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Mentored Research and Multiple Sclerosis

BYU public health graduate Emily Hawkes wins experiential learning award

For Emily Hawkes, a public health graduate with an emphasis in Health Promotion, participating in mentored research with Dr. John Beard has been a life-changing opportunity. The experience has allowed her to grow academically, to fulfill her desire to serve people, and to contribute to the scientific community.

In 2018, Hawkes approached Dr. Beard to ask about the possibility of joining his research team. Hawkes had no experience in research and was excited about the opportunity to learn. She said, “Dr. Beard completely took a chance on me and really increased my confidence in myself as a contributor to the epidemiological community.”

Throughout the process of completing the research, Hawkes learned how to do epidemiological coding using SAS programming, how to analyze data, and how to write a scientific paper. Hawkes and Dr. Beard chose to focus their research on multiple sclerosis and how it connects to occupational exposures. Hawkes and Dr. Beard worked with Dr. Beard’s colleagues at The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to access the National Occupational Mortality Surveillance, which provided data about causes of death due to occupational factors.

Doing research about multiple sclerosis has become meaningful for Hawkes because of the impact that their research could have on people who are suffering from the disease. She said, “To be able to play even a tiny fraction of a role in the process is exciting. It’s empowering to know that I’m a part of something bigger that could hopefully help people someday.”

Because of her involvement in the project, Hawkes has had two internships with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and has recently accepted a position with the Utah Department of Health. She has also received an Experiential Learning Award. The most valuable part of the project for Hawkes has been the chance to participate in mentored learning. She said, “I really believe in the importance of having mentors. It’s so critical. I was able to see a process of research from beginning to end and have someone believe in me and guide me. One can’t put a price tag on that.”

For students who are considering participating in research, Hawkes added her advice: “You don’t need to know what you’re doing beforehand. The point of the research process is that it’s an opportunity to learn and an opportunity to learn from someone who is a professional in the field.”

That opportunity to learn can make a difference in the lives of the students as well as the lives of the people they help through public health research.