Class of '09, Major: Economics; Minor: Philosophy
Prof. Debra S. Dwyer, Economics, CAS; Health Care Policy and Management/Health Technology & Management
Prof. Kathleen Finnegan, Clinical Lab Sciences/Health Technology & Management
"Working with my mentor is great too because she’s very flexible and she allows me to be on my own, do my own thinking, and come up with my own questions. That’s why I’ve gained so much from the past year. …
Interview: read more >>
Researcher of the Month
When Diana Mosquera signed up for Yale’s '07 SMDEP program, she expected to cram a semester’s worth of Biology, Physics and Medical writing into her brain. What she did not anticipate was the chance to observe the set of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (filmed in New Haven, CT); and to be saddled with a quest of her own! That summer, Diana first discovered the draw of research. And Diana, upon returning to Stony Brook campus in fall of her junior year became absolutely determined to find a research mentor — if possible in the field of health economics.
Luckily this venture did not take her long! Diana quickly located Dr. Debra S. Dwyer, a professor in the Departments of Health Care Policy and Management, and Economics. And she began a project involving a real world problem in the health care field: shortages in the market for medical technicians. Working together with Professor Dwyer and co-mentor Professor Kathleen Finnegan, Chair of the Department of Clinical Lab Sciences, Diana Mosquera worked to analyze the issue of job satisfaction in the clinical lab sciences professions of medical technologists and medical lab technologists. While other studies have focused on program directors and employers, their study takes a more quantitative approach to this problem using regression analysis to compile a set of variables that indicate job satisfaction in this field. The survey they developed together will soon be distributed to workers across the United States and is currently undergoing IRB approval. The project also provides the basis of Diana’s senior honors thesis in economics; and will be presented at the URECA Celebration on April 29th.
Born and raised in Cali, Colombia, South America, Diana Mosquera moved to the U.S. about 10 years ago and admits to being a "born planner." She has always taken the initiative to seek out enriching experiences that make the most of her undergraduate years—from day one. In addition to the Yale SMDEP program, Diana participated last summer in the 2008 Travelers Summer Research Fellowship program at Weill Cornell Medical College where she had the opportunity to work with mentor Dr. Carol Mancuso on a clinical asthma project; last April, she also participated in the Biomedical Science Careers Program hosted by Harvard Medical College. Diana plans to apply to medical school in a year’s time, and has for the past two years dedicated much of her time to physician shadowing at Stony Brook Medical Center under the mentorship of Dr. Kimberly Fenton at the pediatric intensive care unit. Diana has also served as co-chair of the Student Health Advisory committee (Fall 2008- present); Chair of the Undergraduate Homecoming Committee (Fall 08); was an undergraduate TA for Macroeconomics; and worked as a student receptionist in the Dean of Students office from Fall 06 to the present. She is an enthusiastic Stony Brook Student Ambassador (Fall 2007 - present): “I love being a student ambassador! We get to go to the coolest school events ever! I was able to meet the Surgeon General, Rear Admiral Steven Galson, a Stony Brook alumni, when he came last spring. I shook his hand and asked him questions about economics, health care…I was really happy that I was able to meet him and ask him questions. “
Diana is exuberant about her Stony Brook experiences in general, and counts herself blessed to have had so many positive role models and mentors among the faculty and staff at Stony Brook. She also credits the support of her family as key to her success: “My parents are always there for me when I need them. I have friends and family that understand that this is really what I love and they don’t mind when I’m studying really hard. …They really understand that I really want to do this, that it takes a lot of time and effort but it’s what I love and it’s what I really enjoy doing." Below are some excerpts of her interview with URECA Director, Karen Kernan.
Karen: Tell me about how you first got started in research.
Diana: In the summer of 2007, I spent 6 weeks at Yale through an SMDEP program. There I got introduced to research. I remember asking one of the researchers, “Why do you research?” And he replied, “Every time I look at the microscope I feel like Christopher Columbus. Because I see something no one has seen before." That caught my attention, seeing that kind of excitement about discovery. So when I came back to school in the fall of junior year, I decided that I wanted to do research too. I had become interested in health economics while I was at Yale. So I went online and looked up health economists here at SB and found Professor Debra Dwyer. I sent her an email and I was surprised that she emailed me right back and said to come into her office. We had a great conversation about an ongoing clinical lab sciences project she was working on with another colleague, Professor Kathleen Finnegan. She gave me some background reading and I became really interested in the project. That fall, I read a lot of articles written by people in clinical lab sciences talking about what was going on the field and did more background research. After that semester, I decided to keep going with the project with my two mentors and we developed a survey together.
What’s the project about?
It deals with an economic problem. There’s a shortage of medical technicians in the clinical lab sciences. Looking at this trend all over the nation, you can see that something has been going on with supply and demand of labor in that field. As I read more about it, I started to see that even though wages were increasing, there wasn’t a strong trend of people joining the workforce. This issue came up again and again in different articles. The interesting part was that there hadn’t really been an economist’ s approach to the problem. So what makes this project really attractive is that this we’re looking at these issues from the perspective of a health economist, someone who knows about markets. I helped develop a survey with questions focusing on how satisfied people are in the job. Is it something more than just wages that’s an issue? The last step that we’re on is getting the project IRB-approved. But the survey is done! I actually have it on me right now. . . It’s going to be part of my senior economics thesis also!
Where do you get data for this project?
A lot is from clinical lab science journals. They’ve been doing studies since the 80s, looking at trends of how many are going into the field, how many programs are out there, how many are graduating. It’s a field that’s changing constantly. They’re introducing a PhD degree for clinical lab scientists which will also shift the job market a lot. We look at questions, such as: how many people are working in lab sciences? Is there going to be a huge shortage? It’s very exciting when you realize how many different forces are pulling, how it’s a tug of war. . . The neat thing is that we ask questions and think about this problem from an economist’s perspective.
You’ve been working with Prof. Dwyer for over a year now on this project. What are the benefits of doing long-term research project? What do you get out of it?
I think it’s the fact that as you go on, after the first 6 months or so, you start to think completely differently about the project. Things just evolve. You learn as you go, real life learning — like how to write surveys that people will answer, how to get a good response rate, how to ask certain questions. Working with my mentor is great too because she’s very flexible and she allows me to be on my own, do my own thinking, and come up with my own questions. That’s why I’ve gained so much from the past year. I never thought when I came in as a freshman, that I would get this opportunity to look at a real-world problem, something that’s a big deal in the health care industry. I’ve learned so much. And I love the research. It’s really exciting to be able to look at things from a different perspective. I like to make connections between different things.
Didn’t you also become involved in a separate research project last summer?
Yes, through The Travelers Summer Research Fellowship Program. That project was amazing too. I got to spend time in the city at Weill Cornell Medical School working on a clinical research project with a rheumatologist regarding asthma treatment/outcomes. For the first 4 weeks, I went to the emergency room every day with her research assistant to recruit patients and got to see ~ 10 patients being recruited incoming with asthma acerbations. Every patient was different. So it was so exciting to listen to each one being interviewed for the research project…. Dr. Mancuso, the research PI, had developed a book, an asthma handbook, which had stories of people with asthma, personal narratives. She wanted to see if patients learn better this way about how to control their asthma than being handed a generic brochure from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. That was the core of the project. Two groups of patients. One group is handed the book, the other group is handed the informational brochure.… Again, I was lucky to be with a great research mentor. The Cornell program also focused on health disparities, especially with regard to cardiovascular disease.
What are your plans for after you graduate? Has doing research as an undergraduate affected your plans?
My main goal now is to get into a one-year research program for the year following graduation. I’m applying to a few programs now. Overall, I’d say that doing economics research has helped me to open my mind to aspects of research in many different fields. . . A lot of people hear the word “research” and they immediately think of bench research, of someone with a pipette in hand. But there are so many other fields out there. My long term goal is to go to medical school. And I definitely see research in my future. There are so many dynamics that play into health care outcomes. You can’t just tackle it from the medical perspective and go in and treat people. You have to know what people are going through, what’s affecting peoples’ health, how you can help them improve…
Has doing research enhanced your education?
It’s a combination of academics and life that comes together in research. You can learn by reading a textbook, but it just doesn’t compare to actually working one on one with someone that’s, say like my mentor, been doing research for the past 10+ years. I feel like you just have to experience it …it’s not just going to class and learning about it, but taking what you learn in class, and making your own questions, formulating and making your adjustments to how you think about a problem.
It must be great for you to see your survey ready to be put to use!
I love it. . . I can’t believe it! I actually have it in my bag now. We plan to publish in the American Society for Clinical Pathology. They gave us the database we’re using for the survey…the hundreds of people that are going to be sent the survey in the next month.
Are there aspects of research you find frustrating?
In a way it can be bittersweet. Because economics research deals with people, and people are so complex. With the asthma research, for example, you give information about asthma, you want the patients to get better, but there’s always something that happens, that gets in the way. It’s the way people work. With the clinical research project too—where people are the main subject— there’s always some ambiguity. That’s the bittersweet portion of it. You sometimes wish it could be 100% and you could say “this is why people are not getting better once they come out of the ER with asthma” or “this is why people are not going into these jobs.” But at the same time, the process of doing research is great because you get to ask more questions. And the work is always evolving, it always keeps going.
What kinds of characteristics/qualities make for a successful researcher?
I think that one of the best qualities that I saw in the researchers I’ve met that I definitely admire and that have helped me in my research in my journey to becoming a researcher is that they’re always willing to listen to someone else, they’re always open to new ideas, even from an undergraduate! Dr. Dwyer, for example, from the start was receptive to what I thought about the problem. That’s what makes someone not just a great researcher, but a great mentor—being able to guide someone without completely telling them what to do. It’s a great quality, to be able to open up and listen to other people. To know that the answer to your research question might be right in front of you but you can’t see it.
You bring a lot of enthusiasm to your work!
I think that you really have to love the subject or at least be very very interested in the subject. That’s the only way you can continue to think about it, even after you leave your workspace. My research is not 9-5 everyday. My research is every day at different times of the day. I may wake up and think of something. I may read something in the news that makes me think about the job satisfaction study. What can be done? What can I tweak? What questions can I ask next? I think if you enjoy the research, or even more, if you love it, . . . then it’s going to go even better for you. It’s something that’s with you all the time, not just when you’re at work, not just when you’re in front of your research mentor talking about the project.
What advice do you have for other students regarding research?
Ask around. Talk to your professors. Do not be afraid to reach out to people! Especially at the university…staff, professors are here because they want to be here. They like students and want to help students. I’ve never been afraid to go out and get something I want or do something I’m really interested in. Because if you want something, you go and you try. If you’re lucky and work hard, you get it. If you don’t, you go after the next thing…