Student Spotlight


Natalie first came to HSPH as a research assistant for the prostate cancer epidemiology team.  She is now finishing up her master’s degree in cancer epidemiology and is excited to continue her time at HSPH this coming fall as a doctoral student!

Natalie spoke very highly of her academic and research experiences at HSPH. When asked about her most rewarding experiences, Natalie reflected on moments where concepts she had learned continued to layer onto each other and fall into place. This occurred not only in classes like EPI247, but also outside of the classroom in journal clubs and conversations with peers. She suggests that incoming students focus on learning and taking courses that incorporate various aspects of epidemiology (e.g., methods and policy), and try not to get too bogged down by all of the work and assessments. The cancer epidemiology courses are fantastic settings for those interested in cancer to practice their epidemiologic expertise in conjunction with their interests.

She was also enthusiastic about the connections she has made with her classmates and faculty as well as all of the fantastic opportunities there are to get involved in the HSPH and Epi Department communities.  Natalie’s cohort is a tight-knit group. One of the highlights of Natalie’s time as a second year student was when classmates sang “Happy Birthday” to her during a class.  Natalie has been involved in multiple student groups, and she recently helped to bring back “Reel Epi,” a student group that hosts screenings of movies with epidemiology themes for the HSPH community. She highly recommends that every student take the time to go to events and journal clubs to meet others and cultivate professional relationships and friendships. It may seem like there’s never enough time, but it’s worth it.

Interview by Mollie Barnard (MS2 candidate in the Epi Dept.)
April 2014


Marcelle Dougan is a current fifth year doctoral student in epidemiology studying life-course exposures and endometrial cancer risk. Originally from Sierra Leone, Marcelle trained as a chemical engineer. Looking for career change, she decided on epidemiology after reading an article about the field and finding that it combined her interests in basic science and public health practice.

During her time at HSPH, one of Marcelle’s favorite courses was Analysis of Case-Control, Cohort, and Other Epidemiologic Data (EPI 204), taught by Dr. Joel Schwartz, where students have the opportunity to put the epidemiologic theory and analysis methods learned in previous courses into practice. Because time at HSPH will pass quickly, Marcelle advises that students plan their semesters carefully so that they are able to take those classes that interest them most. She also recommends that students work and interact with faculty from different disciplines and to keep in mind that even those working at other universities can be great resources.

Regarding preparation for the qualifying exams, Marcelle’s advice is simple: stay positive and believe in yourself. Forming a study group also provides important support and an opportunity to discuss concepts. Marcelle adds that the oral exam–usually taken in the third doctoral year–is where everything comes together. It is a great opportunity to combine theory with practice, using what has been learned in courses. Although developing a research plan can be difficult, it is important to remember that doctoral work is the beginning of a career, not the end.

Nearing the completion of her degree, Marcelle says that she will most remember the friends that she has made as well as the support from her peers. After graduation, she will continue to conduct epidemiologic research.

Interview by Claire Pernar (ScD candidate in the Epi Dept.)
April 2014


Julia Udesky is a second year masters student in the Epidemiology Department. Julia’s interest in cancer epidemiology was spurred through her experience volunteering in the pediatric oncology ward in a hospital in New York City. After working as a Research Coordinator for a few years, Julia decided to complete a Masters Degree in epidemiology in order to further explore her academic interests and take her career to the next level. She now does prostate cancer research alongside Jennifer Rider, ScD, in the cancer epidemiology department.

Julia Udesky and Megan Diamond

Julia Udesky and Megan Diamond

At the Harvard School of Public Health, Julia’s favorite courses were in cancer epidemiology. She particularly enjoyed Infections & Cancer, where students are encouraged to explore the interaction of communicable diseases and cancer. More broadly, Julia has really appreciated how frequently guest lecturers are incorporated into courses at HSPH. She has found that guest lecturers are a great networking tool and that they are very eager to interact with the students. She would tell future students to not be hesitant to approach them for advice or follow-up questions- you never know what opportunities could come from it!

In addition to her schoolwork, Julia volunteers as a tutor at a local school in Roxbury, Boston, an opportunity she learned about at HSPH. Volunteering with the students has made her feel more connected to The Harvard School of Public Health and Boston as a whole. Julia is excited to graduate, as she is looking forward to applying the knowledge and skills she has learned in the last two years.

Interview by Megan Diamond (MS2 candidate in the Epi Dept.)
April 2014


Rebecca Graff is currently a fifth year doctoral candidate in cancer epidemiology focusing on molecular subtypes of prostate cancer. She discovered her interest in epidemiology through her quantitative background. After working in market research, she decided to apply her interest in statistics to an area that she found more interesting, and started the doctoral program in epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). As a doctoral candidate she has enjoyed the epidemiology methods curriculum, the Infections and Cancer course taught by Jennifer Rider, ScD, and the Advanced Cancer Epidemiology Seminar taught by Rulla Tamimi, ScD.  Not only has she enjoyed the engaging academic coursework at HSPH, but she has also appreciated her interactions with fellow students. It’s this collaboration that helped her get through the challenging experience of the written exam.

As advice for new students, Rebecca noted the importance of finding a good study group where you feel comfortable to ask questions and less anxious about the exam.  In addition to her positive experiences with classmates, Rebecca has also enjoyed the support and guidance she has received from researchers at HSPH. For new students, she stressed the value of having an open, communicative relationship with their advisor, and the benefit of learning from the expertise of faculty members.  For example, she noted the utility in finding a helpful committee for the oral exam that can transition to your thesis committee. After graduation Rebecca will be a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at UCSF where her research will focus on cancer genetics.

Interview by Erin E. Onstad, MPH (ScD candidate in the Epi Dept.)
March 2014