Citation: Dellefratte K, Stingone JA, Claudio L. Combined association of BTEX and material hardship on ADHD-suggestive behaviours among a nationally representative sample of US children. Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol. 2019 Nov;33(6):482-489. doi: 10.1111/ppe.12594. Epub 2019
Previous research shows that environmental and social factors contribute to the development of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Many questions arise from these observations, including: Are there particular air pollutants that may contribute to ADHD? How does exposure to air pollutants interact with socioeconomic factors? Can you see this effect in very young children before a definitive diagnosis of ADHD can be determined?
We set out to determine the relationship between early-life exposure to common ambient air pollutants (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene, also known as BTEX), household material hardship (a measure of socio-economic status), and ADHD-suggestive behaviours in kindergarten-age children. We chose to assess BTEX partly because these are air toxins that are known to potentially cause effects on the brain.
To do this, we used estimated pollutant exposure from the 2002 National Air Toxics Assessment at each child's residential ZIP code at enrollment. These data were linked to the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study Birth Cohort (which had been following 4650 children). Material hardship was assigned as a composite score of access to food, health care, and housing. Kindergarten teachers rated children's behaviours and activity in the classroom using a five-point Likert scale. Children with summary scores in the bottom decile were classified as displaying ADHD-suggestive behaviours.
We showed that both, early life exposure to toxic chemicals in the ambient air and material hardship were independently associated with ADHD-suggestive behaviours at school entry.
These associations were stronger in children who lived in urban areas. There was no evidence of interaction between early life BTEX exposure and material hardship, although the effects of BTEX exposure were slightly greater in magnitude among those with higher material hardship scores.
We concluded that children exposed to air toxics, material hardship, or both early in life are more likely to display signs of ADHD-suggestive behaviours as assessed by their kindergarten teachers. The associations between exposures to air pollution and to socio-economic hardship were observed in all children but were particularly strong in those living in urban areas. This work adds to the evidence of the detrimental effects of exposure of air pollution on the developing brain.
Almost 20 years ago, I met Roberto Refeca at a conference and invited him to work in my lab as a summer intern. He did a great job and we have kept in touch ever since.
My advice to him was the same I give to many other students: be aware of the doors that open up along the way as you search for a career path as some of those doors may be quite surprising. Roberto is a great example of someone who did just that. When he was my intern, neither of us knew that a career in Regulatory Affairs would be perfect for him. Here we are all these years later and Roberto has found success and satisfaction as Director of Regulatory Affairs at Clinical Genomics, Inc.
Here is Roberto's story in his own words.
I am Roberto F. Refeca, born in Habana, Cuba, on September 30, 1973, to Olga and Roberto J. Refeca. I am a college graduate with an MBA from the University of Miami, Miami, Florida and a Bachelor’s of Science (Biology, Chemistry) from Maryville University, St. Louis, Missouri. I am a husband to Amy M. Refeca, and father to Sophia C. Refeca and Sammy Refeca. Lastly, Currently I’m working in the field of Regulatory Affairs. I’m the Director, Regulatory Affairs at Clinical Genomics, Inc., a company focused on the early detection of Colorectal Cancer (CRC).
I should explain this now, as it can get very confusing for those that are not familiar with the term Regulatory Affairs. For a company to place a medical device on the market and make it available for sale to the public, they must meet the requirements set forth by the US FDA. The US-FDA regulates products according to the risk/potential risks that they may pose to the user, the risks are largely based on the intended use of the product and the functional attributes and characteristics of the product. The core responsibility for the regulatory professional is to guide companies through this process. Once the product is on the market/distributed, the RA professional also helps companies by interacting with the Regulatory Bodies to maintain the registrations current. Often times the roles for RA professionals within organizations can vary by also including responsibilities for post market surveillance, labeling, and more. I hope that provides some color to my role/profession.
What defines you?
My experiences and my environment define me. I’m an immigrant to the United States, arrived in 1980. A childhood in a lower middle-class environment in St. Louis, Missouri, with friends that took every opportunity to play sports and go fishing. I had many nights of searching our area for lighted spaces where we could play stick ball and basketball, or head to a fishing spot (creeks, lakes, rivers). It was not uncommon for my friends and I to sneak into gymnasiums after hours and on weekends to play basketball during the St. Louis Winters. The fever for sports and fishing started early for me, participating in baseball in middle, high school, and college. The love for the study of Biology came later and was fostered in high school by a couple great mentors Mr. Don McLain and a Mr. Charles Shepperd. Once high school was completed, fast forward through a couple years of undergraduate study (Barry University, Miami, Florida, and then Florissant Valley Community College, St. Louis, Missouri) and then I found myself at Maryville University majoring in Biology with a Minor in Chemistry. To gain additional experience in science, I started volunteering at the Center for the Study of Nervous System Injury (CSNI), Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri, with John W. McDonald MD, Ph.D., during my junior year at Maryville. John’s research interests were focused on mechanisms of oligodendrocyte death, specifically spinal cord injury. While working with Dr. McDonald, it was not uncommon to find ourselves in the lab at 1-3am in the morning on the weekends and during the summer.
In sports, there is god-given talent, and then there is that grind that happens when you work and you know that putting in that extra effort will often yield a positive outcome. I saw this in John, a relentless pursuit with passion for the work that he was doing. It became familiar for me to see this type of behavior that I was so used to being a part of in sports….I was applying it to my love for biology/science, and I saw others with the common approach.
Dr. McDonald invited me the Fall of 1997 to a conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, right around the Halloween time of year. It was here where I had my chanced encounter with a Luz Claudio, Ph.D., if I recall correctly it was during the lunch period when everyone was taking breaks from the conference when we met. As part of our brief conversation Dr. Claudio welcomed me to apply to her summer internship program. I was awarded the opportunity to participate in the program that summer in 1998, in Dr. Luz’s lab at the Environmental Health Sciences Center, Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, New York, New York. My work included trying to establish a cell culture model of the blood brain barrier using astrocytes and HUVEC (Human umbilical vein endothelial cells).
After that summer I ended up in Miami, Florida. After working as a baseball instructor at Red Berry’s baseball academy, I then started my professional working career (after being a college graduate) working at the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI), University of Miami School of Medicine. The work was amazing, I was a part of the Human Islet Transplant team. In short, the program leaders were Camillo Ricordi, MD, Norma Kenyon, Ph.D., and Rodolfo Alejandro, MD. Our focus was finding a cure for Type I diabetes via the transplantation of islets, the insulin producing cells within the pancreas. My job was to isolate islets for transplant and for research from cadaver pancreas, it was not uncommon for the harvesting procedure to take 4-12 hours in the lab. As part of the DRI program I was also able to experience technology related to the processing and harvesting whole bone marrow for transplant from cadaver bone marrow, and living donor iliac crest aspirates. The science that was happening at the DRI was second to none, and I enjoyed every part of it.
After working in science/the lab for a number of years at the DRI, I had thoughts of graduate school/focus on science. It was always my dream to drive research to a clinical benefit in people. I also started to yearn for a different challenge within science that would include more interaction in non-lab settings, getting closer to the interphase between research and clinical practice. That lead me to my decision to pursue an MBA at the University of Miami, Miami, Florida. After I finished the MBA program, I then took a job with Cordis Neurovascular in Miami, Florida which was a division of Johnson & Johnson. It made more sense than what I knew at the time.
How did you decide on this career path?
This is a great question, I have not met a person yet in my career that by design ended up in the field of Regulatory Affairs (I’m sure that they are out there), most persons including myself end up in Regulatory Affairs in a “sideways” type of manner in that there are not many college programs that offer RA degrees. I have had colleagues with undergraduate training in: science, engineering, communications, and graduate degrees such as MBA, MSc., Ph.D., JD.
What you like, don't like?
What I love about my current role and the field of Regulatory Affairs. It is very broad: I’m at the forefront of a technology/science in bringing new things to market and it also requires me to communicate effectively with a broad group of persons/groups within my organization. Regulatory Affairs also requires me to communicate effectively with persons outside of my organization which can be customers to the business and regulators globally. It is common for me to have routine conversations with: sales, marketing, operations/manufacturing, research & development, legal, and finance/accounting.
In my various roles I have interacted with a very diverse group of professionals in all of the global markets, the professional relationships that I still keep today are priceless. And because my roles have been global in nature, I’ve had the chance to interact with regulators from around the world including: Canada, EU-Notified Bodies, Mexico, Costa Rica, Australia, and of course our US-FDA. In today’s world, business is global and regulatory is a key partner to any company’s global success whether it be the introduction of new products or maintaining products in existing markets.
What do you wish you had known before you embarked in your career?
In hind sight, I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to have started earlier in the field of Regulatory Affairs….but that is only a brief thought, I enjoyed my time in research too much: Washington University School of Medicine (Study of Nervous System Injury); Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York (Environmental Health Sciences Center); and the University of Miami, School of Medicine (Diabetes Research Institute), Miami, Florida. The places, people, and experiences, I’m thankful for each.
What would you advise others thinking of similar career paths?
With regards to the field of Regulatory Affairs, my belief is that it is helpful to bring a skill set to the profession (science, technology, engineering, math) and that one of the most important attributes is to have good interpersonal skills including the ability to communicate effectively (verbally and in writing).
What have been some of your biggest obstacles and how have you overcome them?
Myself. We often get in our own way by over analyzing things or lacking self confidence. The way to overcome is to take chances, and if things don’t workout you re-direct. I believe this is a key to life and to success. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake, acknowledge it, own it and move on. If you miss “acknowledging” it, I believe this can be a detriment to leadership and slow your development.
Don’t pass up opportunities, take chances!
How has your background, gender, race, or any other aspects of yourself been an asset?
The fire inside of me comes from my background, gender, race. Being an immigrant to the United States, which I believe is truly a place of opportunity whereby you can own your trajectory…what was instilled in me since being a very young boy is that I was different and that I had to work, work, work to have access to the things I wanted. In sports, in school, in my work, I was raised to not be outworked. I have learned in sports and in my profession that hard work does not always immediately yield what you expect, but if you keep at it…the model stands up and the results are there.
This approach is common in sports and has a common thread in life with work and relationships.
Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri my parents and family, we routinely spoke Spanish in stores, around town which was not as common in the early 1980’s compared to today. We would get funny looks at times. This language skill that I did not think much of in my childhood also had a significant impact on my professional development when I entered the field of Regulatory Affairs. English is the global language for business, however, when I interacted with my colleagues in Latin America being able to read and speak, and write Spanish was a huge asset. The best part was that I routinely take the opportunity to work on my Spanish while my international colleagues use the opportunity to work on their English.
Overall, I’ve had the kinds of experiences that any ethnic minority has in the United States. I can say with certainty that the eyes and ears of your colleagues and bosses are blinded to your differences when you bring value and success to the work.
I am very thankful for the persons that I have shared my career with, very thankful and humbled by my experiences.
By Melaina Juntti for Yahoo!
Along with greening up our living rooms and workspaces, houseplants have been shown to elevate mood, sharpen mental focus, and even boost productivity. Plants are also hyped as being all-natural indoor air purifiers, cleaning the air and sucking up airborne toxins that make us sneeze, wheeze, and develop cancer — well, that’s what an infamous 1989 NASA study led us to believe, anyway.
The reality: Potted plants don’t work like living HVAC devices, neutralizing nasty chemicals to help us breathe easy. It would be awesome if that were true, but experts today say it’s simply a myth. Despite what old research implied, houseplants have very little if any impact on indoor air quality.
According to Luz Claudio, Ph.D., an environmental medicine and public health scientist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, common houseplants can indeed draw certain VOCs out of the air — but the degree to which they do so is negligible. “The amount that houseplants may reduce chemicals in a real-world environment is likely not enough to have a noticeable impact on human health,” she says.
by Carmen Jacob for Upjourney
People in all kinds of careers would benefit from having mentors. But it can be difficult to ask someone if they can be your mentor because it can be intimidating, you don't know who to ask, or you don't know how to ask.
In this article, 27 experts in various industries, including science, business, and finance, give tips and recommendations on how to ask someone to be your mentor. My advice was:
Be prepared to answer some questions
I’ve had students ask me to be their mentor just because someone else told them that it would be a good idea. Whether the person who recommended me was another student or even the person’s academic adviser, the potential mentee must be prepared to answer the question – Why?
Your answer should include why you are seeking a mentor at this time? Are you moving to a different department and need advice about that? Is there a particular reason why you are seeking me specifically as a mentor?
Answering the question -Why?- will help clarify the goals of the mentorship.
What kind of advice you are looking for?
Do you need advice on career advancement? Are you looking for someone to help you with a particular research methodology? Are you looking for someone to take a look at your resume to see if you are ready for a promotion?
The more specific you can be in the “What?” the more prepared you will be to know whether you are getting what you need from the mentoring relationship.
Think of how the mentoring relationship will progress
Will you meet in person, by phone, online? Will you check-in once a month or as needed? Will you meet at the office, for a coffee? The How of the mentoring process should be negotiated and should be open to change depending on need.
However, some programs require that students meet with their mentors regularly; therefore, I need to know that in advance, to determine whether I can serve the mentee in the way they need."
So, think about these three questions, the WHY you want this person to be your mentor; the WHAT you want this person to mentor you on and what would be the expected outcomes; and the HOW you want them to mentor you.
Advice from the other 26 experts included:
Previous blog posts on this topic can be found HERE.
By Jessica Sager for Parade
Someone gave me a T-shirt that says “#GirlBoss” on it. It's cute, but I never wear it. All I knew is that it’s a trendy hashtag on Twitter. But what does it mean really to be a girl who is a boss?
I was recently asked this questions for an interview, so I had to come up with something. Now that I've had time to reflect, to me, it means being in control of yourself. To be able to decide to do something, then actually do it. And to feel the fear, but not be afraid. Being a GirlBoss is to be the boss of you, before being the boss of anyone else.
In this interview, 12 influential Latinas were asked to offer tips to other Latina women about becoming a GirlBoss. Here is my response:
“If you speak Spanish and English, let it be known. Add it as an important skill in your resume. Step up to translate in your workplace when a Spanish-speaking client needs assistance. Offer to lead outreach to Latinx communities at your organization. Be the go-to person at your industry for everything Latinx. Realize that your language and your culture ARE part of your unique skills that make you a valuable employee or girl boss. Flaunt it and others will start to see the value in your dual language and culture.”
To read the responses of the other 11 influential Latinas, click the button below.
Halloween is a time to celebrate everything scary. We laugh at witches and ghosts and dress up as the Addams family. But what do we do when real fear holds us back from achieving our greatest potential?
I have mentored hundreds of graduate and medical students, most of whom are underrepresented minorities. We get into in-depth conversations about their career choices and the opportunities and the obstacles that stand in their way. Some common patterns emerge, including fears. Fear can be healthy. It can keep us from harm. But fear can also be paralyzing. As Franklin D. Roosevelt once said: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Below are some of the fears that I have found most commonly in my students and some of my advice to them:
Fear of making the wrong decision: I would say that this is their fear numero uno! Many of my students are already deep into a career path. They are already out of college; most of them have already graduated with a bachelor’s degree in the sciences. Now they are deciding what to do next. They ask things like “Should I go to med school?” “Master’s program?” “Ph.D.?” and worst of all, they ask; “Did I make a mistake choosing my major in college?” They have so many choices in front of them that, as if it weren’t hard enough, they second-guess choices they no longer have because those choices were made in the past.Too many choices can paralyze a person with indecision because the fear of making the “wrong” decision is too strong. In his book The Paradox of Choice, psychologist Barry Schwartz argues that too many choices create anxiety. He recommends a systematic approach toward making a choice that involves six steps. Some helpful choice-making steps from this book that students can apply to make their career decisions are:
FOMO: Yes. Fear of missing out is a big one for my students. This one is about fearing that the career path they didn’t choose is more: fun, lucrative, fulfilling, etc. than the one they chose. This fear is intensified when they view posts on social media or messages from people who did choose that other career path.
As we all know, the day-to-day of any career is much less glamorous in reality than it seems on social media. But my students still fear that other friends or classmates have it better than them because they seem to have made a better choice.
To alleviate this fear, I have told students to look at their own social media postings. Did they post any pictures of the all-nighter they pulled to create a poster for a presentation or did they only post a picture of themselves in front of the poster after it was done? Did they post pictures of themselves working for 12 hours in front of the computer, or a picture of themselves receiving the diploma after their dissertation was accepted?
Just in the same way, what their friends post on social media is not always an accurate representation of the hard work and determination it takes to actually achieve a successful career. Who knows, there’s probably someone out there having a major case of FOMO over the life they think you have. ;)
Fear of disappointment: Many students I see have a fear of disappointing others. Even students who are far into their career experiences want to please their parents, teachers, and mentors and make them proud. For some, this means that they have to pursue a career as a medical doctor because this is something their parents want or expect. Choosing another career path can seem like a terrible disappointment that no good son or daughter would want to impose on their parents.
I try to help students understand two things. First, that it is their own life they are living, not their parents’ lives. Second, I try to reassure my students that their parents will understand (eventually) if they take the “disappointing” career path, as long as they do well in what they choose. However, I must admit that sometimes this is not exactly the case. Some parents are really vested in their children’s career choices and others not so much. I’ve had parents call me and tell me how important it is for their child to go to medical school, and have even received a threatening letter when a student was not accepted into my program. I try to explain to these parents that the alternative is worse. Who hasn’t met someone who is miserable in their profession? I bet many of them are miserable because they pursued the profession that their parents chose for them.
A healthier approach to this fear could be having a heart-to-heart conversation with your parents. I know that it can be super scary. But it beats a lifetime of trying to live someone else’s life. Most parents wish a life of fulfillment and happiness for their children. We parents need to understand that sometimes, the career we set out for our children is not the path they can or want to take.
Test Anxiety: Apparently, this is a real thing. Many of my students can know a subject very well, be able to do everything correctly in class, explain all concepts perfectly, and be as sharp and smart as can be. But, when it comes to testing, (especially standardized tests), they fail to show that same brilliance. I have seen students study a whole year to take the GRE then not show up on the day of the exam. I’ve also had several students who, while trying to get into medical school, take the MCAT over and over again, only to get worse scores every time they take it. Putting the issues with standardized testing aside, test anxiety can be a real paralyzing fear for some students.
Of course, feeling some worry and even some fear about taking an important test is normal, and may even be beneficial. That little void at the pit of your stomach can be a good motivator. But when that feeling becomes real cold-sweated fear and doesn’t let you show what you know on a test, that is test anxiety.
According to the Mayo Clinic, these are some of the things you can do to alleviate test anxiety:
Lack of Fear of Student Debt: Interestingly, not so many of my students have expressed financial fears, even though most of them have student loans that are, to me, horrifying. Most don’t mention their student loans unless I ask, which is scary in itself because I think that many students don’t want to face their financial situation. This denial of fear allows them to borrow more money, but at what cost?! I would argue that denial of fear also has its consequences. Having some degree of fear of student debt is be a healthier approach to career decision-making.
Helping our students face their fears, address the ones that block their path to success, and face the real obstacles that can truly derail them is part of our job as mentors. Students, you are not alone in your fears. Being open about your fears and having a plan for dealing with them will set you free.
As scientists, we are used to giving seminars, presentations, and speeches to different audiences. For some people, it is easy. For others like me, it is the stuff nightmares are made of. But no audience is more challenging than a group of children. If you don’t catch their attention quickly and retain it, you are doomed. I have seen colleagues who are brilliant tenured professors in their jobs, have epic fails when presenting to a classroom full of schoolchildren. I know, I’ve been one of the epic fails.
And the thing is, there is an increasing need for engaging children in doing science. To have a more diverse and dynamic scientific workforce, children need to be exposed to role models early and often. They need to see what it might be like for them to be a scientist, that there are scientists who look like them, and that science is, well, awesome!
Here are five quick tips to keep in mind whenever you have an eager and demanding audience of children for your presentation, whether your presentation is on national TV or at your child’s school.
One of the most cringe-worthy videos that I have ever seen online is the one of Senator Dianne Feinstein talking to a group of young climate activists. Agh! The video has everything: interrupting the children, the “I have 30 years of experience,” dismissive comments, and, gasp! Telling a girl of color to “take that back to whoever sent you here” Even the senator’s body language, with her arms crossed and literally talking down to the children is the very definition of condescending. It’s as hard to watch as a terrible car crash. Ugh!
The looks of disappointment, frustration, and sadness on the children’s faces is just heartbreaking. You don’t want to break children’s hearts, do you? If you can stomach watching this video to the end, remember it next time you are talking to children about science or any other topic. Let it be a cautionary tale of what not to do. Believe me, I know. I may have done something like this in the past, especially before I had children. Thankfully, it was not caught on tape, but now I know better. There is no excuse for treating children like this.
Instead of a condescending attitude, try to remind yourself of what you are there to do. You should not expect that the children will learn all that there is to know about your topic from that one presentation. Your purpose is to encourage their curiosity and to leave them inspired. Remember that. See the infamous video here: https://youtu.be/jEPo34LCss8
When you are the real you, it is palpable. If you love your career in science, this will naturally show through your presentation, whether you are funny or serious. One way to get yourself into it is to start your presentation by saying something about that moment. Offering a comment about the nice room where you are giving the presentation, or the weather, or anything that is happening in the now, will get you in touch with yourself at that moment and help you feel more present.
In my presentations, I just try to let my real personality show and be authentic. Even if that gets me off the script a little bit, it helps me to get into it and enjoy giving the presentation.
There is a whole field of study on communicating science to the general public. Sometimes, it is not so easy to do. Use any tools that may help you visualize and explain your concepts. Can you use analogies? Can you create an infographic? Can you make a diagram or use props to illustrate your ideas? Think creatively. The act of simplifying your content to its core will also help you in generating new ideas and seeing your science with a different perspective. It is worth also doing this when you are presenting to diverse audiences that are not in your field, and even for grant proposals.
We have studied how groups of lay audiences, such as study participants, can gain increased knowledge when complex information is presented in simple but impactful formats. Here is one of our studies in this area: https://www.drluzclaudio.com/uploads/2/6/2/6/26264188/claudio_et_al_communicating_environmental_health.pdf
And above all, do not reject invitations to speak at your local elementary schools as unimportant or a waste of your time. You never know if you will spark an idea in a young mind. This happened to me as a young person. The first time I met an actual working scientist, I was in 12th grade. It was the US energy crisis, and scientists from Oak Ridge National Laboratory came to my school in Puerto Rico to teach us how to save energy. I will never forget the scientist’s presentation in which he asked: Which razor saves more energy to the country, the electric razor, or the disposable blade? That was it! I was hooked on science.
It seems like nowadays, whenever we hear the word "environment" in the media, it refers to the latest disaster caused by the climate crisis or the latest commonplace chemical found to cause cancer. Children, of course, are exposed to this barrage of information and feel helpless and hopeless. The environment is bad, and there's nothing they can do about it.
Yes. The situation is dire. But unless we give some sense of empowerment to children, how can we expect them to care? Some children have turned to activism, but it is not every day that students can walk out of class in protest. For the most part, all that children hear is the predictions of environmental doom. And they are going to tune it off.
With that in mind, I agreed to participate in this great new TV program called Mission Unstoppable. With support from the Lyda Hill Philanthropies, it aims to show how STEM can be part of our everyday lives, and for at least some of us, STEM can also be at the center of our careers. The show focuses on women doing all kinds of STEM things, because well, why not? It doesn't beat you over the head to say that "girls can do anything." Instead, it shows you diverse girls doing everything and anything that has to do with STEM skills.
The producers filmed 8 hours of me talking for a 4-minute feature! That in itself was eyeopening for me. I didn't know how much work it takes to produce TV content.
In the interview, I tried to show that:
As my daughter said when she saw the show: "That was really cool." For me, to go from dork to cool, even if only for four minutes, is a step forward.
Thanks to Adina Pliskin and Robyn Ramirez from Litton TV and to interviewer Erica Hernandez. Thanks also to Mount Sinai staff and students Marlene Naanes, Lisa Cole, Chrystal Galan Rivera, and Frances Morales Ramos, for their assistance during the long hours of filming.
Promotional video for Mission Unstoppable, Saturday mornings on CBS Network
Talking to children about your career in science can be totally unpredictable. Even when you prepare a nice presentation and in-depth discussion about the pros and cons of a career in science, children will always surprise you with their reactions and questions.
In my TED Talk, I mention a presentation I did about the results of an environmental health assessment to a group of girls who had participated in the study. I was surprised to be asked about my high-heel shoes and my curly hair!
On another occasion, I did a cow eye dissection at my daughter's school. While the girls' eyes got super big and they covered their mouths in gasps, the boys ran away from the dissection tray. One of them nearly fainted and had to sit down. Another boy said he "barfed a little bit". But slowly, once the children got engaged in the activity, they did not want to stop. They marveled at the gooey vitreous, looked through the lens, and drew pictures of the colorful tapetum lucidum. Years later, I'm known in the school as the "mom-scientist". The father of one of my daughter's classmates said: "she curiously dissects even the fish she eats for dinner".
So I should have been prepared when I was interviewed for a new TV Show called Mission Unstoppable to air Saturday Mornings on CBS starting October 12. After the show, the producers asked women scientists to read questions submitted by children. In this episode, we were asked: How Useful Would You Be In a Zombie Apocalypse? According to my 12-year-old daughter, that's a thing...
In my response, I had more questions than answers because I don't know much about zombies. Still, I'm a scientist and a mom, so I know I would be really useful if one day the zombies do come. ;)
Watch the show on TV (Saturday mornings on the CBS Network) or subscribe to their Youtube channel here: Mission Unstoppable
Peer Mentoring Gets This Student From Thinking About Med School To Finding Her Dream Job- by Julieta Saluzzo, MPH
After so many years of directing training programs and mentoring students, I have now trained and mentored hundreds of students. I keep in touch with over 80% of them and try to encourage peer mentoring by connecting students and alumni of my programs who may have some common interests. In this guest blog post, Julieta Saluzzo, MPH tells her career journey and two good examples of what peer mentoring can do. In one instance, unsure about whether to go to medical school, she learns from a fellow student about programs for masters in public health. On another instance when she was an intern in my International Exchange Program, she met Dr. Sasha McGee, an alumnus of my program and embarks on a satisfying career as an epidemiologist, a career she had not considered. Read Julieta's story in her own words.
My name is Julieta Saluzzo, and I am 28 years old. Born and raised in Rosario, Argentina, I came to the United States at the age of 9 with my parents and younger sister in search of a more tranquil and financially secure life with more opportunities. My background is something that I have always treasured and which has allowed me to open my mind in many ways. Because I was raised in the US where there is so much diversity, and also having been raised partly in Argentina, I have always been aware of the many different ways of living that exist in our world. This has allowed me to explore with an open heart and mind and to understand others’ stories and realities. In addition, being a Hispanic woman in science and public health has allowed me to pursue invaluable opportunities in research to leverage myself and my career, such as the Mount Sinai International Training Program.
When I look back on my last decade, I see how far I have come: college, personal experiences, graduate school, international research internships, and my first job (fortunately enough, my dream job). I also see that every experience has built upon the ones before, something that I was unable to see at each stage. Lastly, I see that throughout my 10-year journey, there were people who helped me in many different ways. Each of these individuals who have made significant impacts on my life has given me skills, values, and qualities to equip me for not only a fulfilling career but a meaningful and purposeful life. Without these people, whom I call mentors, I would not be the person I am or be standing where I am today.
The Beginning of a Journey
My career path was neither planned nor straight, and growing up, I never had a vocation or knew what I wanted to do or be. In fact, I never would have imagined that I would be in my current role as I did not know that such a job existed until well into my college years. As a curious person, my interests have been many and varied. Yet it was my fascination with the life sciences and my desire to help humans that led me towards health sciences.
After exploring different health-oriented fields in college, I decided to pursue medicine given my interest in infectious diseases and intent to help and work with people. At the time, I thought it was the only career that would suit me. Having decided to take a gap year to apply to medical school, I began working in the research lab of one of my professors whose medical pathology class fueled my passion for learning about infectious diseases. This was a basic science lab that studied steroid hormone action in a breast cancer cell model and was my very first exposure to academic research. The skillset I gained during this role, including my very first publication and the abilities to mentor and train young students, would set the foundation for every experience that would follow.
During this time, I began to question my choice to pursue medicine, as I realized that there are many different fields that encompass my interests and perhaps better fit my curious nature. Additionally, I was starting to realize that medicine would be a huge undertaking for me personally. Therefore, I decided to expand my career lens and began exploring other options.
The work I was doing in the lab was enjoyable and I was quite good at it, yet there was something missing: the people aspect. Around this time, one of my friends was entering her MPH program. After speaking with her about what public health actually was (because I really had no idea), it sounded like the perfect combination of skills and tools to succeed in the areas in which I was passionate. One year later, I was the one embarking on my own Public Health journey at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.
My Experiences Abroad
For me, traveling is a way to meet people, get to know other cultures, and expand my view of the world. The way that I prefer to incorporate travel into my life is by experiencing the day-to-day in a new environment by working and/or studying abroad. I have already had two incredible opportunities to do this, and I am striving for more in the near future.
The first time I completed an international research internship was during my MPH in 2016. I went to Santiago, Chile and worked at INTA, the “Instituto de Nutrición y Tecnología de los Alimentos” in the microbiology laboratory under Dr. Angelica Reyes, where I studied the effects of copper on Listeria monocytogenes. This experience has enriched me in ways I could never imagine, by making life-long friendships and mentorships, learning what it means to do research with varying levels of resources and language barriers when it comes to publishing.
I enjoyed this experience so much that I decided to pursue an additional international research program at the end of my MPH. As a Mount Sinai International Program fellow under the mentorship of Dr. Luz Claudio, I went to Dublin, Ireland. Before departing to our host countries, we had a week-long orientation in New York City. This was one of the most memorable weeks of my life. As part of the orientation, we received training in different areas of conducting research, heard from previous alumni of the program about their own experiences and where they are now, and prepared ourselves personally with Dr. Claudio for our research abroad.
In Dublin, I worked at Trinity College of Dublin in the laboratory of Dr. Laure Marignol, where I researched biomarkers for treatment resistance in prostate cancer cells. This experience allowed me to use the skills I learned in my first research experience with my professor in the lab by coming from a subject matter expert viewpoint and enabled me to develop my mentoring skills by teaching new students.
Through the Mount Sinai International Program, I built strong relationships with mentors who have shaped and guided me throughout and long-after the internship. They have provided support, guidance, opportunities for the future, and friendship. The benefits of doing an international research internship are life-long, providing skills and invaluable opportunities that will not only make you a better professional in your field but a better human being.
Fast Forward to the Present
Currently, I am the Legionella Epidemiologist at the Department of Health in Washington DC. My role is split between that of an epidemiologist and a program coordinator-which is great because I get to do both research and applied public health work. As an epidemiologist, I conduct surveillance and investigations of cases and outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease. As the coordinator for the Legionella Surveillance Program, I collaborate with and serve as a resource to stakeholders (e.g. other government agencies, healthcare facilities, the public) for Legionnaires’ disease prevention activities in DC.
During the Mount Sinai International Exchange Program, the importance of networking and mentorship was very encouraged. The way I arrived at my current position at the health department stemmed from the opportunity to network with one of the program alumni, Dr. Sasha McGee, whose journey reminded me very much of my own. After the program, I reached out to Dr. McGee seeking guidance during a time of uncertainty, and little did I know how much that would impact my life. After that initial phone call, Dr. McGee became a mentor to me, guiding me through the job-seeking process and giving me encouragement and advice. Eventually, I obtained a position working alongside Dr. McGee, one of the people whom I most admire. The past 10 years have not only allowed me to design my trajectory but to discover myself and my place in the world. Looking back at my career trajectory, I see that the job I hold now beautifully and delicately reflects my story thus far.
Obstacles Along the Way and the Tools for Overcoming Them
Of course, no journey gets on without a few walls to break along the way. Since I was very young, I have struggled with anxiety, and during my educational and professional experiences, impostor syndrome. Over time, I have learned to recognize them and deal with these head-on by working hard and with support from my friends and family. One of the ways I have worked through these is by learning to prioritize my own mental and physical health when necessary by doing activities that relax me and bring me joy, such as cooking and baking or going out for coffee with a dear friend.
Some tools that have helped me during tough times have been journaling and having a friend to talk to who understands what I am going through. I have also learned to trust my intuition and judgment in situations (from past positive experiences), allowing me to form a secure relationship with myself. These actions have helped to strengthen my self-confidence and self-efficacy. Lastly, I have never let myself shy away from doing that which drives my anxiety and impostor syndrome because that is adding fuel to the fire. You must find the water that will put it out instead- in my case, the positive experiences I’ve had, the amazing people I’ve met along the way, and recognizing the meaningful impact I have had on the world.
Looking in Hindsight and Advice to the Future
If I could go back ten years, there are some things that I wish I would have known or done differently. First, the realization that there are many different paths to many different outcomes: I wish I would have known that there are interests and there are skills and that those can be very different from each other but can be readily intertwined in many different jobs. While I do not regret the path I carved out for myself (I am actually very proud of it), I would have been more patient and less pressured.
Second, I wish I would have known to reach out to professors for research opportunities or internships during my undergraduate. Being a first-generation US college student, I did not know that I could have sought out internships like the Mount Sinai International Program during my undergraduate and would have reaped the benefits of mentorship and networking much earlier in my career.
My advice to others in similar career paths would be to not shy away from contacting professors whose research you find interesting, or alumni whose advice you seek on potential career paths. Most, if not all of the people you approach will be more than happy to speak with you and share their stories. And one never knows who will serve as a mentor and in what way. I would also advise others to say “yes” to each and every opportunity that comes your way because there will almost always be something to take home. Lastly, I would advise others to not worry about forming the perfect or most straightforward path- just follow your interests, curiosity, and strengths, and the path will shape itself.
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Dr. Luz Claudio is an environmental health scientist, mother and consultant, originally from Puerto Rico. She is a tenured professor of environmental medicine and public health. Luz recently published her first book: How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide. Dr. Claudio has internship programs and resources for young scientists. Opinions expressed in this blog are solely her own and may not reflect her employer's views.