August 8, 2022 | Erin Bluvas, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sabrina Karim’s August graduation marks a major milestone for the two-time Arnold School alumna (Master of Public Health in Epidemiology, 2017; Ph.D. in Epidemiology, 2022). The achievement is more than a celebration of the physician notching a 4.0 in both programs, but another step towards overcoming the personal challenges she has faced and pursuing her passion for improving maternal and child health.
Karim’s master’s program introduced her to epidemiology and important mentors in the field: Jihong Liu, Angela Liese and Linda Hazlett. It was also a time when she battled depression – a condition that became a focus for both her personal and professional lives.
This focus would be compounded while studying for her doctoral degree. During the second year of her program, Karim and her husband lost their infant daughter, Amelia, at two months and 17 days of age due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
“My whole perspective towards life, and especially towards my research, has changed,” she says. “I want to find answers and preventive measures to reduce the infant mortality rate. I know how it feels not to know the answer, and it motivates me to do my research passionately in epidemiology.”
After their tragic loss, the Bangladesh native zeroed in on maternal and child health with renewed intensity. Karim founded the Maternal and Child Health Student Association and began publishing academic papers in the field. Working with Liu and co-principal investigator/exercise science professor Sara Wilcox on the Health in Pregnancy and Postpartum (HIPP) Study, she identified three stable trajectories (i.e., mild-stable, moderate-stable, high stable) of depressive symptoms among women with overweight and obesity for her dissertation project.
Supported by her committee, which include Liu as chair as well as Wilcox and epidemiology/biostatistics professors Anwar Merchant and Bo Cai as members, Karim’s research found an association between elevated perceived stress at early pregnancy and moderate or high levels of depressive symptoms. The results also indicated that meeting physical activity guidelines during pregnancy reduced the odds of depressive symptoms at six months postpartum.
“Findings from this study suggest that women with higher depressive symptoms should be encouraged to receive mental health services,” Karim says. “Receiving services appears to reduce the odds of adverse birth outcomes, such as small for gestational age.”
To continue her training and education, Karim is now transitioning from a graduate assistant position into a postdoctoral fellowship with UofSC’s Institute for Families in Society. Her long-term goal is to continue her research on mental health, especially on perinatal depression and its impact on infant well-being.