Life with a freshly minted doctorate from the University of Cincinnati doesnít necessarily signal a career change for Eileen Steinle Alexander. Itís more, in her words, "a slightly new direction that I didnít see coming.Ē
Alexander will receive her PhD in epidemiology from the College of Medicine during UCís Aug. 9 summer commencement, adding it to degrees from the College of Nursing (bachelor of science) and the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences (biology and ecological toxicology). She started her career in health care three decades ago as a cardiac surgery nurse and educator.
"In those days you had a choice of nurse or teacher if you were going to go to college,Ē she says, "and Iíve kind of done both.Ē
In her role as a nurse-educator, first in heart surgery and then in infection control, Alexander found herself working more and more with charts, graphs and rates based on systems that were designed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "but not actually coming up with the models on our own.Ē
"So when I got to the point where I had a lot of really interesting data that I knew had not yet been published, I decided it was time to go back to school and learn how to do thatóthe real statistical modeling that would explain a lot of what we were seeing, and also learn how to publish and get the word out.Ē
Alexander, in searching for the appropriate public health/epidemiology program, found that UCís was housed in the College of Medicineís Department of Environmental Health. "I learned that this was really the right program for me,Ē she says, adding that she started classes in 2008.
"Iím very glad I came to UC, and the opportunities have been tremendous,Ē she says, adding that she and Shuk-Mei Ho, PhD, Jacob H. Schmidlapp Chair of Environmental Health, share the same special interest in epigenetics.
Alexander has made the most of those opportunities: As a fellow on the Molecular Epidemiology and Childrenís Environmental Health training grant, she received support from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and received the Young Investigator Award from the International Eusinophil Society in 2011.
She was recently awarded a UC Research Council Fellowship and is a Frank C. Woodside III, MD, Dinsmore & Shohl Fellow in the Cincinnati Childrenís Hospital Medical Centerís Division of Biostatistics and Epidemiology. She plans to teach at Xavier University while continuing research in family-based public health strategies to explore the effects of environment on epigenetics.
"So I still get to teach, and Iíll still have some interaction with families and patients,Ē she says. "But now instead of implementing someone elseís system, I get to create my own as a scientist.Ē