PhD Students

UCSF Epidemiology and Translational Science PhD Students (2010 – 2015)

 Ekland Abdiwahab

Ekland Abdiwahab, MPH  (2015)

Education: University of California, Davis (BS, Microbiology); University of Minnesota School of Public Health (MPH, Community Health Promotion, Health Disparities Interdisciplinary Concentration)

My academic and research interests include health equity, breast cancer disparities, social determinants of health, and methods in social epidemiology. Coordinating a breast cancer outreach and education program for African American women in Sacramento and conducting breast cancer related fieldwork in Ghana have given me insight into the disproportionate burden of breast cancer in low-income, minority populations. While in the doctoral program, I would like to investigate environmental risk factors for breast cancer; specifically, how neighborhood characteristics influence breast cancer risk and outcomes. In addition to advanced epi and biostatics methods, I am also interested in gaining skills in geospatial and social network analyses.


Sarah Ackley, BS  (2013)

I am interested in mathematical modeling of tuberculosis and other infectious diseases. Working in Travis Porco’s research group at UCSF, I am currently studying tuberculosis epidemics in communities of First Nations (native) Canadians in the early 20th century.  I also have been working in the Immunizations branch at the California Department of Public Health on measles surveillance in California. As a graduate student at UCSF, I am interested in continuing to learn about epidemiology and medicine, as well as statistics. As a graduate student, I am potentially interested in continuing work on tuberculosis modeling with molecular data.


Kristen Aiemjoy, MSc  (2013)


I am a doctoral student at University of California San Francisco (UCSF) specializing in infectious disease epidemiology. I graduated from Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service with a major in Global Health and received her Masters degree in Public Health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. I have diverse experience working as an epidemiologist in Africa; in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and South Africa for a variety of organizations including universities, research institutes likes the Ifakara Research Institute and aid organizations like Doctors without Borders. Currently work as a graduate student research assistant for the UCSF Proctor Foundation for Research in Ophthalmology for research on child health and diarrheal disease in Ethiopia.                                                      

Dissertation: Quantitative bias analysis to adjust for misclassified pediatric diarrhea.


Vignesh Arasu, MD (2015)


Education: Harvey Mudd College (BS Neuroscience), UCSF (MD, Residency/Fellowship Radiology)

I am a clinical radiologist specializing in cancer imaging, and my research interests are broadly in breast cancer imaging and imaging utilization. Most of my research focuses on developing precision imaging models in breast cancer. I work on two multicenter trials in this regard, the WISDOM study (personalized breast screening) and ISPY-2 study (personalized breast cancer treatment), where UCSF serves as the lead site. These trials integrate mammography or breast MRI as “biomarkers" of risk or treatment response to guide clinical decisions. Through the doctoral program, I hope to gain a deep understanding of research methodology to be able to push my work to be as innovative and impactful as possible. I am also interested in understanding techniques such as “big data” mining, genetic epidemiology, and NLP/machine learning.


Stephen B. Asiimwe, MD (2015)

I do research among adults in sub-Saharan Africa aimed at reducing mortality from infectious diseases.  In this setting, high prevalence of HIV and other infectious diseases commonly result in young adults going down with various forms of critical illness.  Against a backdrop of rampant resource-limitations hindering the provision of comprehensive acute care at hospitals, it is common to see a young person, like aged 20, dying, from, of all things, a bacterial infection.  A death of this nature would be very strange in some parts of the world.  My studies mostly focus on this problem; i.e., the death of young people from infections; why it happens, and what we can do about it.  I use epidemiologic causal inference techniques to investigate some mortality risk factors (HIV-associated malignancies, severe sepsis, and malnutrition).  My research is also aiming to increase the utilization of aggregated clinical data and associated technologies to solve some clinical problems and to promote learning from treatment activities. 


Kristina Van Dang, MPH (2016)

Education: University of California, Berkeley (BA, Economics; BA, Molecular and Cell Biology); Emory University (MPH, Epidemiology)

Research Focus: My research outlined how to combine data and evidence in methods for meta-analysis of observational studies in epidemiology (MOOSE). I applied these guidelines to how iron indicators can be used to estimate risk of colorectal cancer, and understand how public health systems improve health outcomes during disasters. Additionally, I studied how health incentives can be offered to increase follow-up HIV testing in Zambia. I’m interested in how health can be improved through innovative data structures. 


Joshua Demb, MPH  (2014)

My academic and professional careers have focused on learning about all aspects of cancer: screening/prevention, treatment planning, and outcomes.  My background includes a strong foundation in epidemiologic and statistical methods, as well as strong interests in shared decision-making and health information technology.  In the PhD program, I hope to improve upon my current understanding of epidemiologic methods, and learn more advanced statistical methods more pertinent to chronic disease and, more specifically, cancer epidemiology.  It is my goal to learn more about different aspects of cancer screening, particularly the decision support a provider offers a patient throughout the screening process, and potentially upon diagnosis.


Chloe Eng, MSPH (2016)

Education: Northeastern University (BS, Health Science); Emory University (MSPH, Epidemiology)

My research interests include social epidemiology methods and the relationship between lifecourse socioeconomic exposures and aging. My interest in social epidemiology began while assisting a health educator counseling disadvantaged Hispanic immigrants with newly diagnosed diabetes in the San Francisco Bay Area. I continued to explore health disparities in a variety of contexts, including neighborhood access to childhood education and community physical activity in Boston, nutrition patterns in various regions of the US, and social determinants of blood pressure in South African young adults. As a doctoral student, I'm interested in further exploring mechanisms behind such social factors as risk factors for chronic disease, and to reduce biases in the measurement of social determinants of health in diverse aging populations.


Natalie Engmann, MSc  (2014)


Received my Masters of Science in Reproductive and Sexual Health Research from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 2012, with a focus on breast cancer epidemiology. My research interests include breast density measurement and the utility of breast density in screening and risk stratification for breast cancer, and multi-level and lifecourse determinants of breast cancer.

Dissertation Title:

“Independent and joint effects of obesity and volumetric breast density on breast cancer risk”, and will examine if obesity modifies the effect of volumetric density on breast cancer risk.

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Adrienne Epstein, MS (2017)

Education: Macalester College (BA, Biology); Harvard University (MS Global Health and Population)

My broad research interests include the application of spatial methods to improve surveillance for vector-borne diseases. I became interested in malaria while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guinea. Although I worked as a teacher, health was a major issue in my community, and much of my work entailed malaria education. For my Master's thesis, I investigated barriers pregnant women face to receiving proper malaria treatment in Guinea. As a doctoral student, I hope to expand my skillset to achieve a greater impact in improving health outcomes in malaria-vulnerable populations.





Amanda Irish, DVM, MPH (2016)

Prior to my MPH, I was a practicing small animal veterinarian for four years. Perhaps unsurprisingly, my main research interests fall within the One Health initiative – focusing on the intersection of human, animal, and environmental health – especially as applied to zoonotic and vector-borne diseases. During my MPH I gained an interest in health disparities and in GIS, and hope to incorporate these into future research.  Outside interests include travel, art, reading, running, hiking, and course, spending time with my cat and dogs.

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Raj K. Kalapatapu, MD  (2014)

My clinical background includes working with psychiatric patients of all ages and substance use disorders. My research focuses on the theme of cognitive rehabilitation for individuals with substance use disorders. My goal in the PhD program is to become a solid clinical trial researcher, learning how to design and analyze clinical trials. I would like to apply this knowledge to the field of cognitive rehabilitation.

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Dan Kelly, MD, MPH (2017)

Education:  Princeton University (AB Chemistry); Albert Einstein College of Medicine (MD); UC Berkeley, (MPH)

My interest is in the study of the epidemiology and natural history of EVD survivorship and unreported infections in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

I am interested in research capacity building to support the development of individuals and degree-granting programs in countries where viral hemorrhagic diseases and health inequities are endemic. 





Megha Mehrotra, MPH  (2014)

My background and interests are in HIV prevention. Prior to joining the PhD program, I spent 5 years working on the iPrEx and iPrEx OLE HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis studies at the Gladstone Institutes. For my dissertation research, I'm interested in using causal inference methods to improve implementation of biomedical interventions. Specifically, I'm interested in using transportability to inform policy and implementation of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis.


Alyssa Mooney, MPH  (2014)

My interest in the social determinants of health began to develop while working in social service provision for incarcerated and recently-released men and boys, which illuminated how systems and policies around education, housing, and employment impact substance use, recidivism, and one’s life trajectory. While spending time in Zambia working with Peace Corps and USAID, and working on studies of cross-generational sex in Tanzania as an MPH student, I became particularly interested in how social context influences HIV risk and the success of prevention interventions.
My goal is to conduct research that elucidates the intricate web of social factors that contribute to the spread of HIV, and how interventions can most effectively address them to have the greatest impact on prevention. Through my work providing technical assistance in program evaluation with the STD/HIV Prevention Training Center, I developed a strong interest in how to conduct more rigorous evaluations of HIV prevention interventions, and I look forward to learning study designs such as randomized community trials.


Kathryn Ray, MA  (2013)

My background includes experience in epidemiological ophthalmic medical research as well as statistical programming and analysis. In the PhD program, I’d like to expand and cement my epidemiological and statistical methods as well as learn more about RCTs (Bayesian methods applied to RCTs, adaptive trials, and large simple trials). I’m also interested in analysis methods with large data sets in medical research, for example, RCTs collecting samples for deep sequencing (microbiomes), social network data for detecting epidemics, or analysis of large simple trial data.  My goal is to encompass my technical skills along with epidemiological and scientific knowledge in order to contribute to more to medical research.

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Francois Rerolle, MS (2016)

Education: Ecole Polytechnique, France (Ms, Engineering); Stanford University (Ms, Environmental Engineering)

I am interested in the epidemiology of infectious diseases and their socio-economic impacts in less-developed countries. I have conducted research on the epidemiology of Lymphatic Filariasis in Cameroon and as an environmental engineer, participated in numerous WASH studies. At UCSF, I hope to join the Malaria Elimination Initiative (MEI) and specialize in spatial epidemiology. In my spare time, I like to discover California and the San Francisco area, hiking, climbing, surfing or simply hanging out with friends.


Luis A. Rodriguez, MPH, RD, CNSC  (2015)


I am currently collaborating with faculty in the Health Working Group of the UC-Mexico Initiative. Current projects include collaborating with investigators at Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health to analyze the health and nutrition status of the Mexican population as captured by the nationally representative National Health and Nutrition Survey of 2016. In addition, I am performing cost-effectiveness analyses of the identification of adults with pre-diabetes in Mexico and the treatment with lifestyle modification and medical interventions.

Research interest:

My research interest involves examining the effects of consuming a diet high in ultra processed foods and added sugars on the cardiometabolic health of populations. I am particularly interested in low-income global populations and minority groups in the United States, with an emphasis in pediatric populations


Michelle Roh, MPH  (2015)

My interest in infectious disease epidemiology began as an MPH student working with MSF Epicentre in Uganda conducting studies on host genetic risk factors influencing future malaria elimination strategies in sub-Saharan Africa. Having a strong background in microbiology and epidemiology, I am particularly interested in the intersection of these two fields and how they could be integrated to develop effective interventions for infectious disease diagnosis, prevention, and control.  By obtaining my PhD, I look forward to advancing my knowledge in mathematical modeling and disease surveillance to understand disease dynamics, with a primary focus upon malaria. To that end, my goal is to transition these skills to direct targeted interventions and shape public policy.


Caroline Garling Tai, MPH  (2013)


I am interested in genetic epidemiology for cancer outcomes, specifically how to characterize disease risk using germline genetic information and other molecular biomarkers. My previous work experiences in drug development, public health, and clinical research motivate me to pursue research that translates scientific discoveries into practical applications. While at UCSF, I hope to improve our understanding of disease etiology and risk stratification for aggressive prostate cancer screening and treatment by investigating the underlying genetic architecture and developing new tools for disease prediction. I am also a member of the Witte Lab here at UCSF (

Research interest:

Genetic epidemiology, cancer, risk prediction, genomics, genome-wide association studies (GWAS)

Dissertation Title:

Heritable Risk Factors for Aggressive Prostate Cancer

S. Rae Wannier, MPH (2015)

My research interests lie in the interplay between our immune and metabolic function and infectious diseases, especially parasitic diseases. I am particularly interested in how human actions have complicated and affected these relationships. My research background includes several years in molecular biology and neurophysiology prior to pursuing epidemiology and research on the microbiome.  My goal in pursuing a PhD is to broaden my knowledge of statistics relevant to analyzing large-scale sequencing data sets andimmunological data.  Ultimately, I wish to pursue a career applying epidemiologic skills to methodological questions to better understand the role that our immune and metabolic function play in mediating the efficacy of our drugs and our ability to fight diseases.