Air pollution, admitted students, and aquaculture

April 11, 2014 by

charles-zhouQuick, what do these three things have in common? Actually, nothing besides the fact that they’ve made an appearance in my SPH life in the past couple weeks.

This semester, I’ve been in a community air pollution class studying the sources of air pollution and its effect on communities. However, there are countless talks that people from around SPH and around the University spam us about. One that caught my eye was a talk by Dr. Patrick Breysse from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. His talk was about his work on a problem in many developing countries: indoor cookstoves. Three billion people around the world burn biomass and other solids (wood, coal, “cow chips” or manure) as fuel inside their homes. This generates air pollution levels up to hundreds of times that of the worst smog in Los Angeles within people’s homes, and leads to many health problems. There are many efforts around the world to install cookstoves with chimneys or to use cleaner burning fuels in order to reduce this pollution.

I also made time in my schedule to go to the social hour for Admitted Students Day, which happened a few weeks ago. Admitted students who made the trek out to Ann Arbor mingled with current students at Dominick’s, a popular spring/summer destination near campus known for its sangria. Over drinks and snacks, I talked to admitted students about where they were from and what their interests were, life as a grad student, fun things to do in Ann Arbor (like being a part of the notorious Michigan hockey student section), and the million reasons they should choose Michigan. I also ran into someone I went to high school with who was now considering attending SPH–what a small world. If you’re an admitted or prospective student, please feel free to leave a comment or get in touch with me if you have questions!

And aquaculture? Sustainable Aquaculture is a class I’m excited to take in the fall in the School of Natural Resources and Environment, because I’m still an ecologist at heart. One great thing about SPH is that the degree program allows you to take a lot of electives in other departments and school around the University. In fact, almost half of my credits next semester are outside of SPH because I completed most of my requirements this past year.

Also, happy National Public Health Week!

What I Learned From the Man Behind Ben and Jerry’s

April 4, 2014 by

No, it wasn’t Ben, and it wasn’t Jerry either. Last week I had the opportunity to hear Jeff Furman, a Ben and Jerry’s insider, speak about his role at Ben and Jerry’s , from helping to create its original business plan, to its innovation and social mission development, to selling it to Unilever, and finally to being on the board of its charitable foundation.

What I learned from Mr. Furman is that Ben and Jerry’s is way more than a good ice cream shop – it’s an innovator and leader in how businesses can be profitable (and delicious!) and still manage to treat their employees fairly and give back to their communities. Ben and Jerry’s pays their employees a minimum of $16.30 an hour and donates 7.5% of their pretax profits to charities chosen by their employees.

In public health, we often confront a harsh reality: how do we improve the public’s health and get people to care while making our efforts profitable and sustainable? The Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship initiative at the School of Public Health is trying to do just that – and started this year with a successful Innovation in Action campaign.


Mr. Furman also gave us some tips at his lecture. They include:

  • Constant vigilance: Monitor your work and make sure that your social mission does not fade into the background.
  • Evaluation: Measure your progress! Have a realistic understanding of what you can accomplish and where you go from here.
  • Don’t compromise on quality: If your product isn’t of a high caliber, then your initiative will suffer as well.
  • Integration: Make your social mission a part of your organization – that when people think “Ben and Jerry’s” they will think of a company that gives back.

As Mr. Furman said, “businesses must actively lead in global solutions or else there may never be global solutions.” This is a lesson I think all of us, regardless of industry, can learn.

Smell the Roses

April 2, 2014 by

selam-misganoThe snow is melting outside and even the frozen Huron River is back to it’s sparklingly glorious self. With final projects and exams approaching, you can feel the collective anxiety and stress building at UM School of Public Health.

It’s a transitional time as first year students like myself head out to our internships in just a month. Second years are graduating and going into the real world.

Graduate school may be inherently stressful, but that doesn’t mean we should forget to enjoy each other’s company and the privileges of being a student at one of the best public health schools in the country.

Guide to Surviving the last few weeks of the semester

1. Listen and contribute to class discussions. It’s tempting and maybe sometimes necessary to be on your computer, answer emails, or finish up assignments during class. However, try to make the effort to be really present and take advantage of the expert sitting in your classroom.

2. Be a thoughtful team member. Group work can feel inconvenient, but it has the power to connect people and make ideas into reality. Be a thoughtful team member by responding to emails, being fully present at group meetings, and being appreciative of others’ contributions.

3. Take a 15-minute walk at the Arboretum during lunch. The sun is shining and most of the snow is gone. Do yourself a favor and get some sunshine and some physical activity while taking a quick walk. The Arb is located next to SPH.

4. Take breaks from your computer and phone. We all find ourselves on our laptops more than we may like. Sometimes it can feel like we can’t get anything done without our devices. You may be surprised how much more productive you can be without the temptation of Facebook. Can the outline of your final paper be done in paper and pen?

5. Go to that really cool talk across campus that has nothing to do with public health. Go to a cultural show, or walk around central campus. I remember how much I missed my undergraduate campus once I graduated. UM’s campus is beautiful and with the weather improving, it’s only going to get be better. Take advantage of it!

For those graduating, Congratulation and Forever Go Blue!!


Is Alcohol to Blame For Sexual Assault?

March 13, 2014 by


That’s the short answer. The real, more complicated answer, is the result of a set of interconnected factors that have been tested and researched for many years. I learned more about this complex behavioral relationship at a presentation by Antonia Abbey, Professor of Psychology at Wayne State University.

Dr. Abbey walked us through her research, which explores how alcohol and sexual misconduct are intertwined, but not directly causally related. The first thing I learned is that when conducting this type of research, how you ask the questions really matters. Specifically, broad questions don’t get high rates of response, and the context that the questions are in can influence the results.

Sexual assaults are committed by sexual perpetrators, period. However, careful analysis showed that heavy drinking is linked to impersonal sex and misperception of sexual impact, which can influence sexual assaults. Alcohol also makes people feel comfortable acting on beliefs (that may be caused by past experiences, social norms, or casual sex environments, for instance) that lead to sexual misconduct.

The fact that alcohol is often involved in cases of sexual assault, such as rape, even indirectly, is scary, especially when alcohol is so widely available on many college campuses. The idea that drinking heavily might push someone to act on beliefs that it is justified to sexually assault someone else is equally disturbing.

We need to recognize, though, that alcohol doesn’t sexually assault someone, people do. That being said, sexual assault on college campuses is a serious problem, and more attention needs to be given to it both in and out of alcohol related contexts.

The Mysterious Capstone Project: What is it and Why is it Important?

February 27, 2014 by


One of the key ingredients to obtaining your Master’s Degree in Public Health at Michigan is completing a capstone project.  You may hear phrases like “independent research project”, “data analysis”, “summer internship”, or “stressed and confused” when talking about the capstone project. But basically, writing your capstone is a chance to show off all you’ve learned during your time at Michigan.  And even though it may seem overwhelming to even begin such a large project when you might not know anything about data analysis before entering the program, relax.  Learning that is what you’re here for!

Steps to completing your capstone:

  • Choose a faculty to work with or an internship position to apply for. How? Faculty are very approachable, and you can find their research areas online to see if you share similar interests.  As for internships, there are tons of links on the SPH webpage as well as opportunities emailed to students almost daily.
  • Summer internship! Have fun, learn a lot, and potentially get an idea for a good question to investigate in your capstone.
  • Poster Session. In your second year, you get the opportunity to create a poster outlining the work you completed during your summer internship (a picture of mine is at the end of this post!)
  • Choose a capstone adviser. This may be the faculty or staff who helped you set up your summer internship, or if there’s a new field of study you are interested in, this is your opportunity to explore working with another faculty.
  • Choosing a dataset. Often a student can obtain a dataset from their summer internship, which is great because you will be most familiar with this.  If not, often your capstone adviser can provide you with a dataset to use for analysis.
  • Identifying your question. What are you hoping to learn from your data? For example, are there certain risk factors that this data helps identify for a certain disease?
  • Data analysis. You may form a love/hate relationship with your statistical computer programs, but you will definitely learn the ins and outs of turning numbers into relationships and useful information.
  • Writing. Finally, the actual capstone itself.  The paper typically takes the form of introduction, materials and methods, results, and discussion.  This is the part where you present your findings and evaluate what your results really mean to the public health world.

I hope that this answers some of the questions that any of you prospective students may have!  Keep in mind that this is a dynamic process and you will have people to guide you throughout your capstone work.  Are there other questions you have about the capstone project? And for current students, do you have advice to give prospective students on this topic? I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

My poster from my summer internship:

Epid poster pic

Addis Ababa to Ann Arbor: SPH Internship

February 25, 2014 by

selam-misgano  Being a graduate student is like juggling. You are constantly moving various pieces at once. This may include homework, exams, work, internship search, social life etc. Sometimes you drop a piece or two but you manage to keep going and pick them up when you can. The most important thing is that you keep going. Winter semester has been especially hectic with internship search. Although an exciting prospect to spend the summer doing real world public health, applying to internships and funding can be stressful.

The summer internship is an opportunity for public health students to apply skills and theories they been learning in school. Students spend their summer as far away as Africa and as close as Ann Arbor. I have been searching for placements in Seattle, Washington. Personally I wanted to use the internship to build my professional network in a city I hope to end up in after graduating.

I want to share a couple of resources that are helping me secure a placement and funding.

1, Friends, family, past professors and classmates.    

While on winter break in Seattle, I meet with a couple of organizations I wanted to intern in. I also meet with mentors and professors. They can be great resource to pointing you organizations and people.

2, SPH Career Center        

People at the Career Center can meet with you one and one to help you come up with strategies for researching your dream internship. They can also help you improve your resume and cover letter so you can stand out.

3, Your Department’s Internship Office

Don’t feel you have recreate the wheel. Students have been through this process year after year at SPH. They can get you connected to them or/and tell you about experiences from past students that can help.

 4, Other students 

Second years are a great resource. I am fortunate enough to have several friends who have been kind enough to support my internship search.

5, Professors and advisor   

I meet with my advisor pretty regularly. It is good to have a trusted faculty to give you advice on your search and general career plans.

Remember everyone has a unique process to finding his or her internship. Don’t be shy to ask questions. Even if it seems you are the only with your question.

May the odds ever be in your favor!! 


A milestone-induced illness is alright with me

February 25, 2014 by

tiffany-yangI passed a pretty significant milestone in the PhD process two weeks ago: the data meeting. I thought this was a standard part of the PhD process, but it wasn’t until I started asking my non-EHS friends what their experiences were like when I realized that this staging point is erected only in some departments.

Within EHS (and Nutritional Sciences, which is the newly-minted department that I am now part of), there are a few “checkpoints” in your PhD trajectory before the final defense: the doctoral qualifying exams (DQE), the oral preliminary exam (colloquially known as “prelims”), and the data meeting. The DQE, which I’ve written about before, is a written exam meant to test your general knowledge about the classes you’ve taken, as well as integrating it all into writing a mock research proposal. The prelims, mentioned in a previous post, is based on your research proposal; you give a presentation and write a proposal detailing what, how, why you’re doing the research you’re proposing. You also get lovingly grilled by your “committee” – your advisor and several other professors who critique, contribute, and make you a better researcher.

The data meeting, then, is the final checkpoint before you actually formally defend your dissertation work. This meeting involves putting together all the research/results you’ve done so far and outlining whatever future analyses that will need to be done to round out your thesis.

This is stressful.

Your research aims, proposed at your prelims, change as you progress through your PhD. Maybe something didn’t work out, or you were over-ambitious, or new things come to light. Regardless, you need to make sure what you present and what you propose are solid.

What isn’t solid is your state of mind as you second-guess your choices in life. How much data is enough? Should you have used different methods? Why didn’t you use different methods? Did you account for x, y, z in your models? Why or why not? Frantic readings and many tables, figures, and curses later, you end up with a product you’re excited and proud to show off to your committee at the data meeting.

I had tunnel vision for weeks before this thing; it takes quite a bit of calendar-wrangling to get everyone together in the same room, on the same day, at the same time. Not to mention actually getting a room reserved at that time that isn’t already booked by a class/seminar/study group. The days leading up to the meeting itself were a blur of presentation-fiddling, practicing in front of peers, and re-reading literature to make sure I got my ideas right. On the day of, I was nervous as I stood in front of my committee, but once I started in on the presentation, I felt good about what I had already accomplished and excited for what I planned on doing.

No one wants you to fail and everyone is rooting for you to succeed, but this particular idea can be hard to acknowledge when you’re in the swamps. My committee gave me some great feedback and I walked out feeling like I could finally breathe again. Which is funny, since in the following days I developed a not quite fully-functioning respiratory system (thank you, stress-induced sickness!) and a renewed sense of motivation to bash my data with the statistical software stick.

Dance Marathon

February 24, 2014 by

charles-zhouIn the middle of balancing schoolwork, applying for internships, and my teaching responsibilities, I had to make time for one more huge event the weekend of February 15 and 16: the annual Dance Marathon. People who know me (or are friends with me on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter) probably got sick of hearing me talk about it all week–what the organization does, what it is , why I gave up caffeine for two weeks, etcetera. If not, read on.

Dance Marathon refers to two things here in Ann Arbor: the fundraising organization (Dance Marathon at the University of Michigan, or DMUM) and the event that usually happens sometime in March where hundreds of students stand on their feet for 30 hours (also referred to as the Marathon). We raise money for pediatric rehabilitation at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, part of the University of Michigan Health System, and Beaumont Children’s Hospital, which serves much of southeast Michigan.

A bit about myself: this was my second year with DMUM, and almost everyone in the organization is an undergraduate student. Why would I spend so much time on this? Why would I give up caffeine for two weeks so I won’t need it for one long weekend? It may surprise many, but I don’t do this just for the kids. I participate in Dance Marathon for much of the same reason I’m working for a degree in public health. I chose environmental health so every person can live a healthy life, free from worry about what’s in the air they breathe or the water they drink. I stand with Dance Marathon so every kid can have a happy, healthy childhood.

Ten minutes before the Marathon begins. All of these students will be on their feet for 30 hours when they stand up.

Our name might suggest that we’re a dance group or a running group, neither of which are true. Dance marathons actually originated in the 1920s and 30s as endurance competitions. The first modern dance marathon began in 1973 at Penn State. THON, as it is called, is now the largest program in the country and raised over $13.3 million this year (their Marathon was this weekend). DMUM is significantly younger, beginning in 1998. The Dance Marathon movement now has a presence at over 150 schools and colleges nationwide and supports Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, with the rallying cry “For The Kids”, or FTK.

Back to Michigan. The Marathon is a fun weekend filled with performers, family speakers (students are grouped into teams and paired with a family that benefits from programs that we sponsor), food, and of course, dancing. Throughout the 30 hours, we learn a fifteen minute line dance piece by piece, three snippets of songs at a time. This is last year’s line dance (since nobody’s posted this year’s yet)–and if you’re lucky (or unlucky) enough, you might see me dancing when one of these songs plays.

The end of this year’s line dance, taught by members of leadership from across the organization.

Another memorable part of the Marathon is a rave in the middle of the night, put together by our dedicated DJ Matt Styles (you can download the rave from his Facebook page). Because the Marathon is open to visitors, many people show up for the rave in the middle of the night.

The Rave!

At the end, like at every other Dance Marathon, we have the number reveal, and afterwards, an emotional performance from one of the kids that DMUM helps, a few words from our executive director, and many emotional farewells. Before we knew it, the best weekend of the year was over, and all we had were fond memories.

Not only did DMUM raise almost $450,000 this year, our all-time total is now over $5 million.

Want to learn more or donate? Please visit DMUM’s website, the general Dance Marathon website, or leave a comment with a question for me!

Internship Search Strategies

February 21, 2014 by

michelle-khadraAll students in the School of Public Health are required to complete an internship relevant to their field of study between their first and second years. This time of year can be stressful for many students who are searching for an internship, including myself. Here are some tips I’ve learned while going through this process:

  • Tailor your resume: I’ve found it extremely useful to make slight tweaks to my resume depending on which internship I’m applying for so that I can highlight certain skills or experiences that are the most relevant for a particular internship. The rule of thumb is that potential employers look over your resume in about 15 seconds, so you want to make sure that you can make as big of an impact as possible in that short time!
  • Attend workshops through the career center: The career center at SPH holds many workshops, including ones on how to write effective cover letters, how to perfect your resume, how to interview well, etc. These will be very helpful in your internship search.
  • Network: Last semester I attended a workshop (through the career center) on networking and its benefits. As the common saying goes, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Whether or not this is actually true, there is something to be said for the power that proper networking can have. Putting yourself out there and striking up a conversation with people about your interests, as well as theirs, may lead to an opportunity that you didn’t previously think of. Also, depending on the strength of the relationship, your connections may be able to speak well of you to a potential employer.
  • Don’t be afraid to contact people: When I first started looking for an internship, I limited my search to the SPH career connector website (which is a great resource!). My mindset was that I should only apply for actual “posted” internships that require a formal application. However, directly contacting companies or individuals via e-mail (there are also workshops on proper e-mail communication) can be extremely effective. Reaching out to people and showing your interest in working for them is often a way students find internships.


Good luck with your search!

Sudden Cardiac Arrest – Why it Matters!

February 12, 2014 by

rachel-rudermanIn my health communications class yesterday we discussed how it’s really difficult to motivate people to change behaviors or pay attention to issues when all we hear are huge numbers that we cannot possibly comprehend. Putting a face and a story to the many that suffer from an issue can help. But what if we’re not provided numbers? What if there’s not even enough attention given to an issue that most of us don’t know about it? As I have learned, this is often the case with Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA). Today, I want to give both numbers and a face to the story of SCA, in honor of February as Heart Disease Awareness Month, and in honor of my friend Jenny Snyder.

Jenny and I

Jenny and I

Jenny was one of my closest friends, a camp friend, who died unexpectedly from SCA five years ago because of an undiagnosed congenital heart defect. Jenny was an amazing person – a force of nature. To honor Jenny’s legacy, I try whenever possible to educate those around me on the importance of SCA. So, here it goes:

What is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

SCA is a leading cause of death in the US, killing over 325,000 people each year. That’s more than deaths from breast cancer, lung cancer, and HIV/AIDS combined.  During SCA, the heart stops functioning suddenly and without warning, usually due to impaired electrical impulses in the heart. 90% of people who are stricken with SCA die.

Screen Shot 2013-12-07 at 4.10.42 PM

So, is SCA a type of heart attack?

No. SCA is an electrical problem. A heart attack is a “plumbing” problem, caused by blockages in the heart’s vessels. Sometimes, a heart attack may lead to SCA.

How do we treat people from SCA?

If someone collapses from SCA, performing CPR and using an automated external defibrillator (AED) are essential for any chance of recovery. People who have survived SCA or are at high risk can implant a cardioverter defibrillator via surgery to protect against SCA.

Who’s at risk?

SCA can strike any person at any age, even healthy young athletes like Jenny. People who have a history of heart disease, chest pain, heart failure, or other cardiac risk factors are also more likely to be at risk.

Now that we know what SCA is, what can we do?

In order to prevent SCA, promoting heart healthy lifestyles is a critical first step, because many people that are victims have signs of coronary heart disease. However, for healthy young people like Jenny, we need to promote AED placement, education, and policies that promote more awareness of SCA. For instance, Michigan only requires AED placement in health clubs, and not in schools. We can do better. Individuals can also take an SCA risk assessment online or screen their kids to see personal risk levels.

So now you know. Spread awareness of the importance of SCA and incorporate this important issue into your view of “heart health.” Sometimes, it only takes one story to get you to really understand and care about the gravity of a situation. Now you have mine.



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