Trainee Members Committee "Spotlights" - Denisse Vega Ocasio, PhD (Candidate)

Posted 13 May 2020

Established in 2018 by the ASTMH Board of Directors, the Trainee Members Committee presents "Spotlights" to highlight resources, trainee member research and experiences in the field, as well as current issues relevant to our future leaders in tropical medicine and global health. We hope to share the extraordinary contributions to science that our student, trainee and early-career members are making and provide insight on shared concerns and useful resources that can enable successful career progression.  – Koya C. Allen, PhD, Trainee Members Committee co-chair

Research Spotlight

Featured interview of trainee member Denisse Vega Ocasio, PhD (Candidate) on her current research and goals in tropical medicine and global health 

Bio: Denisse Vega Ocasio, is a Global Health and Infectious Disease researcher originally from the beautiful island of Puerto Rico. She completed her undergraduate training in Cellular and Molecular Biology at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus. Following that, she completed a Master’s degree in Public Health and Health Policy in Philadelphia at the University of Sciences. Denisse is currently a PhD candidate in the Translational Biomedical Sciences graduate program at the University of Rochester in New York. Her thesis project focuses on how social and biological distress symptoms can influence an individual’s ability to mount an effective immune response toward arboviral infection in communities in Ecuador.

1. What did you find intriguing about your research topic that made you select it as the focus for your dissertation?
The interdisciplinary approach to further understand disease onset. I was eager to combine the multidisciplinary aspect of my academic training and understand how social-environmental factors could also impact innate immune responses in individuals positive for arboviral infection.

2. Given the current COVID-19 pandemic, how have your research plans been impacted? 
COVID-19 has presented challenging times for everyone. Personally, I am in the last phase of my PhD studies and I am just finishing writing my thesis. However, with the hiring freezes in response to COVID-19, the uncertainty of my future endeavors has been worrisome. Furthermore, the current situation prevents me from returning to my research field site facility and reporting results back to the community. While this impact is on a smaller scale compared to others, for me, the success of my research is directly related to continuing trust and communication with the global communities I work with.

3. What led you to pursue a career path in tropical medicine and global health?  
Growing up on a tropical island with limited surveillance systems and evident health inequity made me eager to learn more about how tropical infectious diseases impact other similar populations. I was attracted to a career that would explore not only the biological aspects of diseases, but also how social, economic and political factors play a role in the burden of infectious diseases in Latin America and the Caribbean region.  

4. How has your experience as an ASTMH member helped you advance your career interests?
Being an ASTMH member has provided me the opportunity to network with a range of interdisciplinary professionals from different background settings, make long term connections and advance my career as a young global health researcher. As a member of the Global Health (ACGH) subgroup, I have been able to oversee how the committee discusses plans and future endeavors that will benefit all members. Furthermore, being an ASTMH member provided me the opportunity to be involved in advocacy and policy issues related to ASTMH Inclusion and Respect Policy with fellow stakeholders of similar interests.