A Postcard From: Jenisha Stapleton ’20

As an Undergraduate Summer Research Fellow at Fox Chase Cancer Center, I have been conducting epidemiological research in the Cancer Prevention and Control Program. I work specifically in a lab that conducts research that aims to better understand cancer disparities in populations of African ancestry. The principal investigator (my supervisor) is a cancer epidemiologist and specializes in the molecular and social epidemiology of cancers in the African diaspora. Together we designed the summer research project that I am currently undertaking. The goal is to assess the differences in cancer risk factors, risk behaviors and health-seeking patterns among the three black sub-groups of the African diaspora (U.S., African, and Caribbean origins) living in the Philadelphia County compared to those of their native countries using methods in statistical analysis, namely meta-analyses. Thus far, I have spent the majority of my time locating and abstracting data necessary for performing the meta-analysis. While I was initially overwhelmed with the amount of data I had to carefully examine, my commitment to the study has sustained through these tedious moments. My next step is to access the Philadelphia dataset and abstract the relevant data for comparative analysis. In addition to my primary project, I am also gaining exposure to epidemiology study designs and applications. I have been able to assist with recruiting and enrolling participants and collecting biospecimens for other objectives in the lab.

I was inspired to apply for this opportunity based on an experience last summer.  With support from the LILAC STEM in Society Fellowship, I returned home to intern with the Epidemiology Division of the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Health. I experienced how epidemiology is applied and how it informs public health strategies and communication.  After having conversations with my supervisor, an epidemiologist who had an extensive research background, my interest in participating in epidemiological or public health research was adequately stimulated. As a biology major, I was disappointed to learn that the department did not offer opportunities to engage in epidemiology. This, coupled with my desire to conduct research in this area, sufficiently motivated me to actively seek out this researcher, which resulted in this opportunity.

It has been a great learning experience! I am gaining skills in statistical analysis and exposure to study design which provides real world context of content taught in the Experimental Design and Statistics course I intend to take in the spring. In addition to learning and growing, I am grateful for the opportunity to receive mentorship and network with my supervisor and the lab staff. Their journeys to epidemiology and public health have informed my personal career path and have further influenced my decision to pursue research opportunities and also a Master of Public Health with a concentration in Epidemiology.

Jenisha Stapleton