Jaya Alagar ’22

Yale University, School of Public Health, New Haven, CT

This past summer, I worked as a remote research assistant for Dr. Nicole Deziel, an Associate Professor of Epidemiology at Yale Jaya Alagar '22 on laptopUniversity. While Dr. Deziel has published several papers considering environmental contributors to increasing thyroid cancer incidence worldwide in a population of Caucasian, Connecticut females, few studies have investigated heavy metals in particular. To rectify this gap in knowledge, I assisted Dr. Deziel in a pilot case-control study to research association between exposure to metals and thyroid cancer in the same study population she has been analyzing.

In my role, I gathered information on associations between heavy metals and thyroid cancer; understood and tabulated characteristics of the study population; cleaned and reformatted the dataset; and analyzed the resulting dataset to observe correlations between urinary heavy metal concentrations and thyroid cancer incidence in the study population. Throughout my experience, I recognized the importance of considering lifestyle and environmental factors on disease origins and spread. While thyroid cancer has a genetic component and is associated with well-studied risk factors, recent thyroid cancer incidence trends have steered scientific literature towards suggesting other potential contributing factors. Environmental stressors, including heavy metal exposure, have been shown to have endocrine-disrupting effects in humans and animals as well as induce cancers in vitro through a host of hypothesized mechanisms.

Beyond technical skills, I am also grateful for the academic and professional insights my epidemiology research experience afforded. As a Williams student studying chemistry and having keen interests in environmental (in)justice, 
my research has primarily been in the lab or the field. Whether it was plating bacteria to consider cytotoxic 
effects of a traditional, herbal remedy or collecting samples from local waterways, my work was localized to understanding and quantifying types of—and places of—exposure. From working with Dr. Deziel, I recognize my interests in another subset of environmental health: environmental epidemiology. As a result, I am considering enrolling in epidemiology courses offered in the statistics department to learn the disciplinary principles in the classroom to ground my research. Inspired by the multidisciplinary nature of Dr. Deziel’s research, I am also looking into graduate school programs that integrate toxicology, exposure sciences, and epidemiology.

My summer research experience was invaluable in offering me perspective into the roles and research of an environmental health scientist, and I most 
appreciate Dr. Deziel’s willingness and patience as my mentor. In addition, 
my position would have not been feasible without the support of Dawn Dellea of the ’68 Center for Career Exploration or the generosity of Jill and John Svoboda. Thank you for helping to provide me with a research position that, in both aligning with and altering my understandings of environmental health, has offered me academic clarity and career orientation.