Written by JingJing Zhu, medical student liaison, Global Health Student Advisory Committee, Global Health Center at the Institute for Public Health
The Washington University in St. Louis community encompasses many talented researchers of diverse academic interests and disciplines. As a member of the Global Health Student Advisory Committee, I recently spoke with Lindsay Underhill, PhD, MPH, a global environmental health researcher and instructor of medicine. Her research focuses on the implementation and effectiveness of built environment, behavioral, and health systems interventions aiming to reduce environmental exposures and chronic disease in the U.S. and global south.
Q: Can you describe your career path?
My interest in public health began as an interdisciplinary Biology and Anthropology major at Wesleyan University, where I was able to explore my fascination with both natural science and the social and environmental factors influencing population health. This led me to pursue an MPH in environmental health at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and a PhD in environmental epidemiology and exposure at the Boston University School of Public Health. Throughout this training, I was lucky to work with mentors who emphasized the importance of addressing equity and environmental justice at every research stage, including concept generation, analysis, and results dissemination. For my PhD, I collaborated with the National Institute of Standards and Technology to study the impacts of energy-efficient building retrofits on energy consumption, air pollution exposure, and health in low-income multifamily housing using building simulation models. Additionally, I spent three years in Peru as a project manager and co-investigator of several studies funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including a pediatric asthma and urban air pollution study and a randomized controlled clean cooking intervention trial in Peru, Guatemala, India and Rwanda. In 2021, I was excited to join the Washington University School of Medicine faculty as an instructor and funded trainee in Dissemination and Implementation Science. In this role, I am a co-investigator of a randomized controlled trial to assess the implementation and effectiveness of a community health worker managed strategy to improve hypertension care in the Peruvian Andes. I also study the influence of geographic factors on exposure, health and the accessibility of health care services.
Q: Why did you choose your career path?
Following my early research experiences in Peru, I became committed to a career in global environmental health research. The science is fascinating, the collaborations with global researchers are energizing. The research on social and environmental determinants of global health is much needed and rewarding, and the travel is educational and exciting.
Q: Do you have any advice or tips for students interested in global health?
Spend a significant time outside your home country! (A week or month won’t cut it.) Look for funding that values global research and long-term participation in on-the-ground field activities (e.g., from the NIH Fogarty Institute). In particular, spend significant time at project sites to 1) better understand the extent of local project management, resources, and technical expertise that is required to conduct human subjects research, and 2) take the opportunity to listen and learn from local leadership, find context-appropriate ways to contribute, and build long-term partnerships.