Patterns

Apparently it is the end of summer. My words have been few and farther and farther between. Part of this is stress in my personal life. That piece of the silent pie is just mine for now, but I will say that things look a little more hopeful than even two weeks ago.

My avoidance of blogging – or, indeed, any communication outside of what is required/needed/nice for my internship and work – is also due to an ever present undercurrent in my life: bipolar type II.

Maria Bamford, picking up on the fact that receiving a bipolar type II diagnosis seems about as culturally cool as the iPad mini getting retina display, called it the “gladiator sandal” of mental health disorders. Carrie Fisher refers to it as an internal and independent weather system. I think of it as a name that, among possible monikers, is closest to what I experience.

Basically, I experience high moments – where my brain feels able to think at 100 times its regular speed, where my productivity increases 10-fold, and where I feel that I could bike forty miles without have trained for it – and low moments – depression or sadness so intense that it is physically painful – in short succession. I don’t have the “classic” mania that disconnects me from reality, but my day to day life is usually powered by how much I am actually able to be present and to concentrate through internal forces.

Okay. Why am I talking about this? Why am I avoiding some personal things but obviously not this one?

I chose to have an internship near Ann Arbor for a few reasons:
a) I was offered this internship, which has been awesome.
b) I wanted to move to Michigan and learn about epidemiology at the local level. Most of my other internships have been international and, for once, I wanted to stay put. I wanted a local context.
c) I wanted to learn how to manage my mental health, which seemed easier to do here.

Yes, I am on medication. Yes, I have friends and professionals to talk to. Yes, I exercise, eat, and sleep at set times during the day. Yes, I have patterns – including my internship. I have a lot to learn, but living with rhythms helps me to achieve homeostasis.

Before someone gave me a name for my brain workings, I loved patterns. In a way, patterns have always been the common thread in my life. Knitting, working on math problems, reading history books… all of it tied together through rhythms in structure or content. I think this might be why epidemiology has always felt like a home to me.

I look for patterns. That is what I do, every single day, and I love it. Currently, I explore data rhythms – viral load frequencies, Detroit-area prevalence, recent diaspora probabilities. Everyday, I feel like cheering, “I get to do this!” I get to work as an epidemiologist… my dream job.

I am good at what I do, and what I do also happens to gift me with a health benefit: exploring population health patterns usually evens out my internal free-for-all.

I have had days this summer where my brain movement left me unable to talk, and days where I had no idea why the idea of walking down the street made me want to burst into tears. In both situations, my internship gave me a reason to keep pushing – it has provided me with the need to keep learning, to keep producing excellent rather than acceptable work, and to keep dreaming about the future. My coworkers, knowingly and non, have supported me in the most wonderful ways.

Plus, data is just fun.

I consider these brain workings a hindrance, boon, and part of who I am. This summer has given me the confidence to say that I am not an invalid, and that, in my eyes, my brain’s stuff makes me able to go on to so many interesting and great things. I think my bipolar, or whatever it is, will make me a better graduate student.

A Nurse in the Garden!

With my background in pediatric nursing, I knew that I wanted to spend my summer internship for my Master in Public Health doing something with kids. I am studying in the Health Behavior and Health Education program because I want to be able to help all people, but especially youth, learn about health and their ability to control their own destiny, through education, encouraging  their ability to make their own choices (when appropriate), and sharing what resources or programs are available to them. My hope is that whatever job I end up in, it will be one that helps children to gain life skills and encourage healthier living, with the ultimate goal of preventing long term health consequences that result from a lack of knowledge or exposure.

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Through my internship search, I came upon Green Plate Special. I  knew I loved the city of Seattle, and this organization sounded like a great fit. Green Plate Special is a gardening and cooking program that aims to engage ethnically diverse middle school youth (who come from varying socioeconomic backgrounds) by teaching them the self-sufficiency skills of growing, cooking, and eating healthy, tasty food. They hope to empower urban youth to engage with nature, get their hands in the earth, and eat food they may not have tried before.

Green Plate Special is Seattle’s only middle-school specific, curriculum-based program combining food growing with cooking. They aim to impart knowledge and  teach practical everyday life skills surrounding food as part of the solution to breaking the cycle of childhood obesity and other food related health issues. The hope to do this by teaching about where your food comes from, what makes food nutritious, the importance of taking the time to sit down and eat with no distractions (TV), as well as learning about different food cultures-and how that effects peoples food choices and customs.

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Throughout my summer in Seattle working at Green Plate Special, I have worked with various groups of kids, but most have been 6th-9th graders. We have planted many things in the garden -radish, swiss chard, carrots, peas, tomatoes, beets, dill, herbs, celery, to name a few. While the kids are in the program, they also learn how to cook each day they come to us, including cooking techniques like knife skills, and also basic recipes like omelettes.

I have learned what a unique age group this middle school age is, because they are still strongly influenced by their parents or caretakers, but are starting to make their own decisions and become more independent. It has been amazing to see them stretch their comfort zones.

I have experienced many kids trying vegetables for the first time, or saying it was the first time they ever planted something. It is encouraging to see these youth try new vegetables and actually enjoy them, I can definitely see that even in small ways they are more open to different vegetables and fruits than they were before starting our program. I am encouraged that they will share what they learned with their friends and family, and that the effects of the Green Plate special programs will begin to ripple in the community. One 7th grade girl told us she was happy to be in our program and learn how to cook, because she was staying home to watch her little brother all summer, and now instead of cooking from a box for him she said, “I can now make more nutritious meals”!

Breathing Fire: Thai Food Adventures

Before arriving in Thailand I was excited about the dining adventures surely awaiting me here, but my taste buds have been given the ride of their life these past couple months. Well-known Pad Thai and Pad See Ew are merely mundane tips of the culinary iceberg that is Thai cuisine.

Vegetarian Thai food!

Vegetarian Thai food! A rare find

Food is an integral part of Thai culture. Everyone is always concerned with whether you have eaten; in fact, the traditional way to greet people here is “Gin kow reu yang?” (Have you eaten yet?). The first words I learned in Thai were all about food: kao (rice), gai (chicken), gaeng (curry), the ever-confusing moo (pork, not beef), aroy mahk mahk (very very delicious!), and the essential “im laao” (full already!), because if you don’t say this more food will be forced upon your already dangerously engorged stomach.

Sweet and sour pineapple pork, cashew nut with squid and beef, and thai omelette.

Home-cooked sweet & sour pineapple pork,  squid & beef with local sator beans, and Thai omelette.

Yes, Thai food is spicy. Especially in the south of Thailand where I have spent the majority of time except for a few days of travel up in Chiang Mai. I don’t think I was quite prepared for the fire of Thai chilis when I bit into a seemingly innocuous papaya salad (called Som Tum) at lunch one of my first days here. Immediately my throat clenched, my nose started running, my eyes watered, and sweat dripped down my face as I tried to gulp down water and rice as fast as I could. I felt like I could breathe fire. I had eaten an entire Thai chili by accident, and the bad news was that 3 more were hiding in my salad somewhere. Thai chilies may be tiny, but they are HOT.

Many Thai people wait in gleeful anticipation for your first bite after you ask for spicy food because they think foreigners’ bodies will self-destruct after one mouthful (not entirely inaccurate). You will win their respect if you manage to eat it without breaking into a sweat (so far I’ve managed to control the sweating, but my nose still runs every time). After devouring a particularly spicy curry at a party with the local health volunteers, they now brag to everyone in the village about how I am able to “eat all the food in Thailand”, apparently a great compliment.

There's still one food in Thailand I haven't tried yet... Insects!

There’s still one food in Thailand I haven’t tried yet… Insects!

Thai food seems to center around 4 flavors: spicy, salty, sour, and sweet. Warning: salt is not used here as fish sauce is used for salty flavor, so any jar of white granules you find on the table is not salt, but sugar (and if they’re yellowish then it’s MSG). Thai dishes seem to have a combination of one or more of these 4 strong flavors; it is difficult to find a bland dish in Thailand. In the case of Thai desserts, the sugar level is overwhelmingly sweet for my taste (and that’s before they add coconut and sweetened condensed milk on top), so for sweets I prefer just eating one of the incredible varieties of tropical fruits that grow here.

Kao neow mamuang (Mango sticky rice)

Kao neow mamuang (Mango sticky rice)

Thailand has its curry game on lockdown. From Green and Red, to sweet Panang and peanutty Massaman, to pineapple-fish and sour mystery ones; each curry has its own unique flavor. Many street vendors have huge bowls of colorful curries sitting out in a row that you just point to; they’ll ladle it over a plate of rice and you’re good to go. Thais eat curry with raw vegetables, like long beans and cucumber, to balance out the heat. Thai green curry, or Gaeng Keow Wan, is one of the most famous Thai curries. Though it’s the spiciest one, the coconut milk, small round eggplants, and green veggies help break up the heat.

Red curry (yes, red curry is yellow)

Red curry (yes, red curry is yellow)

I will definitely miss the street food when I go back to the US. Whether it’s chicken satay, grilled pork skewers, or spicy squid chunks, one thing I’ve learned is that you can’t go wrong with meat on a stick. Some street food has a distinct Chinese influence, my particular favorites being delicious meat-filled steam buns and seafood dumplings (especially “poo” dumplings! Poo means crab). The Thai-style fried chicken (Gai Tod) is some of the best I’ve ever had (particularly hard for a Southerner to say). Marinated in lemongrass and spices, it is fried extra crispy and served with an addictive spicy sweet and sour sauce (aka “crack sauce”). Be careful at the chicken carts, because chicken necks are served right alongside the drumsticks and it can be difficult to tell the difference at nighttime.

Thai-style fried chicken

Thai-style fried chicken

Another popular street snack is roti (Thai pancake), a fried thin circle of eggy bread that is folded (sometimes with bananas) and doused with sweetened condensed milk and sugar. If someone set up a fried chicken or roti street cart in downtown Ann Arbor, I’m convinced they would make bank.

Everyone loves rotis!

Everyone loves rotis!

Though the list is endless, here are some more of my favorite foods I’ve had so far:

  • Kao Clook Gapi (Fried rice mixed with shrimp paste)- Not your typical fried rice, it’s tossed with a paste made from tiny shrimps that gives it a great flavor. The best part, however, is the surrounding toppings: fresh chopped cucumber, green mango, long beans, shallots, green & red Thai chilis, sweetened pork, a shredded Thai omelette, and a squeeze of lime. Paired with an icy pineapple shake, this is my absolute favorite lunch dish: crunchy, fresh, and filling.
Kao Clook Gapi= my favorite lunch

Kao Clook Gapi= my favorite lunch. The actual rice is hiding under all the toppings!

  • Tom Yum Goong (Thai hot and sour soup with shrimp)- This might be my favorite soup of all time. You can smell it coming; the broth is intensely flavored with lemongrass, galangal root, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, and plenty of chilis, with big floating chunks of tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, and shrimp. If spicy food isn’t your thing, don’t get this dish (this is another dish that will make your nose run). Each tom yum soup I’ve tried has tasted slightly different and it’s fun to compare each recipe.
  • Ratna Moo (Thai-style noodles in gravy with pork)- Thailand has a lot of noodle soups, but this one is unique. It consists of wide rice noodles in a warm thick “gravy” sauce with juicy pork, dark leafy greens, mushrooms, baby corn, and carrots; it has a very sticky, oozy texture and is easily slurpable. You can add peppers or vinegar to get the heat/sourness to your liking. I want to learn how to make this comforting dish to get me through the upcoming Michigan winter.
Ratna moo, Sluuuurp!

Ratna, Sluuuurp!

  • Pad Grapao Moo Kai Dow (Spicy pork with Thai basil and a fried egg on top)- this is a quintessential (and extremely popular) Thai dish. After a long morning of working and sweating in the tropical heat, this lunch gives you a protein punch with the stir-fried pork, freshness from the basil, a blast of peppery spiciness, and the fried egg brings it all together once you break into the oozy yolk and mix it all up.
  •  Lahp (minced meat salad)- This Northern dish is usually made with minced pork (pork seems to be the most popular meat in Thailand), chopped shallots, cilantro, mint, some magical mix of spices, and lime juice. It’s a bright fresh contrast to the heavier stir-fries and curries I eat daily.
Lahp

Lahp

If you can’t tell from the descriptions above, Thai food is very meat-heavy with rice or noodles in almost every meal. People have asked what food I miss the most. Without question, bread and cheese. I reached a point where I had a dream about a sandwich. Not just any sandwich, but the veggie sandwich from Alon’s Bakery in Atlanta (my hometown): thick fresh-baked bread, slices of roasted red pepper, eggplant, and tomato, garlicky basil pesto, and the pièce de résistance, a mile high slice of fresh mozzarella cheese. I woke up from this dream with drool running out of my mouth and the drool has returned full-force at this very moment (I wish I was joking).

Kao lam, sticky rice & coconut milk cooked in bamboo

Kao lam, sticky rice & coconut milk cooked in bamboo

Trying so many new foods has been a lot of fun, despite the fact that most of the time I have no idea what I’m ordering or pointing to. Even if it looks questionable, I’ve learned to drop any hesitations and dig into it because odds are, in Thailand, it will be delicious. I just make sure to have a glass of water ready in case a sneaky Thai chili is lurking!

Moo Kata, Thai barbecue buffet!

Moo Kata, Thai barbecue buffet!

 

Arsenic and Old Mines

When I first found out I would be spending my summer researching arsenic contamination in Thailand, I couldn’t help but think of the 1940’s classic film, “Arsenic and Old Lace,” which was my first introduction to arsenic and its poisonous characteristics. In the dark comedy, Cary Grant’s character discovers his two sweet elderly aunts are actually serial killers that poison unsuspecting lonely old men with a deadly concoction of homemade wine and arsenic. While the circumstances here in Ronphibun, Thailand are entirely different, it highlights the dangers the heavy metal poses. Arsenic is known as the “silent killer”; it has no taste, no smell, no color, and can easily leach into surface and ground water without detection. While acute large doses lead to death within a few hours, arsenic is actually of greater public health concern in chronic low doses.

Arsenic-contaminated shallow well

Arsenic-contaminated shallow well

Chronic arsenic exposure is a major global environmental health concern and is estimated by the WHO to effect over 200 million people worldwide.1 Arsenic is found naturally in the environment, with some specific geographic areas like Bangladesh, India, China, and Taiwan having naturally arsenic-rich groundwater. However anthropogenic activities, primarily mining-related activities, have contributed to arsenic enrichment in certain areas of the world. Ronphibun Subdistrict, in Nakhon Si Thammarat Province of Southern Thailand, is one such area of high arsenic contamination.

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Remains of a tin mine in Ronphibun

Ronphibun literally translates into “rich in metals” because the area lies along the Southeast Asian tin belt and was heavily mined over the course of a hundred years. The tin-mining process left behind huge waste piles of arsenic-containing residue, primarily arsenopyrite. Usually arsenopyrite is underground, but when unearthed and exposed to oxygen the compound oxidizes and inorganic arsenic leaches into the surrounding environment. Here in Ronphibun, the arsenic leached into the local groundwater, surface water, and inhabitants’ shallow wells. To put the severity of the contamination into perspective, the WHO-recommended “safe” level of arsenic in drinking water is 10 μg/L and some of the shallow wells in Ronphibun contained over 1000 μg/L. The Thai government halted mining after over 1000 cases of arsenicosis were officially diagnosed in Ronphibun in 1987, and interventions like piped-in water from other areas and rain collection pots were distributed. Despite these interventions, the environmental and health impacts still persist today.

Arsenic-contaminated stream and pipe for non-contaminated water

Arsenic-contaminated stream and pipe for non-contaminated water

We are studying arsenicosis, the diseases associated with chronic ingestion of arsenic-contaminated water. Our focus is on one of the most common health effects that develop within years of exposure: arsenical skin lesions. These include:

  • spotty or diffuse hyperpigmentation= dark spots
  • depigmentation (or hypopigmentation)= white spots
  • spotty or diffuse hyperkeratosis= thickened skin
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Hyperpigmentation and excised Bowen’s disease

Depigmentation

Depigmentation

These lesions can be precursors to Bowen’s disease and basal and squamous cell carcinomas. Keratosis is usually found on the palms or soles of feet, while hyperpigmentation and depigmentation are usually found on the arms, legs, and trunk. However, skin lesions type, pattern, and severity are extremely different among individuals, even those from the same household, and the reason is unclear. It is known that arsenic is excreted from the body through skin, hair, nails, and urine, but the mechanism that causes these arsenical skin lesions is not well understood.

Bowen's disease

Bowen’s disease

Our study focuses on epigenetics, as it is likely that epigenetic changes to genes involved in melanin or keratin production have a role in producing these skin lesions. Led by Dr. Alan Geater and PhD student Witchaya (Morn) Phetliap of Prince of Songkla University (PSU) and Dr. Laura Rozek of UM SPH, the study investigates the role epigenetics plays in arsenical skin lesion manifestation and severity. We are comparing the epigenetics of Ronphibun residents with skin lesions and those without; Morn and I are collecting saliva samples for DNA analysis, and toenail and urine samples for long-term and short-term arsenic concentration analysis. Once we collect all the samples in Ronphibun, they will be brought back to Dr. Rozek’s lab for analysis.

Collecting samples at home visits

Collecting samples at home visits

This study has been a great collaboration between Thailand’s PSU and the University of Michigan; both schools recently signed an MOU to continue research collaborations together. I’ve had a great time interning in Thailand, so I am excited to for Morn to fly over and spend a couple months in Ann Arbor doing lab analysis for the project. I am sure he will receive a warm Michigan welcome (well… just a warm welcome from the people, not sure about the weather)!

Thanks to Marc-Grégor Campredon (http://www.marc-gregor.com) for providing the photographs.

1WHO (World Health Organization). Guidelines for drinking-water quality: incorporating first and second addenda to third edition. Vol. 1, Recommendations, Geneva: World Health Organization, 2008.

 

 

 

 

 

10 Things I’ve learned in Peru

1. Peruvians are very proud of their heritage. The country has had a tumultuous past, but people are so proud to be from Lima (they are called limeños) or from Cuzco or wherever they live. They celebrate their culture through art, music, dance, textiles, etc and are excited to talk about it. Their independence days are July 28 and 29 and they celebrate them for about two weeks.

Church in Arequipa, Peru in the Monasterio de Santa Catalina

Church in Arequipa, Peru in the Monasterio de Santa Catalina

2. Peruvians in general are short. At 5’5″, I tower over most people. The women wear heels most of the time to appear taller.

3. A lot of Peruvians are also overweight, so their BMI must be out of control. They drink a lot of soda such as Inca Cola, this highlighter yellow beverage that tastes like bubble gum to me. They eat a lot of sugar and bread. On the other hand, the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables here is incredible. Every street corner store and often street carts sell bananas, oranges, avocados, potatoes, etc.

4. It’s ok to get on the bus even if it looks like one more person won’t fit without the whole vehicle bursting. Eventually people will get out and you can get a seat. There might be a metaphor in here about doing things that seem impossible because they will most likely work out.

Combi bus, one of the "joys" of travel

Combi bus, one of the “joys” of travel

5. You have to get out of the city and go smell the fresh country air, see the stars, and get out of the chaos. It is cleansing for your mind, lungs, and soul.

Me at the Canon de Colca, the second deepest canyon in the world. There were 9 condors (a large bird that the Incas worshipped) flying in the canyon that day.

Me at the Canon de Colca, the second deepest canyon in the world. There were 9 condors (a large bird that the Incas worshipped) flying in the canyon that day.

6. The colonial buildings here are incredible. The old churches, monasteries, government buildings, and restaurants are beautiful. It’s amazing to see all the detail they put into these old buildings. The new buildings are very modern, with plain walls and no detail. People don’t necessarily like the colonial look anymore, which I think is a shame.

Colonial church in Miraflores, Lima, Peru

Colonial church in Miraflores, Lima, Peru

7. Living near the coast and eating fresh seafood is great. I normally don’t like or eat much seafood, but when it’s fish or shellfish right out of the ocean, it’s delicious. I have learned to eat ceviche (fish or shellfish cooked with lemon and the acid in the lemon breaks down the proteins in the fish, therefore cooking it) and fried fish called chicharrones. Both are delicious.

8. Peru has thousands of varieties of potatoes. I’ve only tried a handful, but they are delicious. Unfortunately, I tried to make mashed potatoes with one variety and it didn’t work out too well.

9. Peru (or any developing country for that matter) is a really hard place to live for sensitive people. Sensitive in the sense of emotional sensitivity, yes, but also someone with heightened 5 senses of the body. I have a keen sense of smell and it goes wild here. Walking down the street, I’m confronted with a range of smells: fish cooking, potatoes frying, urine, trash, cigarette smoke, diesel exhaust, and every once in a while fresh cut grass. My sense of taste is elevated with the different foods I taste, as mentioned above. Sense of sight: Very hard to describe everything I’ve seen here because I’m incredibly observant. I’ve seen colorful buildings and houses, lots of signs advertising the upcoming elections, a bare naked man changing in the street, dogs searching for food, indigenous people in their full traditional dress dancing and/or trying to make a bit of money selling handmade goods on the street. I’ve seen fights, love, smiles, families embracing, people saying goodbye. Sense of sound is heightened because the city of Lima is never quiet. There’s always people talking, cars zooming past, car alarms going off, horns honking, babies crying, people cutting the grass, water running, etc. Sense of touch: well, I try not to touch more than I have to. I always have to touch the bus railings to hold on, but I’m sure I encounter lots of germs that way. Touching money also always makes me nervous. I wonder who sneezed on this money at one point…

Peruvian money- the Nuevo Sol. There are 5, 2, 1, 0.50, 0.20, 0.10, and 0.05 sol pieces.

Peruvian money- the Nuevo Sol. There are 5, 2, 1, 0.50, 0.20, 0.10, and 0.05 sol pieces.

10. Peru actually has a really good public health awareness and advertising system. On every bottle of alcohol, it says that drinking in excess can cause harm. On cigarettes, advertisements say that smoking causes cancer. I’ve seen posters that talk about staying home from work when you’re sick. Tuberculosis warnings are all over the buses. Plus, casinos talk about how gambling can cause problems. It’s really nice to see all of these advertisements.

Chao for now!

Up, Up and A- Way Over to Mongolia

This summer I am living and interning in Mongolia and I must say it has been the experience of a lifetime. Now, I know that phrase is extremely vague so I will explain why this experience has been so enjoyable, challenging and valuable for me.

I arrived in Mongolia not knowing exactly what to expect. I did not know what the infrastructure would be like, how developed the city would be, how I would be perceived, what I would have access to (food, internet, water, etc.) or what my experience would be like. I was pleased to find that Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital city, is very well developed. There are paved roads with lots of traffic, huge malls, restaurants, universities and many places to see and enjoy! The rest of the country varies culturally and geographically which, I have been able to witness through my travels. I have been here for a while so I think it is best to recap. My experience is best broken into 4 parts.

1) Ulaanbaatar- arriving in Mongolia, adjusting to the 12 hour time difference, planning for the study, exploring

2) The Gobi Desert- collecting samples for the study, no running water, enjoying simple pleasures

3) Erdent City- visiting a copper mine, getting to know 35 amazing students from Mongolia’s School of Public Health, fun times

4) Back in UB- data entry, making new friends, Naadam festival, teaching English, “never can say good-bye”

I will elaborate on each of these experiences separately in the upcoming blog posts.

Overall, I will say that I am very glad that I opened myself up to this experience. I have never been to an Asian country before and I was nervous about applying to spend 3 months in Mongolia. However, I did it and it has been very rewarding.

My word of advice: Opening yourself up and welcoming new and even possibly uncomfortable experiences is very important because you may find something in that experience that you did not expect and gain invaluable insight.

 

P.S: Here is a sneak peak; I’ve posted one picture from each of the four parts!

1)

welcome to Mongolia

This is the very first picture that I took in Mongolia. I had no idea of what was in store.

2)

This shot is from the Gobi desert, where we conducted our study. I spent a lot of time hanging with camels while collecting water samples!

This shot is from the Gobi desert, where we conducted our study. I spent a lot of time hanging with camels while collecting water samples!

3)

This is where they mine for copper. We toured the entire copper mine.

This is where they mine for copper. We toured the entire copper mine.

4)

Naadam is the Mongolia cultural festival. This is just one of many outtings during the last part of my Mongolian experience.

Naadam is the Mongolia cultural festival. This is just one of many outtings during the last part of my Mongolian experience.

 

Mid-Summer Epi Character Tome

Even though I’ve only ever created one character for a Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, I tend to make daily use of the phrase “leveling up.” Sometimes it’s a sarcastic remark utter in referring to another person – when the (now ex-) Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro headed an official apology to former comfort women, I muttered that the event was a leveling up 60 years in the making. On a happier note, however, I also consider the routes through which I, friends, family, and colleagues can and do level up. I think about what can make us better at what we do – as friends and partners, as healthy individuals, and, in my case, as an epidemiologist with relatively little real world experience to-date.

I might be addicted to learning, and seeking out new self-education opportunities, in the way that some people are die-hard players of Candy Crush.

I am always trying to pursue what I see as new Epi-related skills, to flesh out my current knowledge of nodes and connections, and (AND) I have kept a list. Think of it as a character sheet.

In adapting my list for this post, I’ve stuck to concepts and softwares/hardwares that are on the technical side of epidemiology learning and omitted personal wellbeing fields that, I am certain, are just as crucial to my professional path. I have rated each skill on my own subjective, anecdotal, and yet logical 1 to 10 scale, where 1 is equivalent to a recent subject introduction that calls for further practice and 10’s adroitness is performed without hesitation, with months of experience, but includes the tenet that there is always more to learn. (If anything, I am likely to be too hard on myself.) I grouped each skill roughly by type and, because it is summer, I have placed an asterisk (*) by the skills I have used so far in my internship.

Coding Languages and Programs with Coding
*Python +1
*Microsoft SQL/VBA +7
Matlab +4
HTML5 and XHTML +8
JavaScript +8
*ArcGIS 10.1 +2
*SAS 9.2 and 9.3 +5
STATA 12 +3
NetLogo +2
JMP +1
*Access +8

Software Without UErCoding
*Word +10
*Excel +9
*Publisher +7
PowerPoint +10
InDesign +5
Illustrator +4
Photoshop +2
Google Productivity Tools +9
Atlas.ti + 7

Tasks and Skill Areas
*Coding/Computer Interaction +7
*Data Analysis +7
Statistical Regression +5
*Writing Reports +8
*Workplace Communication +6
*Multitasking/Prioritizing +8
*Self-Motivation +7
*Proofing +10

Large Database Experience
*eHARS +5
NHANES +7

I think my next steps consist of improving my SAS and GIS knowledge, learn R, incorporate more regression into practice, and not let my anxiety cloud my love to write in both personal and professional forms (and oh, do those two interact). I think, too, that I may start including my ability/flexibility to pick up new traits fast and remember/add to them with depth.

Oh. Hello, by the by. My name is Jamaica and my apologies for being late to the party. It has been a weird/hard summer, but I have looked forward to meeting you. I am an epidemiology student currently working with the HIV Surveillance Unit in Southfield, MI. I get giddy at all things data.

More soon. Truly.

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