While Xiaodan Mai was attending Southern Medical University in Guangzhou, China, she completed clerkships where she was involved in the care of terminally-ill patients.
“After witnessing firsthand the suffering of these individuals and the limitations of existing standards of care, I knew I wanted to contribute to clarifying the factors that cause and modify disease risk,” she said. “Since the practice of clinical medicine is informed by large-scale observational studies and randomized controlled trials, enrolling in an epidemiology PhD program was a natural choice for me.”
Mai selected UB’s epidemiology PhD program because “the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health had a history of conducting productive research in many areas, including my fields of primary interest – cancer and women’s health.”
She was also impressed with UB’s integration of translational research and molecular epidemiology into the curriculum. “I saw a great opportunity to get the training that I wanted,” said Mai. “Additionally, UB had a vibrant international student community whose members assured me that UB offered a solid education as well as a good, affordable quality of life.”
Mai also speaks highly of support she’s received from the program’s faculty.
“Besides being talented researchers and knowledgeable instructors, our faculty members are also dedicated mentors,” he said. “Most of them have an open-door policy and encourage students to stop by. In addition to guidance on coursework, I have been able to get advice on topics ranging from time management, study methodology, scientific writing, to career development. We also have small class sizes for most of our advanced courses, which allow us to interact meaningfully with the professors and to truly address our academic needs and interests.”
Research was one of the key factors for Mai in deciding to attend UB and she has been actively engaged in a number of projects.
“During the past three years, I worked on a study examining the effect of smoking and the etiology of tooth loss in postmenopausal women,” she said. “Throughout this project, I learned more about how to carefully review the literature, how to analyze and interpret data, how to write a scientific paper and how to respond to criticism from other researchers. Moreover, I was selected to present the study results at the 2012 American Public Health Association Annual Conference and our paper was published in the Journal of the American Dental Association.”
In her current research, Mai is investigating the association between periodontal disease and different types of cancer among postmenopausal women. “During this experience, I have learned more about study design, primary data collection and how to communicate with researchers from various backgrounds. More importantly, I have redefined my career goals—to become a cancer epidemiologist who leads innovate, well-designed studies on cancer prevention and treatment.”