As any graduate student knows, a faculty advisor’s connections to industry leaders can often result in opportunities for their students. Such was the case for University of Illinois Community Health PhD students Mary Christoph and Zinnia Zhang, who participated in a summer research opportunity in the Department of Health Sciences Research at Mayo Clinic. The research experience was jointly organized by Dr. Hillary Klonoff-Cohen, director of the Master’s in Public Health Program at Illinois, and Dr.
James Cerhan, chair of the Department of Health Sciences Research and head of epidemiology at Mayo Clinic.
Christoph and Zhang spent ten weeks at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, working on research projects in the Epidemiology Division of the Department of Health Sciences Research. They were placed with mentors based on their interests and the goals of their practicum. Though Christoph and Zhang were both paired with mentors in the area of epidemiology, their research projects were
While at Mayo, Zhang evaluated the internal and external validity of an ovarian cancer case-control study conducted by Dr. Ellen Goode, professor of epidemiology at Mayo Clinic. To complete her assessment, Zhang used the methodology outlined in an article by Dr. Cerhan titled, “Design and validity of a clinic-based case-control study on the molecular epidemiology of lymphoma.” In a
clinic-based case-control study it is important to evaluate whether the results are true for the target population, which in Zhang’s case would be the subjects in the ovarian cancer study (internal validity), and whether the results of the study can be generalized to patient populations outside of Mayo Clinic (external validity). Zhang intends for her evaluation of the ovarian cancer study to be part of her doctoral dissertation.
Christoph’s work at Illinois focuses on how nutrition and eating behaviors influence adolescent obesity. Adolescent obesity has become a major public health concern, since children and adolescents who are obese are more likely to be obese as adults, putting them at greater risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. At Mayo Clinic, she examined how different measures of adiposity are correlated with atherosclerosis-related adhesion proteins in the Multi-Ethnic Study of
Atherosclerosis (MESA) cohort. MESA is a longitudinal medical research study sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the NIH. She worked under the guidance of Dr. Suzette Bielinski and a collaborator at the University of California, San Diego during her stay in Rochester. Christoph is compiling her research results into a manuscript she intends to submit for publication.
Both PhD students found the clinical research experience at Mayo Clinic to be invaluable to their graduate program work and to their future clinical and translational research endeavors.
“I cannot overstate how much I appreciate this opportunity and would recommend it to others,” Christoph said. “The competence, professionalism, and excellence of the researchers that I have been able to meet and collaborate with (at Mayo) are unparalleled. Not only have I improved my analytical skills and knowledge of clinical measures of heart disease and obesity, I have learned how successful collaborations and large cohort studies are managed and designed.”