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Q&A with doctoral candidate Adrienne Smith

Adrienne Smith

Name: Adrienne Smith, MPH ‘19
Degree Program: PhD(c) in Dept. of Health Promotion & Behavioral Sciences
Fellowship: APHA; HIV/AIDS Section Susan L. Fulmer Fellowship

Adrienne Smith, doctoral candidate in the Dept. of Health Promotion & Behavioral Sciences (HPBS), discusses her fellowship with the American Public Health Association (APHA), shares how she became interested in HIV/AIDS research, and offers advice to fellow students.

How did you get interested in the field of public health and HIV/AIDS research?

My interest in public health peaked during my undergraduate degree. I was taking a course called the “Social Context of African American Health,” and it opened my eyes to how health goes beyond individual factors such as diet and exercise. From that, I changed my major to public health and through coursework developed an interest in HIV/AIDS research. I was able to complete my internship at UNIFIED, an HIV/AIDS clinic, and I’ve been doing this work ever since. Since coming to UofL I’ve been fortunate to be under the guidance of great faculty who do HIV/AIDS research such as Dr. Kerr; being his student, GA, and having him as my chair has allowed me to deepen my interest and knowledge in HIV/AIDS research.

In what ways do you think your SPHIS degree and education helped you prepare and secure the APHA fellowship? 

Given the social justice emphasis in this department [HBPS], I’ve been well equipped to build professionally on how social justice intersects with public health research, which is a personal passion of mine. I’ve been allowed to explore non-traditional research areas of public health, specifically how mass incarceration impacts HIV/AIDS vulnerability. The program, coupled with the faculty who have allowed me to grow as a researcher, made me a competitive candidate with a unique approach to research. When I was placed with my mentor, he told me I was his top pick of those who applied because of my interests and achievements thus far. None of that would have been possible without being a part of SPHIS.

Help give readers an idea of what your day-to-day activities and responsibilities will be.

This is a mentoring/research fellowship so I’m able to develop my professional skills related to research. I meet with my mentor weekly to make strides towards our research project which will assess PrEP awareness among justice-involved young adults and their partners. The goal is to continue exploring ways to address HIV vulnerability among this population, specifically for African Americans who are disproportionately affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Though my mentor is working with me on this, I’m acting as the PI [project investigator] on the project and gaining experience on how to lead a research project with a team of graduate and undergraduate students. I will also be presenting my research with my mentor at APHA in November 2022.

What advice would you give new students just beginning their public health journey? 

Do what you’re passionate about not what you think others think is the most important public health concern. We all have our own unique interests, and that’s what makes public health work. I’m genuinely excited about my work even when I’m tired and a little overwhelmed. My passion keeps me on track and ready to work, I’m certain I wouldn’t be where I’m at today if I was focusing on something I wasn’t truly passionate about.

I’d also say you must be your biggest advocate; you can’t wait for opportunities to fall in your lap. If someone is working on something you’re interested in or you see an opportunity of interest, don’t be afraid to make that connection or apply. You never know what that may lead to!

What advice would you give a student getting ready to graduate with a public health degree? 

Be bold! Don’t be afraid to push the tempo when it comes to public health and be confident in what you’ve learned throughout your program. Keep connections with your cohort and faculty, and network with those outside of your program as well. There are so many people doing amazing work, reach out to them!

Smith expects to complete her fellowship and graduate with a PhD in Public Health Sciences with a specialization in Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences in May 2023.

Connect with Adrienne Smith on LinkedIn.

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