Fellow Spotlight: Meet Pi-I Debby Lin
Meet Pi-I Debby Lin, ScD, a research fellow interested in investigating how environmental and dietary factors affect maternal and child health. Dr. Lin earned her doctoral degree from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in 2017, where she studied in the Department of Environmental Health.
In her work, she uses electronic medical records from PCORnet, prospective observational data from the Diabetes Prevention Program, and birth cohorts data from the Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program. In addition to her research, Dr. Lin serves on several committees within the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE), including the Students and New Researchers Network (SNRN), Communication Committee, and the Anti-Racism Task Force.
In this Spotlight, Dr. Lin discusses how she came to find the Institute, the impact she hopes her work will have, what inspires her research, and more.
Q: Tell us about your path to becoming a post-doctoral fellow at DPM. What was your journey like?
A: I did my doctoral program at the Department of Environmental Health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health from 2013-2017. I started to look for a job after I finished my dissertation defense. I only knew I want to stay in Boston and did not restrict myself to academic positions as I wanted to explore different career paths. Therefore, I looked for job postings everywhere, from professional societies like the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE) and EpiMonitor, to mainstream job posting sites. I found the job posting by DPM on Indeed.com. It was my first time learning about about DPM and I was really excited about this type of department, which integrates an academic institution with a health plan. I saw it as a great experience for me to explore a non-academic work setting while still being able to utilize my academic skills such as manuscript writing and data analysis. I applied to the job the opening offered by Dr. Jason Block to work on research using electronic health record from the National Patient-Centered Clinical Research Network (PCORnet). After rounds of interviews with the project managers, data query team, and Dr. Block, I got the job!
I worked with Dr. Block for one year until the end of the PCORnet project, and then I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Emily Oken (also in DPM) to study the cardiometabolic health outcomes associated with exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) to continue my post-doctoral fellowship.
I hope that my work can help people understand the extent to which environmental exposure to heavy metals and persistent chemicals, dietary intake and medication use can affect our long-term health outcomes, and identify behavioral patterns that can be modified or intervention strategy to reduce the impact of those exposures.
Q: What kind of research do you do? What sort of impact do you hope that it will make?
A: In a big picture, I take existing health data, such as from clinical trials, cohort studies, or electronic medical records, and apply epidemiological methods and biostatistical analysis to evaluate how potential environmental, dietary, or pharmacological risk factors could affect health outcomes across the lifecourse. In particular, most of my work has focused on vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, children, and the aging population. For example, I have studied the causal relationship between arsenic exposure and maternal diet on gestational weight gain of pregnant women and the birth weight of their children; evaluated the relationship between dietary intake and blood concentrations of several persistent environmental chemicals, including per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance, phthalate, and heavy metals; and used electronic health records to quantify the potential obesogenic effect of antibiotics in children.
I hope that my work can help people understand the extent to which environmental exposure to heavy metals and persistent chemicals, dietary intake and medication use can affect our long-term health outcomes, and identify behavioral patterns that can be modified or intervention strategies to reduce the impact of those exposures.
Q: Tell us about your fellowship project. What inspired this project? How will this project help you meet your career goals?
A: My fellowship project was using the PCORnet electronic health records to understand the obesogenic effect of antibiotics on children. This was an existing project my mentor, Dr. Jason Block, had before I began my fellowship, so the inspiration came from the research team. I joined the team because I wanted to learn how to use electronic health records and big data for research. I took on an independent project to validate prescribing and dispensing records, and that helped me gain great insight to the electronic health record systems, including how data was collected and how each data source can come with potential misclassification. Being part of this project also help me gain experience working with a large research group (the project had more than 30 participating data partners). I had a chance to practice the skills of collaboration and delegating tasks, which will be very important in the future when I become the lead investigator of the team.
Q: Which Institute faculty members are you working with? How did you come to meet them?
A: I worked with Dr. Jason Block. After interviewing with Jason, I learned that he worked closely with Dr. Emily Oken who was one of my dissertation committee members. (A very nice surprise!)
Your classmates and peers will be your great sources of inspiration, support, and potential collaboration. Value peer mentoring.
Q: What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing a doctorate, or who are in the early stages of a doctoral program? What are some resources that might be helpful?
A: Your classmates and peers will be your great sources of inspiration, support, and potential collaboration. Value peer mentoring.
Learn about different career paths early on and set a clear goal for yourself.
Volunteering at professional societies, such as being a committee member, is a great networking opportunity.
Q: What is something interesting about you that your colleagues may not know?
A: I am a Pangcah, Indigenous person from the Amis tribe in Taiwan. I am very proud of my Indigenous Austronesian culture and values.