January 4, 2022 | Erin Bluvas, email@example.com
Doctoral candidate Katie Lynn employs a socioecological lens to her studies and research.
“Think of it as One Health – the connection between human, animal and environmental health – and then break down the environment component into not only the physical place we live in but the social and political spaces as well,” Lynn says. “These factors influence what resources we have access to – such as clean water, sanitation and healthcare – and what behaviors we engage in, like hand washing and going to the doctor.”
Lynn zeroed in on the environmental/sociological aspect of One Health while earning a master’s degree at the College of Charleston in her hometown. The environmental studies program was interdisciplinary in nature, and one of her courses explored political ecology and environmental governance. Taught by her mentor, Annette Watson, the class helped her understand how power structures, resource distribution and environmental health tie to human health and disease.
Mentorship has been an extremely important part of my graduate research experience, and Dr. Nolan has provided me with incredibly rich and diverse training that has put me on the path towards achieving my career goals.
-Katie Lynn, Ph.D. in Epidemiology student
The intersectionality of Lynn’s socioecological approach made her particularly interested in neglected tropical diseases because they affect the most vulnerable populations with the fewest resources. Another mentor, Brian Bossak, introduced Lynn to Chagas disease – a topic that would become the focus of her master’s thesis and much of her work at UofSC.
Only found in the Americas, Chagas is a vector-borne disease transmitted by the kissing bug and primarily affects impoverished, rural areas in Latin America. As a neglected tropical disease, Chagas is understudied and not well known. So when Lynn met one of the few Chagas disease experts in the country, she had to work with her.
Melissa Nolan had just accepted her first academic appointment as an assistant professor in the Arnold School’s Department of Epidemiology and Biostatics, and she invited Lynn to join her Laboratory of Vector Borne and Zoonotic Diseases. Together, they studied Trichomoniasis, GI parasitic infections, and, of course, Chagas disease – making multiple trips to El Salvador where Nolan has a long-term partnership with the Ministry of Health and the University of El Salvador.
Within a year, Lynn had enrolled in the Ph.D. in Epidemiology program. In addition to their neglected tropical disease research, the infectious disease experts have played an essential role in battling the COVID-19 pandemic at the university and community/state levels. They have contributed to UofSC’s response efforts, led surveillance and disease severity assessments for the state and researched mother-to-infant transmission.
“Mentorship has been an extremely important part of my graduate research experience, and Dr. Nolan has provided me with incredibly rich and diverse training that has put me on the path towards achieving my career goals,” Lynn says. “Other graduate students in my cohort have also been a strong source of mentorship and support through this process. Everyone comes from a different area of expertise and to be able to discuss our future aspirations and project ideas together, to give and receive feedback, and to walk through this challenging process together has really been a blessing.”
Working abroad has its challenges of course, but the experience has been incredibly fruitful and rewarding.
-Katie Lynn, Ph.D. in Epidemiology student
The team returned to El Salvador again in May of 2021, where Lynn spent the fall semester. In addition, Lynn is a graduate assistant for the Trachoma Control Program at The Carter Center. She will return in May to help the study team until she completes her dissertation on arboviral infections during pregnancy and childhood.
“Working abroad has its challenges of course, but the experience has been incredibly fruitful and rewarding,” says Lynn, who already has 16 peer-reviewed publications to her name. “We have an amazing team, and our collaborators at the University of El Salvador are wonderful to work with. We are starting one project and have four others in the works right now, so we are continuing to broaden our international collaboration to conduct some really meaningful research.”