Students Who Rocked Public Health 2019: Pooja Sangha

by Pooja Sangha

Last month, Pooja Sangha, a student at Arizona State University, was listed as one of 13 Students Who Rocked Public Health in 2019 for her work in evaluating Arizona school-level vaccination data from 2015 to 2018. Here, she describes her efforts in more detail. Follow along each month as we profile all 13 Students Who Rocked Public Health 2019.

Student Voices — Under the direction of Dr. Mac McCullough, I evaluated Arizona school-level vaccination data from 2015 to 2018. This analysis identified upward trends in vaccine exemption rates and downward trends in herd immunity statewide. More specifically, these results demonstrate an increased rate of personal belief exemptions and decreased herd immunity across all school types (public, private, and charter).

Arizona has served as my home for the last 13 years, so the state holds a special place in my heart. However, learning more about Arizona’s socioeconomic and philosophical diversity through this project was valuable to me for a number of reasons, not just because this state is my home. Most notably, studying vaccinations—which seem more divisive and contentious than ever before—helped me understand how shifting attitudes manifest in changed behavior. Apart from the conceptual takeaways, I learned important research skills, like how to organize data and report findings. The most valuable skills I learned were how to clean, match, organize, and analyze data. As an economics student, these skills are particularly relevant to my future interests. In gaining these skills, however, I also faced many challenges and difficulties. There were technical challenges—like learning to use a citation manager and improving my Excel skills—but such difficulties were quickly overcome through practice, YouTube, and asking for help. There were also some subtle challenges, like learning to stay unbiased in my writing, which improved after some revisions and perspective.

My advice to other students pursuing public health research is to pick a topic that you’re passionate about. Being invested in Arizona and the students here helped me feel much more connected to the work, and it continuously fueled my interest (even after ten hours of data cleanup). This work impacts students who will soon fill the same classrooms I once did and remembering that truly helped me recognize the extensive value of my work. My second piece of advice is to reach out to those with more experience than you. “Cold-emailing” professors was an important and beneficial part of my college achievements; in fact, learning about Dr. McCullough’s health economics interests is the reason I emailed him, and ultimately the reason I could complete this research!

I pursued this research after my interest in health economics grew when I finished my thesis. Now that I’ve finished my undergraduate degree, I plan to study health economics during my master’s program starting this fall. My research has already and will continue to impact my future plans and goals. Not only did this work develop my interests in public health, but it also provided me with invaluable skills I will use throughout my career. I was lucky to work with a mentor who was committed to my learning (even if it meant slowing down the process), so I learned many skills that are essential to research.  

Read About More Students Who Rock:

A Flagstaff native, Pooja Sangha graduated from Arizona State University last December with dual degrees in Psychology and Economics. Throughout her undergraduate career, she has researched the economic consequences of HIV/AIDs stigma and worked with multiple nonprofits that aim to protect human rights nationwide. She is a research intern with the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, and she will pursue an MHS in health economics next fall.