Vic Strecher, and Marianne Udow-Phillips.

Left to right: moderator John Piette and panelists Paula Lantz, Vic Strecher, and Marianne Udow-Phillips speak during the morning session.

Unfortunately, I had to leave early and miss Dr. Strecher’s talk to prepare for the luncheon panel that I had the privilege to moderate, one of five panels open to students only. Entitled “Environments That Won’t Break Your Heart”, the focus of my panel was environmental health and more specifically, the effects of fine particulate matter on the cardiovascular system.

luncheon panel room

The calm before the storm. Nearly 80 students packed the room a few minutes later.

My panelists were Dr. Robert Brook, a cardiologist and professor at the University of Michigan Medical School, Dr. Alan Vette of the National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Dr. Tim Dvonch (stepping in for Dr. Amy Schulz who had a last minute commitment come up), a professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences. Together, the three gave an excellent overview of research, policy, regulations, and community impacts with respect to the relationship between particulate matter and heart health.

Update, 10/20/14: You can watch the morning session of the Symposium here.

Life in the Grad Lane!

October 10, 2014 by

aparnaI’m a planner…an organized, calendar-obsessed, color-coding-system-for-everything kind of girl. I had my life planned to a tee – some of my friends used to compare me to a graph (in case you’re curious: x-axis, age, y-axis, life event)…but then, of course, life changed. Life put me smack dab back here at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health (SPH) in Ann Arbor…a place I’ve called hoMe for over 15 years!

I’m Aparna – a first year International Health Epidemiology student and I’m super excited to blog about my experiences here at SPH! I enjoy reading (fantasy and mystery – Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter anyone?!), Indian dance, cooking/baking and all things science. I got my Bachelor’s in Neuroscience and International Studies (2013) here, and then worked in a research lab and heavily increased my Red Cross involvement for a year afterwards (year offs are a great idea). In the six weeks I’ve been living the grad student life, I’m learning more about U of M everyday. I love the collaboration that I have seen already and can’t wait to see what else will happen over the next couple years.

When I tackle a new experience, I enjoy fully immersing myself in it, and really involving myself to the best of my ability. One of the reasons I chose to come back here for school are the activities that I have been able to participate in already. I’m a member of the Public Health Action Support Team (PHAST-just did my first event this weekend!), and like the name suggests, it’s a chance to put those lectures into action! Health and wellness are community oriented and community specific and PHAST lets us work directly with community members. I’m also working with a group at the medical school here – MedStart - where we’re putting together a Child Advocacy Seminar to teach kids going to school in an underserved community the importance of a healthy lifestyle. My other public health specific group is the newly formed Spirituality, Religion and Health group, which looks at how spirituality and religion play a role in healthcare on multiple levels. Like I said – the collaboration is amazing!

With these and school, I’m definitely keeping myself busy, but I feel that the environment is all about learning and less about competition, which I am loving tremendously. Looking forward to a great two years here and always happy to answer questions that anyone might have! I’ll post about my experiences with the groups above, epidemiology things (Ebola, anyone?), and life in the grad lane :)

It’s Time To Act On Climate

September 29, 2014 by

charles-zhouLast week began with two massive demonstrations, the People’s Climate March and Flood Wall Street. These took place in the couple days before the United Nations Climate Summit on Tuesday, where leaders from around the world were to discuss what is possibly the most pressing issue facing humanity today.

City officials to shut down 60 blocks for the People’s Climate March. It drew, by one estimate, 310,000 demonstrators—joined by many, many more around the world over the weekend. Flood Wall Street saw thousands of protesters blocking streets in New York City’s Financial District, trying to get the attention of what they think is the root cause of the climate crisis: the corporations that make up the economic system in the United States. Here’s a quick, informative video about the march:

For many people, it makes perfect sense to not think of climate change as a big deal—last winter was a bit colder than we’re used to, so what? Or maybe you’re of the belief that climate change is an acceptable tradeoff for our standard of living, because fossil fuels make our lives a lot easier than they would otherwise be (think 1850s). Maybe you’re an investor and are enjoying killer returns on your stock in fossil fuel companies. All valid reasons to put climate change on the back burner—seriously, no sarcasm here. However, if you care about public health…

Climate change is a public health issue in a variety of ways. Forget about the polar bears for a second. Back in 2003, an estimated 70,000 people died from a heat wave in Europe. Climate change will test the limits of our agricultural system, making it more difficult to feed the world. It could expand the range of mosquitoes that carry malaria. And it may disproportionately affect areas prone to extreme weather and communities with poor air quality. I could go on.

At this point, it doesn’t matter whose fault it is. Climate change is everybody’s problem, and it’s everybody’s job to fix it. It may not be possible for you to give up your car or your computer or the massive amounts of natural gas to heat your home in winter, and that’s okay. I know I definitely can’t.

However, there are two things that you can do.

First, learn about climate change: what it is, what causes it, and what consequences we might see. I highly recommend Climate Central‘s book Global Weirdness, which does an excellent job of presenting just the facts in a simple way. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also has basic information and Q&A about climate change (note that the content on these two pages do not promote any kind of agenda or policy).

Second, if and only if you’re convinced that climate change is a problem, actually do something about it. Learn about renewable energy efforts—The Solutions Project is a plan to transition the United States to 100% renewable energy while creating jobs and saving money. Learn about the movement to divest from fossil fuels (the University of Michigan has a campaign too). Turn off the lights at night. Walk and bike more. Buy Energy Star products and support SmartWay companies. Join the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #ActOnClimateTalk to your friends, especially ones that don’t think climate change is a priority.

Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

And you’d be saving the planet for not only the next generation of people, but also the next generation of polar bears.

It’s time to act on climate.

Hello! And, good-bye!

September 5, 2014 by

tiffany-yangFunny, as you’re beginning classes and settling into Ann Arbor, I’m on my way out after a decade (within a week!). I came in as a wary freshman unsure about what her future was going to look like and am leaving as a PhD (yes! I successfully defended in May!), MPH, RD who still has no idea what her future looks like.

What can I say about the time I’ve spent here?

I think it’s clear that the education and opportunities have been top-notch enough for me to risk the silent disapproval of academics who believe that staying in one institution is bad for your career trajectory. Also, Ann Arbor is a really great place to go to school. You get four seasons, great microbreweries, the food culture is vibrant (though, not always cheap), there’s the Arb, and you get to mingle with really cool people.

But, now that is all behind me. Now that I’m actually moving, the idea of actually leaving a place where I spent most of my conscious life and where I became an “adult” (does anyone actually achieve this status?) is kind of scary. Exciting, but definitely scary. I’ve wanted to “try” somewhere else for a while and had been actively looking outside the United States for opportunities. I have to say, even as a native-born with immigrant parents, I never really realized just how difficult it is to move to a country you didn’t grow up in. Props to all the international students and staff who made that leap. It’s not easy, as I’ve come to find out.

So, where am I going from here?

Following my defense, I started applying to positions in academia or industry. I think we should all be repetitively warned, starting in childhood, that applying to jobs takes a lot time and is mentally and physically taxing. Cover letters take more crafting than I would have imagined. I got an interview offer for a position I was really interested in and, within two weeks, signed my contract. What. I felt like a badly programmed robot working on autopilot trying to find information in order to apply for my working visa, get my biometrics done, and figure out how to ship my stuff overseas (see you in October, kitchen tools). It was step, by step, by step. The magnitude of what I had done didn’t hit me until the plane took off from Detroit.

So, where am I going? I’m moving to Scotland. Scotland. I’ll be starting a position as a research fellow at the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health at the University of Aberdeen (which, I’ve been telling everyone, probably to their annoyance, looks like the world from Harry Potter). I’ll continue on in research, but in dietary patterns instead of Bisphenol A and phthalates.

I am sad to leave a place I’ve called home for so long, but am looking forward to the change. I wish you all luck and success in your endeavors. Though I’ve been spotty the past few years, I’ve enjoyed writing for the SPH blog and hope that my experiences have been somewhat insightful (no? ok). To quote our retired President, Mary Sue Coleman, “for today, good-bye. For tomorrow, good luck, and forever, Go Blue”.

Welcome to Public Health!

August 28, 2014 by

charles-zhouAs public health programs around the country begin this week, I’d like to extend a warm welcome to everyone entering the field of public health–my future classmates here at the University of Michigan as well as friends at schools of public health around the country and around the world. You’ve made a great decision and you’re going to help solve some of our toughest problems. As some wise person probably once said, there is no nobler cause than service to humanity, which in my opinion is the core of public health.

Now, I realize that I’m maybe one of the least qualified people to speak on behalf of all of public health as a student halfway done with his masters degree. However, you can (and do) learn a lot in a year. Here are a few of the big lessons I’ve picked up:

1. Our work is mostly unseen and unappreciated…until something big happens.

As of 2012, the United States spends 32 times as much money on medical costs as it did on public health (per person). Why? Because when we do our jobs, people stay healthy (or become more so). We’re fortunate to live in a world where this is increasingly the norm, where being healthy is taken for granted. That also means less attention to public health efforts and consequently less funding. We’re mostly invisible until something beyond our control happens, such as the recent Toledo water crisis or recent Ebola outbreak–then it’s our turn to shine.

2. You learn to work with everyone else really quickly.

As an Environmental Health Sciences (EHS) student, my classes focus on various aspects of environmental health. However, there is absolutely no avoiding the fact that policy and behavior/education impact health just as much as the environment does, nor can anyone claim that they won’t apply methods from epidemiology or biostatistics in their work. And the School of Public Health is just one of 19 schools and colleges at the University of Michigan. Success in public health requires you to look at the world from many different perspectives, and a great way to get some of these perspectives is by working with people with a different lens than you.

3. Public health people know how to balance work and fun, and they’re some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

With the exception of the awesome ecologists I used to work with, you’d have a hard time finding a community that is more welcoming, supportive, hard-working, and fun than your SPH family, and the big worldwide public health family. Because in the end, all of us want the same thing: a healthier world for everyone to live in.

Again, welcome, and I look forward to working with you!

To any new (or old) University of Michigan SPH students reading this: please stop me and say hi when you see me around campus, or email me at chzhou[at]umich.edu! I’d love to meet all of you and I’d be happy to chat. If you get lost, want suggestions for places to eat/things to do around Ann Arbor, or have any questions in general, I’d be happy to help–I was a university tour guide for 3 years as an undergraduate.

Ice bucket challenge…or not

August 21, 2014 by

charles-zhouIf for some reason you haven’t heard of the Ice Bucket Challenge over the past few weeks, it goes a bit like this. Someone posts a video of themselves pouring a bucket of ice water on themselves, then nominates a few of his or her friends to do the same within 24 hours or donate $100 to an ALS charity. Suddenly, your entire Facebook news feed is videos of people pouring buckets of ice water on themselves.

In light of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, I’ve decided to donate to a somewhat related organization. There’s nothing wrong with raising awareness about ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The ALS Association, to whom many people have donated, has four stars (the top rating) from Charity Navigator, meaning they are transparent and responsible with their donations. As of this blog post, ALSA has raised $41.8 million in the past three weeks. Again–there is nothing wrong with donating to end ALS.

However, there are many other wonderful nonprofit organizations out there that deserve the same attention that finding a cure for ALS has received in the past few weeks. I’ve decided to give to charity: water, in lieu of pouring a bucket of ice water over myself and in hopes that at least one person learns something about the importance of safe, clean water.

In the grand scheme of things, the water used by people doing the Ice Bucket Challenge isn’t that much. However, as a public health student, it would be wrong (at least symbolically) for me to waste a bucketful of water. The average American family of four uses 400 gallons of water a day. Except in very rare instances, we don’t think twice about drinking from the tap or taking a 30 minute shower. Only events such as the recent crisis in Toledo give us a very temporary glimpse into how hundreds of millions of people live. Seemingly unlimited clean water is taken for granted here and in many places around the world.

Now on the flip side. It’s not surprising that the United Nations has made access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation a Millennium Development Goal. The World Health Organization has deemed that access to 20 liters of clean water per day, within one kilometer, is sufficient for drinking and basic hygiene for one person. That’s a bit over 5 gallons–an office water cooler jug plus change. Forty-four pounds, carried up to one kilometer. And those are the lucky ones.

While the world has made good progress toward access to clean water and sanitation for all, 800 million people are still waiting. With dirty water comes diseases that most of us haven’t heard of, let alone know how to pronounce (schistosomiasis, anyone?)–diseases that kill millions every year. With women and children as the main people collecting water, walking miles just to get dirty water, kids spend less time in school and women must lead less productive lives. Improved health is not the only benefit to having clean water. In time, it leads to stronger communities, which is just as important.

Now, a bit about charity: water. Since 2006, the organization has funded over 13,000 water projects in 22 countries. It has a unique funding model: 100% of donations like mine or yours (unless you happen to be Bill Gates) go towards water projects, and the costs of running the organization are covered by generous foundations, individuals, and sponsors. Charity Navigator has given charity: water a four star rating. You can learn more about charity: water here and make a donation here.

Government internship, round 2

July 17, 2014 by

charles-zhouThis post is part of a series about my summer internship. For background, please see the first post.

Three summers ago, I interned in Washington, D.C. and it’s probably the reason I’m writing this blog post as a public health student. Science had always been a forte and a singular focus of mine. A summer in D.C. made me realize that policy is another channel through which I could change the world. Upon returning, I changed my major and abandoned the idea of medical school.

For those of you unfamiliar with Capitol Hill internships: the positions are unpaid, there’s a lot of mundane office work like sorting mail and answering phones, and interns are outranked by high school Pages, a very prestigious and competitive (not to mention compensated) program. However, I learned a lot about a wide range of policy areas, including energy and environment, and I really did love the experience.

Imagine my surprise when I found out I had my own cubicle this summer. And didn’t have to share computers with other interns. And didn’t have to make sure the addresses on a thousand form letters were formatted correctly (this happened once or twice a week). Oh, and I’m getting paid, but that’s just the cherry on top!

One of my roles is to support the communications team. This includes working on the email newsletter and providing ideas for web content, advertisements, and infographics. This is where the scientist inside me gets to shine. Thanks to the life cycle assessment course at SPH, I have a good understanding of the interaction between transportation of goods, fuel, and carbon emissions. The tough aspect of choosing what to include in the infographic is what an average reader will be able to understand, and on top of this, the audience has to be considered. Just because I know what a ton-mile is doesn’t mean somebody who sees the infographic will, unless that person works in the freight transport industry.

I also work with SmartWay affiliates, organizations (industry groups, nonprofits, etc.) and businesses (dealerships, leasing companies, and truck stops) that support and encourage participation in the program, by educating members and customers or selling SmartWay technologies. My main project this summer (which I’m happy to say is a week ahead of schedule) is to produce a best practices document for our 200-plus affiliate groups. I’m in the process of interviewing several successful affiliates and identifying common themes revealed during these interviews.

To me, an amazing thing about SmartWay is that it can bring together such diverse people and groups. Of course, their goals are different. Some join the program for the fuel savings, some for the environmental and health benefits, and some to demonstrate corporate social responsibility. Arguably more amazing is that SmartWay works with an industry that wouldn’t be considered friends with EPA by anybody’s standards, and huge players in the freight transport industry happily participate in this voluntary public-private partnership.

Trying out the real world

July 10, 2014 by

charles-zhouSummer is well under way, and it’s been a while since the second-years have left us with their parting advice on this blog. All of the rising second-years are busy at their internships, some of which are blogging here, here, and here.

Before I talk about my internship, I’m going to briefly describe the search. It was tough and frustrating, but also an invaluable learning experience. I didn’t have my first internship offer until almost mid-April, which is really late considering some friends had their internships lined up in October. However, the search most clearly demonstrated the purpose of SPH: to prepare students for a journey into the real world, the first step of which is to find a job. If you happen to be a first-year struggling to find an internship, my advice would be what every second-year told me: just keep looking and everything will be fine in the end. Something will work out.

The search for an internship forced me to act on opportunities quickly, pursue them relentlessly, and create them where they didn’t exist. Throughout the school year, I applied for many positions related to environmental health (many vaguely so) that the career office, professors, and friends let me know about. My first offer was extended by the Ecology Center, a wonderful local nonprofit that does very interesting work. I had sent them an email out of the blue, as internships weren’t advertised on their website, and only really knew about them because several friends had worked there in the past.

The second offer was from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Ann Arbor, which I applied for after a professor forwarded an email. After a month of waiting for paperwork to bounce around various government agencies, I finally got to start last week. My internship is strange in a couple ways. First, I’m working with SmartWay, a voluntary partnership between industry and the EPA. As a regulatory agency, the EPA’s main job is to enforce rules, so the word “voluntary” doesn’t come up very often when discussing the EPA. Second, I’m a person with a science background in a science-based program at SPH, but I’m primarily a communications intern. However, I get to see how science, government, and industry interact, and not many other internships can offer that.

SmartWay’s goal is to reduce emissions from freight movement by encouraging use of technologies and strategies that reduce fuel consumption, leading to cleaner air and fewer greenhouse gases that cause climate change. Most of the program’s efforts are focused on trucking, as it is the primary way that the goods we use every day are transported in the United States. Others include rail, marine/barge, and air, as well as logistics companies and affiliates, groups that support SmartWay. Over 3000 companies and organizations participate in SmartWay, which turned 10 years old back in February. For the rest of us who don’t ship goods, we can buy a SmartWay certified car.

This is my first time working at a job where I spend almost all of my time in an office. I admit that having my own cubicle and phone line makes me feel important, though I’m still getting used to working in a small, boxed-in area. I’m also acclimating to working for a governmental agency, which has its mysteries. However, everybody has been friendly, offering advice and answering my many questions. I’ve learned more about the trucking and transportation industry in the past couple weeks than I ever thought I’d need to know. In any case, it’s good to be trying out the real world for a few months.

That’s enough for now–more to follow in future posts!

8 things I wish I knew before my first job

May 6, 2014 by

andy-mychkovskyDo yourself a favor and read this post. I’ve consolidated years of great advice about success in the workplace from fantastic mentors. Let me share some of their knowledge to you, the future of health care.

Here’s what I wished I knew before my first job:

  1. First impressions matter. Dress to impress. Be happy. NOBODY wants to work with Oscar the grouch. Keep your Outlook inbox organized from the beginning and develop a system that won’t break when the work pace increases. Pay close attention to detail. It won’t matter unless you mess up. Always carry a notepad around to take notes.
  2. Start talking to people who are where you want to be. Get comfortable communicating with people more accomplished than you. Often times, friends tell me stories of awkward informational interviews. Solution? Stop being awkward. They’re human beings too, with all the problems associated. If you run out of substantive material, talk about sports, talk about their career, talk about the weather. At the end, thank them and ask for referrals to other high-performing colleagues.
  3. For the first few weeks of your job/internship, you will be a burden. Just try to be a small one and learn quickly. Attempt everything multiple times BEFORE asking for help. However, don’t just sit there spinning your wheels. If you have a question, make sure you’ve seriously attempted answering it yourself before asking. And always write down the answer so you don’t have to ask again.
  4. ALWAYS print your work first before presenting it to your superiors or clients. You wouldn’t believe how many formatting errors will fly off the page. Also, use spell check. This goes for PowerPoint and Excel too. Yes, Excel has spellcheck.
  5. Be a genuinely kind person. Yes you went to a ‘highly ranked’ graduate school. No you are not automatically more capable. Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. Being an awful person and becoming hugely successful are not correlated. Model your behavior off respectable peers and it will pay dividends. Everyone is part of the promotion process, make sure they’re on your side.
  6. Most bosses preach a work-life balance. They will speak of flexibility in completing assignments or projects. However, some of them would be very impressed if you finished it by tomorrow. Figure out who those bosses are and manage your workload accordingly.
  7. Identify who makes the decisions. In every workplace, there are a few individuals who run the show. Sometimes independent of job title, these players consistently work with the most important clients. Once they’re identified, build relationships with them. Put in extra effort when producing work for them. Their recommendation will become your greatest organizational asset.
  8. If you mess up, learn from it and move on. Everyone makes mistakes don’t be too hard on yourself. We all blow things out of proportion. Even though colleagues may give you a hard time, I guarantee you that no one is thinking about the mistake as much as you are. Think about the reverse scenario. Now get back to work.

Good luck everyone and stay connected on twitter @BookofAndy

Andrew Mychkovsky


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