Student Spotlight February 2012
Caroline is an outstanding student. She was the top student in her Master of Public Health class and won numerous awards. She was selected to receive a very prestigious Environmental Protection Agency "STAR" award to support her PhD studies. It is a pleasure to have her in our department.
David J Tollerud, MD, MPH, Professor and Chair, Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences
Caroline Chan received a BS in Biology from the University of Notre Dame in 1984. She spent the next 20 years in the school of life, raising her children. She enrolled in the School of Public Health and Information Science’s inaugural Master in Public Health class, graduating in 2007. Subsequently, she has been pursuing her PhD in Public Health, Environmental Health Sciences.
Specific areas of research (how you chose this research, why it interested you):
My background and interests have always been in the environmental sciences. Through life experience, however, I began to see how powerful policy can be in people’s lives—whether it’s a warning label on an over-the-counter product that prevents an injury, a water quality standard that prevents GI illnesses, or access to services that allows someone to detect cancer early—policies change lives. I wanted to look at how science can inform policy.
My specific area of research is looking at mercury in the environment and how it impacts populations. I’m looking at the big picture: from emission source, to its movement into waterways and bioaccumulation in fish, and finally to human exposure. By looking at the most important factors that determine how much mercury accumulates in fish, and the differences in exposure between populations, we can begin to determine what policies might be effective in protecting people while reducing the amount of mercury in the environment.
What was your favorite part of the graduate school experience?
My favorite part of being a graduate student is the “aha!” moments. Whether it’s from learning something new in the classroom, the result of unanticipated data results, or the synthesis of several ideas into something new, learning something unexpected is a great reward.
What do you feel is the greatest challenge that graduate students face and how have you dealt with this challenge?
The most difficult thing is finding the balance between the demands of school and the demands of life. I’m not sure anyone gets it completely right, but I try to prioritize, and never procrastinate!
One word: hectic! I’ve been married to Joe for 27 years. We have six children: Maya is getting married next fall; Stephen is working for a local corporation but is applying to med school; David is working on his Master’s in hydrology and ecology; Nick is a freshman undergrad with the goal of becoming a physical therapist; Angeline is our special needs high-schooler who loves horseback riding and swimming; and Michael is in 8th grade and is quite the accomplished gymnast. Don’t ask me if I have free time!
A talent you have always wanted: To be able to sing (on key!)
Favorite book: The Hobbit
Favorite quote: “I think that people want peace so much that one of these days government had better get out of their way and let them have it.” –Dwight D. Eisenhower
Role Model: My mother. She has taught me how to endure.
Pet Peeve: Grammar mistakes
If you weren’t in graduate school, what would you be doing now? Sleeping.