Looking back and moving forward: Perspectives from a Summer Research Program alumna

Written by Momo Oyama, MD candidate, Washington University in St. Louis and alumna of the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program Public & Global Health Track

My interest in public health began three years ago, when I participated in the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program. Through the program, I had the opportunity to work under Dr. Mark Manary, a world-renowned expert in childhood malnutrition and founder of Project Peanut Butter, a nonprofit that produces ready-to-use therapeutic foods in local factories in sub-Saharan Africa (the African region south of the Sahara Desert) to treat severe malnutrition.

While I had experience working in research labs before, this was the first time I had a project of my own. Even though I had just joined the lab, I was entrusted with this project, which meant I had the freedom and responsibility to make my own decisions. To say I was overwhelmed would have been an understatement. However, as the weeks went by and I tackled one challenge to the next, I could feel myself growing more confident as a scientist-in-training.

In the two short months of the program, I learned how to work in a research team and collaborate with other researchers. I gave oral presentations to a U.S. Dairy Export Council representative and a research symposium taught me how to effectively communicate my findings.  I wrote the first draft of a manuscript, which was subsequently published in the Journal of Nutrition. None of this would have been possible without the support from Dr. Manary and the Institute for Public Health.

Three years later, I have just completed my first year of medical school at Washington University School of Medicine, and I am starting on a new research project with Dr. Hayley Friedman, a neonatologist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Building on my interest in public health, I will be working with Dr. Friedman to investigate outcomes of babies and their mothers who used opioids during their pregnancy. I am excited to study this intersection of public health and neonatology, and I am confident that the tools I learned during the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program will help me throughout this project and in future endeavors of my professional career.

To anyone who may be interested in participating in the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program, I say go for it! This program gives you the opportunity to be mentored by senior researchers who can be hard to reach on your own and fosters an environment for personal and professional growth. And who knows? You might discover the area of research that will become the foundation of your career!