Spotlight on…Kara Magane
Kara Magane, MPH, Director of Research Operations in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health
As told to URBAN ARCH Admin Core staff, September 2019
Tell us more about your background. How did you become involved in substance use and HIV research and URBAN ARCH? How is this research different than other studies or teams you’ve been involved with?
I entered undergrad undecided on my major, interested in both the health field and the social sciences, but unsure which path to pursue. During my sophomore year, I studied abroad in South Africa, completing coursework on the HIV epidemic and volunteering in the community. I was struck by how closely health disparities are tied to social inequalities and saw an opportunity to combine my interests in health and the social sciences within the field of public health. I went on to complete my bachelor’s degree in sociology with a minor in public health, and a Master of Science in Health Promotion. While pursuing my master’s degree, I worked as a research assistant on a CDC-funded grant focused on health disparities between people with and without disabilities/special healthcare needs. It was while working on this project that I realized I really enjoyed research, particularly research involving underserved or marginalized groups. I subsequently worked at the University of Pennsylvania as a research coordinator on studies and quality improvement projects related to colorectal cancer screening. While I enjoyed the research I was doing on cancer screening, I eventually took a position at Boston Children’s Hospital to do research related to substance use among youth with chronic medical conditions, which I was particularly excited about because the population of interest was very similar to the disability research I had done previously. I would never have predicted it, but I actually ended up being very interested in the substance use aspect of the research! The three years I spent working at Boston Children’s Hospital on adolescent substance use studies really solidified my interest in substance use research, and I knew it was something that I wanted to continue to pursue further. I am excited to be able to do that as Director of Research Operations on a number of substance use related studies at BUMC, including the URBAN ARCH study! Working on URBAN ARCH feels a little bit like my professional path has come full circle, combining one of my initial interests – HIV – with my more recent interest – substance use.
What are you most looking forward to as Director of Research Operations?
One of the things I am most looking forward to as Director of Research Operations is mentoring other members of the research team. Throughout my career, I have benefitted significantly from the outstanding mentorship I received, from professors in undergraduate and graduate school, through managers and investigators who have mentored me during my professional career. I am certain that I would not be where I am today without mentors who have gone out of their way to offer advice and support, and encouraged me to continue to take on new challenges. I’ve always wanted to pay this forward by providing mentorship to others, since it was so instrumental to me and my career. Part of my role as Director of Research Operations is to manage a team of research assistants, research coordinators, and research managers, and I am excited to be able to not only support many of these early career professionals as a supervisor, but also as a mentor.
What has been one surprising challenge of your work so far?
I think one of the most surprising challenges I’ve encountered is transitioning from doing substance use research in a pediatric setting to an adult setting. While working at Boston Children’s Hospital on studies focused on adolescent substance use, we often talked about how substance use and substance use disorder look very different in adolescents compared to adults. Beyond the relevant clinical implications, these differences had implications for our research protocols, including having safety protocols related to certain thresholds of substance use that youth would report. In my current role, working on studies focused on substance use disorder among adults, I have had to make a conscious effort to shift my perspective out of the pediatric realm and into the adult realm. At first, I was surprised to see some of the patterns of substance use, and the severity of substance use disorder in the adult populations on which our current research is focused. However, I am looking forward to continuing to learn more about substance use disorder in adults through these research projects. I think it will complement my background in adolescent substance use and will help to give me a comprehensive understanding of substance use across the lifespan – a unique opportunity.
What other public health topics are you passionate about and potentially interested in studying in the future?
I have so many areas of interest, so I will highlight just a few! While working at the University of Pennsylvania, I was surprised at how interested I was in cancer screening research – a topic that I did not anticipate being passionate about. My time there really spurred my interest in barriers to cancer screening, as well as how we communicate screening guidelines and recommendations to the general public, particularly when there are changes to screening guidelines. I am also very interested in how we can utilize big data for health research. I’ve worked on projects utilizing healthcare claims data to examine health outcomes, and other projects applying machine learning and natural language processing approaches to mining large volumes of Twitter data to examine patterns of alcohol use. I find it fascinating to think about how we can leverage existing big data sources for public health and population health. Finally, I have always maintained an interest in international health, since it was within this setting that I initially discovered my passion for public health.
Tell us one surprising thing about yourself.
I like to water ski! I grew up in New Hampshire and spent much of the summers on the water – either on the ocean or the lake. Because of that, I love water sports – water skiing, kayaking, and swimming!