Dennis Li - PhD

Dennis Li

Name:  Dennis H. Li
Graduation year:  2016
PhD, Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences
Research Interests:  Adolescent health, sexual and gender minority health
Current Position: Postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing at Northwestern University


How did you decide to enter into the field of public health?
As a pre-med student in undergrad, I joined a peer health education group at my university, where I began to cultivate a passion for health promotion. Recognizing this, the organization’s staff advisor / campus wellness director introduced me to the field of public health, an entire discipline that was unknown to me at the time. Certain I wanted to gain more exposure to the field and develop skills in this area, I enrolled in the MPH program at the UTHealth School of Public Health several years later.

A second decision point came during my master’s program, when I deliberated returning to a medically oriented career versus pursuing a more advanced degree in public health. Having been consistently engaged in the research and practice being conducted at the school and with excellent mentorship from the staff and faculty, I chose the research trajectory and entered the PhD program in health promotion/behavioral sciences.

What position do you currently hold?
I’m a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing at Northwestern University. 

How has your PhD degree helped you? 
At a minimum, it was a prerequisite for my current position! But, the skills I gained during my MPH and PhD programs have been invaluable during my short time here. Many of our projects involve designing health interventions. The vast majority of faculty and staff I work with are clinical psychologists by training, so I bring a different skill set (i.e., behavioral intervention development, a.k.a. intervention mapping) that has been really appreciated by my new colleagues. I also work on a lot of manuscripts and analyses, so the advanced training in scientific writing and biostatistics has been vital.

What particular classes helped you in obtaining your current position / in working in your current position?
In obtaining my current position, I think the most helpful classes were those that were writing intensive (e.g., Research & Design, Advanced Theory, Intervention Mapping) and those in applied biostatistics (e.g., Categorical Data Analysis, Latent Variable Analysis). When I interviewed for this postdoc, the director of the institute right off the bat asked me (1) for a writing sample and (2) about my statistical skills. In working in my current position, the same writing-intensive and applied statistics courses have been fundamental, even if I am not running analyses myself. Intervention Mapping and Adolescent Sexual Health have also been key, given the work that I do, and I still reference materials from those classes regularly. In addition, I find myself using skills cultivated in classes like Public Health Communication and Foundations in Leadership that make me a more effective public health professional. Lastly, I think having had exposure and experience working on research projects at UTSPH have been invaluable to getting to where I am. I encourage all current students to get hands-on experience, either in research or in the field, as much as possible.

Where are you heading with your new position?
I will be in the position for another year and a half, during which I hope to acquire advanced skills, publications, and, with luck, independent funding. After that, I will be back on the job market looking for faculty positions at schools of public health and other institutions.