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An interview with KI alumnus Shawon

Being a PhD student is a long journey in pursuit of creating new knowledge, which requires a lot of passion and tenacity. But most importantly, one needs to know the what’s, why’s, and how’s of their work, and that could be a steep learning curve. My education at KI made it relatively easier to understand and conduct my research. It provided me relevant knowledge and skills to become a next-generation population health researcher.

KI Alumnus: Shajedur Rahman Shawon

Degree: Master's in Public Health Sciences (Epidemiology track) 2016

Current profession: PhD student, Cancer Epidemiology Unit, Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, United Kingdom.

Of note: Shawon created a social media platform named “Epidemiology Inside” to motivate and guide young people from Bangladesh to pursue research on epidemiology and public health. This platform currently has >4400 followers. For these efforts, he was chosen as a youth leader from Bangladesh to participate in an international leadership training program and met HRH Prince of Wales in person in 2013.

How did you decide to study at KI?

I was trained as a physician in Bangladesh and have always been passionate about public health research, partly because I experienced first-hand, as a clinician, how people suffer from diseases and ill-health, many of which could be avoided. Upon completing my medical training, I started working in public health research in Bangladesh and soon realized how powerful epidemiology can be to understand complex health problems and thereby help us find solutions. So, I decided to get top-quality training in epidemiology and - like a true researcher - I started my own research by assessing major university ranking systems and browsing top-ranked universities’ websites so that I could make an informed choice. I found that Karolinska Institutet is consistently placed among top universities in medical science and that the public health epidemiology program is well-designed with a strong focus on teaching both public health and epidemiological methods. So, I made up my mind to study at KI.

After you graduated from KI, what was your next step?

Since I have always wanted to be a researcher, I decided that pursuing a PhD in epidemiology would be the next step for me once I completed my degree at KI. The public health program at KI is a two-year program, which gave me enough time to think and plan my next step and also to get a head start on it. I utilized the summer break after the first year by doing an internship on global cardiovascular research at the University of Cambridge, with an Erasmus+ trainee scholarship provided through KI. In the second year of my study at KI, I started to look for PhD opportunities and got an offer from Oxford even before I completed my degree at KI – special thanks to my teachers for their guidance and support during the whole process.

As a PhD student, what research questions are you exploring?

I am investigating the long-term effects of body size in early life on the risk of diabetes in adult life. I am also collaborating with several researchers from Bangladesh, and we are generating good-quality evidence to improve the people’s health and reduce the burden of disease.

As an epidemiologist, my job is similar to that of a detective – I study real-life anonymous health data collected from more than one million women to solve mysteries around diseases. I write computer codes in sophisticated statistical programs to analyze and interpret the data. I also read a lot to complement my knowledge of the topic, which helps me understand the findings of my research. While I mostly work on a computer in my office, sometimes I go to a library or lie down on the green fields of Oxford and read scientific papers or write down my thoughts in my notebook. Also, college life at Oxford is a big part of the experience and makes the university a very special place to study and live.

Which disease do you believe epidemiology will help find a cure to by the end of the century?

That's a very difficult question to answer! I believe by the end of the century, epidemiology will enrich our understanding of the genetic and lifestyle causes of complex chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases, which will enable us to prevent more cases of these conditions worldwide. While such efforts need collaborative actions from various disciplines of science, I believe epidemiology will play a key role in this.

What is your advice to current students?

Karolinska Institutet has world-class faculty members who are very much dedicated towards teaching and go the extra-mile to help students learn. Current students should never hesitate to ask for help when needed. KI’s global classrooms also help you build a professional network with students around the globe, on which you can establish future collaborations. KI’s global recognition for excellence in research and teaching will definitely help you in your future career.