Inside the mind of researcher Veronica Irvin

Veronica Irvin­­­­

Assistant Professor Veronica Irvin earned an MPH in Epidemiology from San Diego State University and a PhD in Public Health, Health Behavior from the joint program at UC San Diego and San Diego State University. She worked for 10 years at San Diego State University on NIH-funded behavioral epidemiological surveys and behavioral interventions. She completed a post-doctoral fellowship with the National Institutes of Health, Office of Behavioral and Social Science Research. Veronica has broad experience in NIH-funded research in tobacco control, nutrition, physical activity, bone health and cancer screening research.


What made you get into the field?

I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and French and knew that I didn’t want to work in a lab or translate for people. I didn’t know what to do, so I worked at a temp agency and was hired as an administrative assistant working at San Diego State University’s grant and contract department. I would read the abstracts of funded grants in public health and knew that I wanted to do that kind of work. I met with faculty, volunteered in their research lab and enrolled in their MPH program. I worked 10 years in the research center designing interventions and population surveys, implementing research, writing grants and manuscripts. I earned my PhD along the way. It was exactly what I wanted to do.

What does your current research entail?

I work in a lot of different areas of research.  I’ve conducted research in chronic diseases – tobacco control, nutrition and physical activity as they relate to body composition and bone density – as well as cancer screening. I’ve worked with a variety of populations and communities, with much of my experience centered on Asian American immigrants.

Recently, I’ve investigated broadly how medical and science information is presented either to other scientists or to clients/patients. It’s important for researchers to share or disseminate their findings, and I’m interested in learning what information is shared – or not – how that information is communicated and how that influences some else’s behavior. My research in this field can be separated into transparency of reporting and health literacy.

What sparked your interest in this topic?

All my previous mentors worked in this similar style – different research constructs, populations, designs etc. I enjoy taking what I did or learned with one research question, study or population and applying it to another.

How will this work make a difference?

I don’t get caught up in impact factors, etc. I send my research to publications whose audience will use my data to investigate the next steps or implement programs or policies. It’s hard to know if your research makes a difference. Some examples are when my research has been picked up by news outlets, blogged by others or implemented in practice.

What would you say is the most fascinating aspect of this research?

I had a paper published last summer in PLOS ONE that found the adoption of new transparent reporting standards may have contributed to a significant drop in the percentage of studies reporting positive research findings among large-budget drugs trials funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. It was interesting to see how many newspapers and journals wrote about the story and how many people discussed online how new reporting requirements were changing science. Null findings are important for science and patients and prevent unnecessary replication of trials and unnecessary treatments.

I appreciate when I see my work delivered in practice or in the community. I’m currently partnering with Albany InReach Services, which serves uninsured and underinsured individuals and families in the community. They have launched a community health care navigation project connecting bilingual clients to clinical and community resources. I’ve partnered with them to evaluate this program, focusing on health literacy needs and other barriers to adherence to appropriate care and services.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received and who gave it?

My mentors would tell me to try for everything – grants, publications, awards, jobs, etc. It seems that some people are lucky and achieve everything. But that’s probably only because you don’t see all their failures – just their successes.

What advice would you give to your current students and recent alums?

It’s OK to be bold and try something that’s not in your comfort zone. I’ve found that some of my best work started with a crazy research question or idea.

What are your favorite activities outside of work?

I have young children and spend most my time outside of work with them. We recently joined a gym, where they can participate in exercise on their own or with me.