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First steps for future epidemiologists begin at NIEHS

By Sophie Bolick
October 2010

Cynthia Lin
Lin, who holds a B.A. in Public Policy Studies, intends a career bridging her experiences in policy and epidemiology. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Alexandra (Lexie) White
White foresees a career in public health involving aspects of health disparities research and women's health, specifically in underserved communities. (Photo courtesy of Alexandra White)

Former NIEHS postbaccalaureate fellows Cynthia Lin and Alexandra (Lexie) White are several weeks into the Ph.D. program in Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. They credit their training at NIEHS with helping them focus their research interests and gain admission to one of the top public health schools in the country, as ranked by U.S. News and World Report.

Lin, a graduate of the University of Chicago, began exploring epidemiology as a career option while still an undergraduate student. The summer before her senior year, she worked on a project at the National Cancer Institute studying the relationship between intestinal parasite infections and Kaposi's sarcoma in Uganda. The summer after graduating, she spent time working as a policy intern at Taiwan's equivalent of the Centers for Disease Control.

White, a graduate of Kenyon College whose first exposure to epidemiology came during her year of training at NIEHS, took her Intramural Research Training Award fellowship time to decide whether to pursue a Ph.D. in basic medical science or epidemiology. “I was open-minded to what graduate programs I was interested in. Ultimately, I decided to focus on epidemiology.” She contributed to several ongoing projects within the Molecular and Genetic Epidemiology Group, headed by Principal Investigator Jack Taylor, M.D., Ph.D.

Lin spent two years in her fellowship as a special volunteer contributing to several ongoing studies in the Epidemiology Branch headed by Principal Investigator Dale Sandler, Ph.D. “Dr. Sandler gave me the opportunity to work on several small projects, which exposed me to different types of studies and methods,” she explained. “My experience at NIEHS helped me develop my research interests and I plan to concentrate my graduate work in the field of environmental epidemiology.”

While there are only between 10 and 15 postbaccalaureate fellows at NIEHS at any one time, they play an important role in the NIEHS Intramural program. “They serve as good role models for our summer interns, and they remind our postdoctoral fellows, who can often become narrowly focused on an individual project, how exciting and fun research can and should always be,” commented Diane Klotz, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Office of Fellows' Career Development ( “Postbaccalaureate fellows are just at the point of making decisions about their scientific futures and what type of education they will continue to pursue, and this motivates them to be productive while they are at the NIEHS.”

(Sophie Bolick, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow in the Molecular and Genetic Epidemiology Group in the Laboratory of Molecular Carcinogenesis.)

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