Diverse New Class Of Postdoctoral Fellows Adds To Research Strength

Diverse new class of postdoctoral fellows adds to research strength

Variety of research and backgrounds will expand Kaiser Permanente’s research portfolio

The Kaiser Permanente Division of Research postdoctoral research program drew one of its largest-ever classes of fellows this year, building the strength of DOR’s research portfolio. Seven fellows — 3 of whom are Delivery Science Fellows, 1 who is an NIH T32 grant recipient, and another who jointly participates in a California epidemiology training program — cover fields from diet to dementia, cancer to clinical informatics, to women’s and children’s health, and more. We asked each of them a few questions to better understand their backgrounds, research, and aspirations:

Zobayer Ahmmad, MS, PhD

Zobayer (Zubi) Ahmmad, MS, PhD

What is your field of research?

I investigate social determinants of health, especially social origins of racial/ethnic and/or immigrant health disparities. This work includes using clinical, administrative, and survey data to explore the psychological and biological health of racial/ethnic minorities, especially diverse Asian ethnic groups, across the life course.

Please tell us where you came from, most recently.

I earned a doctorate degree and a master’s degree in sociology from the University of Utah. I relocated to the Bay Area from Salt Lake City, Utah. I have a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

What sorts of activities do you like to do outside of DOR?

I love reading books on topics ranging from health disparities to religion and culture to homemaking. I love outdoor activities including hiking, playing soccer, and walking. I also love cooking homemade spicy foods.

Where is your “hometown,” or where do you consider yourself to be from?

My hometown is Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Five to 10 years from now, where do you see yourself, and what kind of research would you like to be doing?

In 5 to 10 years, I see myself as an established health disparity researcher in any research setting, preferably at a U.S. university or organization. I will be exploring race/ethnicity and health focusing on the rising diversity in U.S. racial identification and its manifestation in health disparities. I will also be investigating ways to improve breast cancer outcomes in immigrant women facing cultural and structural barriers to health.

Rana Chehab, PhD, MPH, RD

Rana Chehab, PhD, MPH, RD

What is your field of research?

I am a delivery science fellow studying women’s and children’s health. 

Please tell us where you came from, most recently, and why you chose KP DOR to continue your research activities.

I completed my PhD in Nutrition Science with an emphasis on Population Nutrition and Health Promotion at Purdue University in Indiana. Prior to that, I earned my Registered Dietitian licensure from the American University of Beirut in Lebanon, the first U.S.-accredited program in the Middle East. I am passionate about a career path where I can build on my clinical and research skills in nutrition and public health to improve the health and well-being of women, children, and future generations.

The Delivery Science Fellowship at the Division of Research is an outstanding opportunity given the collaboration with an interdisciplinary team that provides multiple lenses to the problems burdening mothers and children in a diverse population such as the one in Northern California.

What sorts of activities do you like to do outside of DOR?

Exploring new hiking trails, playing board games, and redecorating rooms at home.

Where is your “hometown,” or where do you consider yourself to be from?

I am from Beirut, Lebanon, a tiny country in the Middle East famous for its delicious Lebanese Mediterranean dishes like tabbouleh, kibbeh, and hummus.

Five to 10 years from now, where do you see yourself, and what kind of research would you like to be doing?

I hope to be a well-established researcher in the field of maternal and child health with a special lens on the importance of nutrition in health across the life course. I also hope that my research will build on my clinical practice as a Registered Dietitian and that I can utilize my skillset to inform evidence-based health care delivery and policy.

 

En Cheng, MD, PhD

En Cheng, MD, PhD

What is your field of research?

I am currently a postdoctoral research fellow at DOR. My primary interest is cancer prevention and cancer survivorship. My research focuses on helping the public prevent cancer and improving cancer patients’ survival and life quality.

Please tell us where you came from, most recently, and why you chose KP DOR to continue your research activities.

I recently graduated from Yale University with my PhD in epidemiology. Moving from New Haven to the Bay Area was very challenging during the pandemic, but I’m super excited to come to DOR. There are so many truly extraordinary scientists and staff supporting me to continue my research. In addition, the large and diverse population Kaiser Permanente is serving gives me the rare opportunity to conduct cancer research that very few institutions could provide.

Five to 10 years from now, where do you see yourself, and what kind of research would you like to be doing?

I hope to be an independent investigator after my training at DOR. I will continue to focus on cancer prevention and cancer survivorship. I am dedicated to improving the health of cancer patients and the public and will stay committed to this goal throughout my academic career.

 

Tara Foti, PhD

Tara Foti, PhD

What is your field of research?

I am a delivery science fellow conducting research in maternal and child health, along with behavioral and mental health. My work centers on families impacted by substance use, mental health conditions, and family violence. I study how to both identify these conditions and improve families’ experiences within health care to improve clinical outcomes and family functioning.

Please tell us where you came from, most recently, and why you chose KP DOR to continue your research activities.

I came here from Tampa, Florida, where I graduated with my PhD in public health from the University of South Florida. I chose DOR for my fellowship because of the rich clinical data, the relationships with clinical and administrative stakeholders, the range of training and mentorship opportunities, and the organization’s collaboration and focus on high-quality, meaningful work.

What sorts of activities do you like to do outside of DOR?

Outside of work, I spend time with my family, including 2 elementary school-aged kids; visit the local sights; eat delicious food; and tend to my growing collection of indoor plants. I started collecting plants as something to do during COVID and am fortunate that most of my plants were able to make the cross-country move. My family also enjoys a family game night and a family movie night, where we often watch movies from the Marvel cinematic universe.

Where is your “hometown,” or where do you consider yourself to be from?

I was born and raised in Rochester, New York. I got married there and gave birth to my children there and will always consider Rochester home, although I can’t say I miss the snow.

Five to 10 years from now, where do you see yourself, and what kind of research would you like to be doing?

In the future, I would like to work for a collaborative and reflective organization where I can continue focusing on family and perinatal health through early identification of behavioral and social health issues, testing and implementing interventions to improve linkages to programs and services, and ensuring non-judgmental and evidence-based health care practices.

 

Santiago Papini, PhD

Santiago Papini, PhD

What is your field of research?

I am a delivery science fellow with an emphasis in clinical informatics and a recipient of a National Institute of Mental Health T32 grant.

Please tell us where you came from, most recently, and why you chose KP DOR to continue your research activities.

I was a President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, San Diego, working on machine learning applications in the context of post-traumatic stress disorder. I am very excited by the clinical informatics research taking place at DOR, particularly in the application of predictive modeling to improve health care outcomes. This fellowship provides an opportunity for me to continue building my analytic skills and work within a system where testing the impact of predictive models is feasible.

What sorts of activities do you like to do outside of DOR? 

I love playing with my son, surfing, and traveling.

Where is your “hometown,” or where do you consider yourself to be from?

I have moved around a lot — Argentina, Hawaii, Texas, New York, California. If Manhattan was part of the Hawaiian Islands, I would make it my hometown!

Five to 10 years from now, where do you see yourself, and what kind of research would you like to be doing?

My goal is to obtain a tenure-track faculty position in an academic psychology or psychiatry department or embedded health system and conduct independent research in the field of mental health treatment dissemination and implementation. The position will be primarily research-focused but also include teaching, mentorship, and service responsibilities. I plan to incorporate clinical work into my career through direct practice as a psychologist and the supervision of trainees.

 

Yenee Soh, ScD, SM

Yenee Soh, ScD, SM

What is your field of research?

I am a social epidemiologist.

Please tell us where you came from, most recently, and why you chose KP DOR to continue your research activities.

I recently completed my doctorate at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, examining the role of psychosocial risk factors, such as depression and loneliness, on cardiovascular morbidities among middle-aged and older adults.

While working as a research scientist at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital post-graduation, I learned about the California Dementia Epidemiology Training Program and reached out to my current mentor, Paola Gilsanz, ScD. She is one of the primary faculty for the training program, an alumna from my doctoral program, and a researcher at the Division of Research. With her support and encouragement, I concurrently applied to the training program and Kaiser Permanente to work with her here.

As a postdoctoral fellow at the Division of Research and the California Dementia Epidemiology Training Program, I am embedded in 2 tremendously respected networks of researchers that have a strong focus in developing early-stage investigators. Many alumni from Harvard had found a new research home at DOR and shared highly positive mentoring experiences, demonstrated immense respect for their research colleagues, and said DOR mentors were all-around welcoming. In addition to the strong mentoring network, DOR houses several unique and rich data systems that will allow me to thoroughly investigate social determinants of health and health disparities. I am very thankful for the opportunity and am humbled to be here for the next step of my career.

What sorts of activities do you like to do outside of DOR?

I really enjoy hiking summit trails with a packed lunch and being in nature in general. If not outdoors, I’m usually engaging in some kind of handicraft or exploring gastronomy. I really appreciate creativity and am always looking for spaces that inspire me.

Where is your “hometown,” or where do you consider yourself to be from?

My childhood was in Seattle, Washington, and my adolescent years were spent in Seoul, Korea. I identify with individuals who blend across different cultural identities and find home to be wherever my loved ones are.

Five to 10 years from now, where do you see yourself, and what kind of research would you like to be doing?

Throughout my research journey, I hope to contribute new knowledge on how social determinants — ranging from macro-level factors such as social policies to individual-level risk factors such as experiences of stress or discrimination — may influence population health and health disparities across the life course.

Much of my current research focuses on health of aging populations, and I aim to expand my research to understand how life course trajectories of psychosocial risk factors at earlier time periods may impact important health outcomes later in life.

As a social epidemiologist, my long-term goal is to promote research on the significance of social determinants in influencing population health through educational opportunities to a new generation of researchers and/or advising on relevant social policies, with the hopes of reducing the population health burden such that we may all gain a more dignified life throughout old age.

The world is constantly changing, and I am open to what new opportunities may open up for social epidemiologists.

 

Ayesha Sujan, PhD

Ayesha Sujan, PhD

What is your field of research?

Though my doctoral degree was in clinical psychology, my graduate training spanned multiple disciplines, including developmental psychology, epidemiology, and pharmacology.

Please tell us where you came from, most recently, and why you chose KP DOR to continue your research activities. 

I completed my clinical internship at the Medical University of South Carolina in July 2021 after completing my doctoral work in May 2020 in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University, Bloomington. In graduate school, I used Swedish registry data and advanced epidemiological methods to study the consequences of exposures to prenatal risk factors, including prenatal exposure to antidepressant and opioid analgesic medications.

I was drawn to DOR because of the rich data and the research being conducted by my 2 mentors — Lyndsay Avalos, PhD, MPH, and Kelly Young-Wolff, PhD, MPH. At DOR, I am working on Lyndsay’s NIH R01 grant comparing the effects of prenatal depression and its treatment on developmental outcomes in offspring, as well as Lyndsay and Kelly’s R01 grant on the impact of in utero cannabis exposure on neurodevelopment, behavior, and mental health outcomes in offspring.

What sorts of activities do you like to do outside of DOR?

I am new to the Bay Area, and I have been enjoying going on hikes and walks in different locations in the area with my dog.

Where is your “hometown,” or where do you consider yourself to be from?

I was born in State College, Pennsylvania, and lived there until I was 10 years old. My family moved to New Orleans when I was 10 and I stayed there through college. 

Five to 10 years from now, where do you see yourself, and what kind of research would you like to be doing? 

I see myself leading a team of researchers conducting translational research focused on preventing early exposure to risk factors that have adverse consequences on child development. My hope is that the research that my team and I conduct across my career will inform policies and practices and help improve the health and well-being of mothers and their children.

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For more on fellowship opportunities at the Division of Research, go here.

 

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