September 28, 2015 | Erin Bluvas, email@example.com
Yong-Moon (“Mark”) Park graduated from the Arnold School of Public Health in August with 78 peer-reviewed publications to his name and a couple dozen more in progress. It’s a staggering number for any recent graduate, but this isn’t Park’s first graduate degree, and his passion for research began long before he arrived in South Carolina.
Park, who now has two master’s degrees, a Doctor of Medicine and two Doctor of Philosophy degrees, is no stranger to hard work. He was a public health physician and then an assistant professor of preventive medicine in his native South Korea, but he didn’t let his previous success keep him from taking advantage of his opportunities at the Arnold School. Park did not waste a minute of his time at the University of South Carolina, vigorously building his research experience while earning a Ph.D. in Epidemiology.
The Arnold School’s reputation for its strong research programs is what attracted Park to the university in the first place. “In addition to deepening my knowledge of epidemiology, I wanted to participate in studying the association of lifestyle-related factors, such as nutrition and physical activity, with metabolic diseases,” he says. “The Arnold School has many faculty members who are experts in this field.”
More specifically, Park’s research interests center on prevention of type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, hypertension, nutritional epidemiology, genetic epidemiology, clinical epidemiology, health promotion and cancer screening. While his research projects include too many to list, one in particular stands out for Park. During an independent study with Xuemei Sui, assistant professor of exercise science, Park had the opportunity to analyze data from the world-renowned Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study. His research examined the impact of cardiorespiratory fitness on age-related trajectories of lipids and lipoproteins and earned him an Early Investigator Travel Award to the American Heart Association’s EPI/Lifestyle 2015 Scientific Sessions as well as a lead-author publication in the Journal of American College of Cardiology.
Park believes that this vast research experience helped him get selected for his next role as a Postdoctoral IRTA (Intramural Research Training Award) Fellow at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Raleigh, N.C. “In parallel with my coursework, I made an effort to publish as much of my work as possible,” he says.
Strong mentors help as well. Park’s primary mentor is Anwar Merchant, a professor in the Arnold School’s Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, who chaired Park’s dissertation committee and supervised him in his graduate research assistant and teaching assistant roles. “I learned a lot from Dr. Merchant in terms of preparing for grant applications and applying advanced epidemiologic concepts to real data,” he says. “He also guided me to apply for postdoc positions and helped me get through my tight (i.e., three-year) Ph.D. program.”
In his new position as an NIH Fellow, Park will research the relationship between metabolic disease and breast cancer and the impact of lifestyle-related and environmental factors on this relationship. Long-term, he plans to conduct research at government or university research institutions.
Park clearly has the right background to meet these goals. To future students, he recommends that they remain focused on their coursework but also learn how they can bolster their career paths by applying that knowledge and building their research experience. “Because epidemiology is a field of applied science, I think that the application of epidemiologic knowledge in the real work is very important to strengthening the role of the epidemiologist,” says Park.