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Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health

Christopher Kaipust, PhD, MPH 

Kaipust Bio pictureI was a SWCOEH ERC Occupational Epidemiology Trainee from 2016-2018. After graduating from UTHealth School of Public Health in 2018, I worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow in Occupational Epidemiology & Biostatistics at NDRI-USA, Inc., a private, not-for-profit research institute. I worked in the Institute’s Center for Fire, Rescue & EMS Health Research, the Center for Military and Veteran’s Health Research, and the Data Science Core. In January 2021, I was promoted from the fellowship to a research scientist after receiving federal funding as Principal Investigators (PI) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). I am the current Director of the Center for Officer Safety, Health, and Well-being. I am also employed by the Social Sciences Innovations Corporation, which is our private, for-profit research institute. The research office headquarters for both institutes are in Kansas, and the administrative office headquarters are in New York.  

What led you to public health and to occupational & environmental health in particular?

As an undergraduate I was interested in the field of health psychology, and sought out research opportunities from my academic adviser. My academic adviser connected me with NDRI-USA, which was doing research related to the impact the work environment had on mental health in the fire service and the military. As an undergraduate research assistant, my interest in occupational health research grew out of curiosity into a potential career. Researchers at NDRI-USA connected me with Dr. Day, a professor at UTHealth and SWCOEH ERC. After visiting UTHealth, I applied for the MPH program, and subsequently the PhD program. I worked as a graduate/doctoral research assistant for Dr. Day, who was also my academic advisor, during my MPH and PhD. During my second year of the PhD in Epidemiology program, the former SWCOEH ERC Director Dr. Symanski approached me about the Occupational Epidemiology traineeship. The decision to apply for the SCWOEH ERC Occupational Epidemiology traineeship was an easy one after I learned about all the traineeship had to offer.

Tell us about your work. What is an average day like for you? 

NDRI-USA is a research institute in which positions are funded solely on research grant funding. Therefore, research is at the core every day. I write research grants and conduct field work for our funded grants, including visiting fire stations, prisons, or military installations. As a member of our Data Science Core, I design and power studies, write grant methods sections, and perform data management and analyses. I also write manuscripts, monographs, trade reports, and serve as a scientific expert during the creation or editing of occupational policies/standards. I present at trade conferences, research conferences and individual fire departments. I also serve as an NIH or NIOSH grant reviewer and interact with workers, unions, or organizations seeking education or evidence-based resources to improve the health and safety of their workforce.

How did your education as a SWCOEH ERC trainee at UTHealth School of Public Health prepare you for your current career?

The UTHealth School of Public Health & the SWCOEH ERC made me the successful young professional I am today. The education, training, and mentoring I received from SWCOEH ERC faculty prepared me to successfully transition into an early career investigator, often with more skills than peers from other institutions and disciplines. The education I received included a breadth of occupational health and safety courses useful to my career, including skills I utilize every day, including: Epidemiology III & IV, Advanced Design and Analysis Methods in Epidemiology, Applied Epidemiologic Analyses in EOHS, Occupational Epidemiology, Injury Epidemiology, Risk Analysis: Principles and Practice, Fundamentals of Industrial Hygiene, and Principles of Toxicology. Outside of the classroom, the SWCOEH journal clubs and invited speaker series allowed me to interact with industry professionals to gain valuable insight and grow my network. I received excellent mentoring from a number of faculty, particularly Dr. Day, Dr. Delclos, and Dr. Symanski. I have also kept in contact with numerous occupational epidemiology and industrial hygiene trainees from my cohort.

What advice do you have for students pursuing a SWCOEH ERC traineeship leading to a career in public health? 

Take advantage of every opportunity the SWCOEH ERC traineeship provides you. Get involved and attend as many SWCOEH events as possible and benefit from the expertise of the SWCOEH ERC faculty and their network. Have fun with your fellow trainees outside the classroom and build relationships that will last beyond your time in the program. Reach out to alumni for networking, opportunities, and advice. Make the traineeship yours, and work with SWCOEH ERC faculty to tailor it to your interests. I became interested in Total Worker Health  during my traineeship, and worked with the SWCOEH faculty, particularly Dr. Day and Dr. Gimeno, to meet the requirements of the Occupational Epidemiology Traineeship while tailoring it to fit my interests in Total Worker Health. As an early career investigator, I am a funded Principal Investigators (PI), conducting occupational health and safety research using Total Worker Health approaches. The SWCOEH ERC faculty and staff are amazing people who care about the well-being of their trainees.