Student Spotlight: Enyonam Odoom

MPH ’21, generalist track

Why did you chose to pursue public health?

My original plan, like a lot of people, was to go to medical school. I wanted to be a doctor and save people’s lives, but I learned after volunteering in a hospital and taking a few classes that I really didn’t enjoy the experience. So I started looking into other areas and someone told me about research in public health. The more I looked into it, the more I liked public health. I talked to public health scholars and learned of the many possibilities within the field.

I’ve found that I really enjoy research; I feel like I always knew that I wanted to do something with my life that helped other people, and that something has always been within the realm of healthcare. While other people have unique ways of helping other people, my interest has always been in improving health and I feel that public health is the best way I can do that.

What has been your experience researching international women’s health?

I have had such a great experience, and it is the only thing I want to do with my life now. When I finished my undergraduate degree, I worked at RTI International with the Women’s Global Health Imperative. I was really lucky to get that job right out of college because it allowed me to learn about each distinct phase of the research life cycle.

In my research at Brown University, I work with Dr. Jennifer Pellowski who takes the perspective of ‘global is local.’ Dr. Pellowski conducts research in the United States, especially with Black women and maternal mortality, but she also works on women’s health in Sub-Saharan Africa. So that has just been fantastic. I think she does a lot of great work, and I hope that I can continue to do the kind of work that Dr. Pellowski does in the future.

“ At Brown, everyone wants you to succeed. Everyone is doing their very best to succeed and putting in the effort but without competitive negativity. I just felt really at home here. ”

Enyonam Odoom MPH '21

What have you personally gained from your research at Brown?

I have gained a new appreciation for how difficult academic research can be. My past work at RTI International was grant-funded but the work that goes into obtaining that funding was hidden. While I’ve been at Brown, I have learned the amount of work that goes into grant applications, rejections, and resubmissions. This has illuminated all the energy necessary to obtain funding. In my research at Brown, I have gained tremendous respect for academic researchers and how much goes into the research process.

Why did you choose to study at Brown University?

I chose Brown University over some of the larger universities because it is such a small program. When I first came to visit, I immediately felt like I was in a supportive program. When I visited other schools, I kind of felt lost, like literally lost. I got to their campuses and could not figure out where to go for accepted students’ day. It did not feel like I was in a supportive environment. But Brown University made me feel valued and unique; I got that “we want you here” feeling. 

Beyond that, the Brown MPH program is very rigorous. In looking at the research being conducted, particularly in global health, I could tell that there was a lot of care and energy that went into it. Yet it didn’t feel as competitive because, at Brown, everyone wants you to succeed. Everyone is doing their very best to succeed and putting in the effort but without competitive negativity. I just felt really at home here.

Tell us your favorite memory from Brown SPH?

This is going to sound silly, but my favorite memory from Brown is stressing about biostatistics throughout my entire first year. I had a group of friends from my cohort, and we had every class together the first year. I remember we would sit in the School of Public Health building from early in the morning through the middle of the night almost every day, just trying to figure out biostatistics. And I don’t miss that aspect, but I just miss sitting in that biostats room laughing with my friends about how hard the material was but also really enjoying the process of learning something for the first time. We could spend the entire day together studying and I wouldn’t go back, but I do hold those memories in high esteem. It is definitely what is going to stick with me after I graduate.

What has been your proudest accomplishment at SPH?

When the pandemic broke out, the School of Public Health asked for student epidemiologists to help the Rhode Island Department of Health. This was unique timing for an opportunity to do impactful COVID-19 response work. When the Department of Health realized the potential impact of COVID-19, professors in the Brown School of Public Health knew many people would be needed to respond to the outbreak and said, ‘we have great students who can help, and are trained to do that.’ So I was hired the first week of April and it was an incredible position. I don’t know if I could ever get hired as an epidemiologist at any other point in my life; it isn’t what I’m trained in and it is very difficult to get a full-time position in epidemiology, especially as a student.

The pandemic was and still is devastating, but I did get the opportunity to do really impactful community work. I learned so much about Rhode Island and Rhode Islanders by working for the Department of Health. So that has been my proudest accomplishment, being able to work with lots of other people to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and serve the community here.

What advice do you have for current and incoming public health students?

I would probably advise current students to start their thesis earlier than I did. Try to think about your thesis while you are in your first year and search for researchers who are aligned with that topic. Even if you do not have a specific idea or data set, just knowing who is in that realm of interest is a great thing to explore in your first year. 

The advice I would give to incoming students is to keep your mind open. I think a lot of people come into graduate school feeling like you have to know the specific research topics to pursue or have a specific plan. But in doing that, you are probably closing yourself off from a lot of potential opportunities. I would encourage new students to explore all that the School of Public Health has to offer. For example, if you know you are interested in women’s health, try expanding those interests, and rather than saying ‘I’m only interested in global women’s health in South Africa,’ be open to researching women’s health in Mississippi or Alabama. Explore your options because there is a lot of incredible research being done in the School of Public Health. 

What are your post-graduation plans?

At RTI International, I worked on a project designing an implant for women in Sub-Saharan Africa to prevent HIV and also act as a contraceptive. In creating this device, we worked from the ground up and talked with potential end-users—women living in Sub Saharan Africa—to understand its use in the context of their lives. That project was really eye-opening for me because I think a lot of health products are developed without talking to future users or taking into consideration what they find acceptable and desirable in a product. So I hope that is where my future career will go: health design research. I am really interested in ethnographic methods and talking with patients prior to product development to incorporate their usability standards. I hope to continue design research. But I’m keeping my mind open, I am interested in women’s health and health equity and in continuing design research for health.