Summer fellowship supports student’s HIV research

Dang, Teresa
Phuong (Teresa) Dang

HOUSTON – It’s been a summer to remember for Master of Public Health student Phuong (Teresa) Dang, who spent nine weeks conducting mentored research at John Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore as part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)-funded RISE Fellowship Program.

The RISE Fellowship Program provides educational and professional development opportunities for fellows interested in investigating infectious diseases and health disparities. Recipients of the competitive, highly prestigious award receive a $4,500 stipend, housing and out-of-state transportation costs.

For Dang, who is earning her MPH in epidemiology with a concentration in maternal and child health, the fellowship was the perfect opportunity to dive deeper into HIV research. Her interest in HIV began as a chemistry major at the University of St. Thomas, when she volunteered in a clinic for individuals with HIV or AIDS, and became curious about how HIV worked on a biochemical level. Dang went on to research HIV in her graduate studies at UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston, and has studied how disclosing HIV status affects treatment decisions, among other topics.

Dang continued her investigations during her summer fellowship at the John Hopkins School of Medicine Kenneth W. Witwer Laboratory, Molecular and Comparative Pathobiology, Retrovirus Lab. While there, she worked on extracting microRNA to diagnose simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), an HIV-like virus that can infect monkeys and apes, in the hopes that the method might have potential to diagnose HIV in humans. She says she learned new techniques in biochemistry and molecular biology, as well as critical thinking skills that will help her conduct research more efficiently.

“I improved my capabilities as an academic scholar by redeveloping my basic foundation for scientific research,” Dang says. “Not only am I more confident in conducting literature research, but also conducting research in a different field. The fellowship program was an amazing experience that I would highly recommend to others.”

Dang also received professional development from the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore and the CDC in Atlanta, to prepare her for her next career steps after obtaining her master’s degree. She attended public health seminars on topics covering health disparities within the Native American population, HIV epidemiology and scientific writing, and networking activities with her peers.

Dang says she enjoyed weekend travels to Washington, D.C. and New York City, and attending the Pride Parade in Baltimore and a celebration of more than 250 female professors at John Hopkins School of Medicine. The fellowship program also featured a seminar on balancing career with personal, family and social activities, which she admits, is sometimes a challenge for beginning scientists such as herself.

“Not only did I develop my skills as an academic, being an active advocate for public health, I also learned the importance of work-personal life balance,” she says, adding that the seminar advised students to weigh which career opportunities to accept or reject, to help avoid burnout. “I learned that rejecting opportunities isn’t necessarily harmful to your career, but can help you maintain balance and lead to other possibilities.”

After graduating next May, Dang plans to attend medical school to become a pediatrician specializing in emergency medicine, critical care medicine or infectious diseases.