So you want to get your capstone published?

I started my MPH in July 2014 in the Epidemiology/Biostatistics concentration at JHSPH. As part of the concentration, we had to do a capstone which was a research report. We were expected to give two “Research in Progress” presentations with the final capstone presentation before graduation in May.

The vast majority of the people in my concentration were clinicians or medical students.

Here is an approximate timeline of my capstone:

September 2014 – complete CITI training and get added to the IRB

Novemberish 2014 – First Research in Progress Presentation which is a 5 minute presentation for the concentration about your research (had started to do the data analysis, but not a whole lot. Just frequencies at this point)

December 2015 – Start doing the literature review

January 2015 – Camp Capstone during break

March 2014 – Second Research in Progress Presentation – more analysis and indeptb

May 1st 2015 – Biostats 624 project due and Capstone paper

May 9th 2015 – Capstone Presentation

Between May and November there was lots of editing back and forth. Mostly retooling of the results and discussion. I had to turn a 22 page paper into a 3000 word document. My Advisor felt that if there was a lot of internal review, there would be less for the reviewers to criticize

November 16th, 2015 – submitted edited finished manuscript to STD. The co-authors had to sign off on the submission and fill out conflict of interest forms.

November 19th, 2015 – had some formatting issues (too many references, not having line numbers on every page, etc).

December 26th, 2015 – Accepted with minor revisions

January 26th, 2016  – resubmitted minor revisions to the journal.

January 28th, 2016 – returned with a note about the footnote

January 29th, 2016 – accepted for publication.

**This review by this journal was very quick. Your mileage with other journals may vary.

General Advice:

For the lit review:

  • make a spreadsheet, fill it in with what you like and don’t like.
  • If your advisor is a leader in the field, ask them if they have colleagues that have published recent relevant papers
  • look at papers that are cited in other papers in your lit review, those are probably good springboards


  • do yourself a favor and get a reference manager (endnote, mendeley, refworks, ref manager)
  • you may be able to get an older version of endnote or another program
  • It makes changing and updating references very easy
  • using the google scholar toolbar button to import references and then directly add them to your reference manager


  • Have other people (scientific, non scientific) read it?
  • Have people who have no idea what your paper is about read it. Does it make sense? Does it flow?
  • Print it out and read it aloud

Other advice

  • Feel free to let it sit and come back to it with fresh eyes
  • Sometimes the paper can stagnate and you can get tired of it


  • Pick the three most important points from your results and say how it is or is not concurrent with the literature
  • then state your limitations
  • Dr. Keri Althoff at JHSPH  has a great set of resources on this

I plan to update this as soon as I hear more with a more accurate timeline of start to published. Thank you to everyone up to this point for their love and support.

Musings of a Slow Runner

So if you follow this blog, you will know that I started running in April, and I’m not very fast. I keep at it though, and have achieved personal records in all of my races, but when you’re running 12-13 minute miles, it seems easier to drop time.

It reminds me of when I was on swim team in high school. I always dropped time. I was slow to begin with and I kept reaching personal bests. I was still the worst and slowest swimmer on the team.

Cut to the Zoo Zoom.  (8k or 4.98 miles) My longest race to date. I trained with my BF and my friend Anna and worked up from 3.1 miles to 5 miles by doing long runs on Saturdays and increasing them by half a mile every week until I got to 5. By the time I had run the Zoo Zoom I had run 5 miles twice during training runs, albeit without the crazy elevation.

I get to the zoo zoom and it’s 40 degrees out. Some of the runners are wearing tank tops and running shorts. I’m not. I have two shirts on and a pair of yoga tights that don’t seem to want to stay up.

The race starts (I never seem to hear the horn or gun because I’m too far back) and people start jogging towards the starting line. I get passed…by a ton of people.

Once I get to the 2 mile mark, I hear the announcer remark that the first finishers are crossing the finish line. My first thought is: Wow, I’m really slow. I just try to keep running.

One of the most annoying things when you are a slow runner is when people run past you and then start walking. When you run next to them they start running and pass you. Then they start walking again, you run up to them and then they start running, and pass you.

The most challenging part of this course was a very steep hill after 3.5 miles. I tried to run up it as fast as I could but had to stop to catch my breath once I reached the top. At this point I kept running. Running slow, but running.

During the last mile we are informed by the race volunteers that the kids from the mile long fun run are coming. I get passed by about 20 kids and their parents.

I finish the race with a personal best of 1:05:10, which was a drop of 6 minutes from my fastest 5 mile run. I’m pretty happy with that.

I guess the things that bother me most about being a slow runner are the following:

  1. Going on “fun runs” and being the last one to arrive because you are not racking up at least 20 miles per week. Or just because you are slow.
  2. Getting passed by everyone
  3. Running the same pace as people who are walking the same course
  4. feeling sad looking at other runners’ posts about their times and how you wish you could be as fast as them.

I’m lucky enough to have my friend Anna who runs 9 minute miles who is willing to run with me, and a BF who has very long legs who runs 10 minute miles to start with me and then wait for me until I finish. At this point I would sell my soul to get down to a 10 minute mile consistent pace.

I’m also lucky that I have women in my office who motivate me. One who has done three marathons, and my boss who runs all the time.

I signed up for another 5 miler in December, and then my big goal is to continue running through the winter or continuing to be more active in general. Hopefully I can join a 10k training group or something to try and get in some speedwork or improve my technique.

For me running is really about my health, and doing something that I never thought I could do. It’s a fun way to spend time with friends and to meet new people, and really, all you need is a pair of shoes.

Population Vs. Individual Health

Last week I went to the doctor for an exam. He brought up the idea of population health vs. individual health.

Disclaimer: I’m not a medical doctor. You probably know this by now but I just want to reiterate that.

As a public health practitioner, our governing bodies, WHO, CDC, state and city health departments create guidelines that are population health based. The population health initiative in question during my doctor’s exam was a Pap smear. For my age group, Pap tests are recommended every three years if they are negative. If I had a history of ovarian or cervical cancer in my family, I would probably want to be screened more often. These guidelines are generally in place to scoop up people who have fallen out of regular checkups or medical care.

One of the most contentious cases of population vs. individual health is the v-w0rd. Yep, you guessed it…vaccines.

Vaccines are a fantastic population health measure. The smallpox vaccine helped eradicate the disease. The MMR and polio vaccines help prevent once deadly childhood diseases, and the HPV vaccine can prevent some of the HPV strains that cause cervical cancer.

However, not everyone can have or want or agrees with vaccines. There are several categories.

  1. People who have medical contraindications to vaccines (suppressed immune systems, allergies to vaccine ingredients, etc)
  2. People who are opposed to a vaccine because of religious or personal exemptions.

I work in a hospital (not clinical personnel) where I was required to get a flu shot unless I filed for an exemption. I got my flu shot willingly realizing that it may not cover all of the flu strains and I realize that vaccines have limitations.

The recent measles outbreak in California last year illustrated what happens when people are not vaccinated and the disease is spread effectively through a theme park.

Another illustration of population vs individual health was the recent findings of red and processed meats being carcinogenic by the WHO. We’ve known for years that eating large amounts of red and processed meat is not good for you…that’s not a surprise. What surprised me is that some people were saying that the level of causality was similar to that of smoking and lung cancer.

Now, as anyone who has taken an Epidemiology class will tell you…It took a long time to establish that smoking indeed causes lung cancer.

This video explains how experiments work and how research is compiled to create these guidelines.

What the WHO did is conduct a systematic review and meta analysis looking at all of the cohort (long-term studies,) Randomized control trials, and other studies and opinions looking at the topic and found that these types of meat seem to be carcinogenic.

So Sara, what’s your point?

These guidelines are great for promoting general population health but may be ignored or avoided by individuals. Our job as public health practitioners is to encourage healthy behaviors and prevent diseases. If we keep creating sweeping guidelines, there may be lots of questions about if it applies to everyone in the general population or not. There will always be exceptions to rule.

What we should do as public health professionals is the following:

  1. Educate people about how the research was done and what it means to them
  2. Link people to services that can help them become more healthy
  3. Evaluate these new strategies to see if they are only panic inducing or actually effective measures.
  4. These guidelines and public health issues are in the spotlight and we should take advantage of this moment to encourage disease control and prevention

The dichotomy between these two topics is something I struggle with, but it encourages me to keep researching and learning to promote better public health practice.

Work Update

So I thought that I might post a bit of an update.

Since people can google my blog, I’m just going to write in very broad terms.

I have to admit that this is my first official 9 to 5 job. I worked part time in college, and then had 4 months of student teaching (which was more like 7-7), and Peace Corps was an entirely different animal. Peace corps involved 14 weeks of class 8-5:15, and then once I got to site I didn’t really have a schedule for the first year. My second year I was just teaching in the morning. I also always had a midweek break for when I would go to Ouahigouya on Thursdays for internet and other internet related work like grant review.

I feel very very green.

Getting an MPH gives you the theory and the basic knowledge but applying it and translating it to the workplace is the next step. During my practicum I worked on IRB amendments, but never wrote an IRB from scratch. We talked about ideal study designs but those are expensive and hard to implement in the “real world.”

Some of it relates to Peace Corps…my office works with different offices and stakeholders and they want different things. Our job is to harmonize what they want and to do it the best we can and within a budget.

One of the things I struggle with the most is the work-life balance. I’m not very good at this.

Since I started running, I try and run a few times a week after work. Once I get back I’m really tired and want to eat and go to bed, but I’m glad I went out and did it.

I also signed up for two five mile races. Eeep! One in November and one in December. Hopefully those will go well. That is my longest distance yet, and I just worked up to a 4 mile run last Saturday.

It’s been almost 2 months but I still feel very new.

Every day is a challenge and I really enjoy what I am doing. That’s what matters (I guess).


A Rant…you have been warned.

Ever since I got back from Italy (for a conference and family vacation,) my AC in my apartment has not been working. After two visits by a tech, a hole in my tub, and failed attempts to cool things down…nothing worked. I’m pretty upset about the whole thing.

Some may say, “Well, Sara, you lived in BF with no AC and survived 2 hot seasons and 2 mini hot seasons.” This may be true, but in BF, no one had AC. Everyone was suffering through the heat and your body got used to it. When it was too hot, no one did any work and nothing got done. I spent most of those days sleeping and trying to stay as cool as I could.

What’s hard in Americaland is that everyone else has working AC. Coping with no AC is worse when everyone else has what you don’t.

In BF I would go to Ouahigouya, my regional capital about once a week to mentally recharge my batteries, eat some yummy food, and get some internet.

Also, in BF, I was not paying for my house. I was not paying for any services because I didn’t have any. No electricity, no running water, nothing. Everything seems worse when you are paying for it and not getting what you are supposed to be paying for.

I always said to new volunteers: “Have some coping strategies, then when those run out, find new ones.” I’ve been trying to live by that ideal the past 48 hours and treating myself to things I enjoy even in the heat.

All I can do is wait. As we used to say in Peace Corps…this too shall pass.

So I ran a 5k

Apologies for such a late post…I drafted this a while ago and just put it up now

So if you have been following this blog you probably know that I was going to run my first 5k ever.

Well, (on June 28th 2015)  I ran it, and survived! I never considered myself as a runner, but I had a great team of people supporting me and I did a training program.

I started running at the beginning of April after a visit home coupled with some motivation from friends got me interested in running a 5k.

The Baltimore Women’s Classic is a great first 5k for anyone to do it, and they have their own training programs to help beginner runners like me to get started and train properly.

I did one of the Charm City Run training programs and they prepared us for almost everything except the start. I started too far back and had to weave my way through walkers and my chip time was 2 minutes faster than the gun time. So the lesson is to start further up.

My time was about 40 minutes which was better than any of my training runs. The last run I did before the actual 5k was in Patterson Park which had more hills than the actual course.

Instead of having team t-shirts I made crazy neon glittery headbands for everyone on our team

I signed up for my next 5k in October for the Baltimore Running Festival and to try and keep running even when it starts getting cold. I think I would like to get up to a 10K if possible.

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Our team before and after!

Hopefully I can keep this up, and the more races I can do with included swag the better!

What happens now?

This has been a question that has been bubbling in my head for the past few days/weeks. Two weeks ago I got my MPH and I’m still plugging away.

One task is refining my capstone presentation and paper examining correlates of self-resported Sexually Transmitted Infections among Men who have sex with men in Burkina Faso

(Watch the video presentation here!)

In order for this to be remotely considered for publication, it needs to be sent to the researchers in Burkina Faso as it is also their dataset.

In other news I have been applying for jobs. I’m not going to say much about this because of the visibility of this blog. So far my status post-MPH is uncertain. I try to apply to a few jobs that interest me every day, and hope that I hear back. Thankfully the long Peace Corps application process has been great preparation.

Ideally I want a job that combines research and practice, that I can hold on to for at least a few years, and then apply to PhD or DrPH programs. I’m not sure about working internationally and I have mixed feelings about it.

To me, good international development involves effective initial training of host country nationals and then some monitoring by the outside organization, and then letting the locals run the program.

As for the moment, I want to stay in Baltimore. I love it here, I love the community, and I’m in a committed relationship. Also, it seems that if you want to do public health, Balt/Wash or Atlanta are the places to be.

Looking forward to more applying, waiting, and post-MPH capstoning. I’m trying to create more structured days so I feel more productive. Without my school schedule, motivation is hard and sometimes I envy my boyfriend who has a real job and a more structured lifestyle.

As one of my wise BF Peace Corps buddies always says

“This too shall pass”