Finding Public Health Research Opportunities | Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis
MPH Student Aishwarya Nagar
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Finding Public Health Research Opportunities

One of the highlights of my graduate public health education at the Brown School so far has been learning about the incredible research projects with which my peers and professors are engaged.  

As early as Orientation Week, I found myself at an information fair that featured the many research centers and student organizations at the Brown School. The fair was an exciting opportunity to learn first-hand about For the Sake of All's work with improving the health & wellbeing of African Americans in St. Louis, the Institute for Public Health's multifaceted and collaborative public health projects, and the Center for Public Health Systems Science's work devising sustainable solutions to public health problems - among other remarkable centers and research prospects.

Public health students who are interested in engaging with research may find themselves asking one fundamental question early in their academic journey: how do I find research opportunities at the Brown School? 

Fortunately, there are numerous avenues to help students learn more about these opportunities. Here is a list of five considerations, with insight from current MPH students, faculty and staff. 

1. Identify Your Research Interests

Before you begin the process of exploring research opportunities and prospects, it is important to have a preliminary understanding of your interests. "Students who are pursuing research or practicum opportunities should take some time to discover what it is that they are passionate about, and use this information to guide them towards an industry or an organization that parallels their interests," suggests Seif Nasir, a second year MPH student

2. Utilize Career Services and Symplicity

Career Services at the Brown School is an incredibly valuable resource for personal and professional development, and can be especially useful when searching for research assistantships. Current students have access to an online portal called Symplicity, which lists numerous part-time job postings. "We post opportunities in Symplicity when research centers and faculty members send them to Career Services. You can search for research assistant positions at any time, and the protal will send out email announcements at least once a week with new opportunities," says Lee Koelliker, Director of Career Services. Students can also schedule an appointment with the office to learn more.

Professor Amy Eyler, Associate Professor of Public Health and Deputy Director of the Prevention Research Center, recommends checking Symplicity often. "Keep your eye out for opportunities. Grants and projects are funded at all different times during the year!" 

Kate MacLachlan, a first year MPH student, concurs: "I found my opportunity by routinely checking Simplicity."

Additionally, Orientation Week features a Part-Time Job Fair where certain research centers may advertise student research assistant positions.

3. Get to Know the Brown School's Faculty and Research Centers

Networking with faculty members and research centers is another valuable way to learn more about research assistantships and opportunities. 

"Feel free to reach out to faculty and centers via email. Communicate your interest in the work they are doing, and try and set-up an advising appointment or informational interview to make the personal connection," recommends Lee. 

"Good students who interact with professors in and out of class will be the ones that will come to mind when a research position opens up," says Professor Eyler.

Current students are encouraged to actively reach out to faculty & staff working at the Brown School's research centers. 

"If you are interested in pursuing research opportunities at the Brown School, then start by looking into difference research centers or which projects are being conducted so that you can get a good sense of what you might actually do" recommends Christina Arzate, a second year MPH student. "If you find a center or professor doing something interesting, just reach out. Professors and staff are all really friendly and if they are not looking for anyone at the moment, let them know your interests anyway in case they need someone in the future." 

Kate agrees, saying, "It's also important to talk to your professors from class about their research interests and consult with them to see if they know others working on research topics of interest."

4. Attend Seminars, Workshops, and Events

The Brown School hosts numerous personal and professional development seminars and workshops, often organized by Career Services. Students are encouraged to sign up for these, and to also attend various events and presentations that are hosted by a research center or faculty of interest. "Make sure to introduce yourself," says Lee, "the key is to help them know who you are, what your interests are, and how you align with their work."

5.  A Handful of Other Recommendations:

When networking with faculty members and research centers, students are encouraged to identify the needs of a research project and market hard and soft skills that may contribute positively to an opportunity. "Some projects are very quantitative, which requires analytical knowledge and skills, but others are broad and need smart and eager students who are willing to learn new skills," suggests Professor Eyler. She adds, "some soft skills that we value at the Prevention Research Center are teamwork and positivity. Another is professionalism; being dependable, on-time, and responsive are all great skills to practice as a research assistant."

Students may also learn a lot from exploring other resources. "Students shouldn't be afraid to reach out to second-year students or their faculty advisors, who can provide them with valuable insight and guidance regarding practicum, research opportunities, or careers in public health," says Seif.

These are simply a handful of ways for students to learn more about public health research opportunities at the Brown School. Incoming and prospective students may also benefit from applying for a Masters Research Fellowship, which provides a rich, hands-on learning experience working directly with prominent research centers and distinguished faculty members at the Brown School!