Recent COPH graduate accepts Yale post-doc fellowship

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There hasn’t been a lot of downtime for Malinee Neelamegam.

In May, she received her PhD in epidemiology from the USF College of Public Health (COPH). Shortly after, she left for Malaysia, where she’s from, to begin work as a post-doc fellow with the Global Health Equity Scholars (GHES) program, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The program supports one-year research training for post- and pre-doctoral fellows at 31 partnering international institutions. In Neelamegam’s case, the institutions are Malaysia’s University of Malaya and Yale’s Schools of Public Health and Medicine.

A major focus of the program centers on the health challenges in the slum areas of low- and middle-income countries.

Neelamegam says she found out about the fellowship from a COPH email directed to students.  “I checked and saw they had a Malaysian study site,” said Neelamegam, who planned on returning to Malaysia for a couple of years after graduation. “I contacted the principal investigators, expressed my interest in the project and together we worked on the research proposal for the NIH.”

Malinee Neelamegam, PhD, center, is flanked by some of her professors (Janice Zgibor, PhD, left, and Ellen Daley, PhD, right) at her May graduation. (Photo courtesy of Neelamegam)

The particular program Neelamegam is involved with studies stroke, cognitive decline and geriatric syndrome—frailty and sight changes, for instance—in people with HIV. Researchers will also look at the health-care-seeking behavior of people with HIV who have these conditions.

“We hope the study will provide essential evidence on local public health approaches in treating and preventing these conditions,” said Neelamegam. “We also hope it will help us identify steps to improve care.”

Neelamegam didn’t set out to become a public health researcher.

“I got my undergraduate degree in biomedical sciences and quickly realized I did not enjoy the laboratory,” she said. But after a period working on public-health related research projects for the Ministry of Health Malaysia and meeting a neurologist who would become her mentor, Neelamegam decided to enroll at the COPH for a graduate degree in public health, specifically focusing on neuro-epidemiology.

Neelamegam says she would ultimately like to pursue a career in academia. “But right now,” she commented, “I’m keeping my options open and exploring all possibilities.”S

Story by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health