Priyanka Vakkalanka is a PhD student in epidemiology whose research focuses on the mental health outcomes of United States veterans who are dependent on substance use.
Vakkalanka hopes that her work can address health discrepancies in veterans as well as the general population. Vakkalanka was awarded a grant from the Heartland Center for Occupational Health and Safety to study opioid usage in U.S. veterans. Through the Department of Emergency Medicine and the College of Public Health, she was able to advance her academic career at the University of Iowa. Vakkalanka is set to graduate in spring 2020.
Q: Why did you pursue graduate school / become a researcher?
A: I decided to continue my studies in graduate school because I wanted to pursue a career as an independent researcher. This training would provide the skills and knowledge to ask sound research questions, design appropriate studies, interpret the findings, and help disseminate the findings that would lead to change.
Q: Describe your research in non-expert language?
A: I study mental health care and delivery of services in veterans and the general U.S. population. At this point, I am investigating medication-assisted therapies on health outcomes among veterans with substance use dependence.
Q: What impact has your work had on the field/world? What impact do you hope to have on your field/world?
A: I am trying to investigate whether certain models or techniques are effective in reducing the gaps in mental health care and delivery. Whether they truly work or have no impact, I hope this information can be informative and can influence our approaches in addressing mental health disparities in the U.S.
Q: What programs or resources (on or off campus) have influenced or supported your academic goals?
A: My GRA with the Department of Emergency Medicine has been a great source of support in pursuing my academic and career goals because of the research training and studies to embed myself in their current work. Additionally, there have been numerous opportunities at the College of Public Health through grant writing mechanisms, classwork, and research presentation venues to help advance my academic career.
Q: Do you have any role models, mentors, or inspirational people who have encouraged you to pursue your work?
A: I am fortunate enough to have support all around me here at the University. Both my academic advisor and training grant mentor at the College of Public Health, my supervisors and mentors in Emergency Medicine, and other faculty members have provided guidance and encouraged me in my work since I started my training.
Q: How has your graduate experience shaped your career goals?
A: I came to this program with an open mind that I could pursue a career in academia, government, or the private sector. Seeing all the opportunities here has made me realize that an academic career in teaching and research is the best fit for me and has allowed me to tailor my experience as a student to best prepare me for this path.
Q: If you could go back to a time at the beginning of your graduate career, what advice would you give yourself?
A: I would tell myself to be patient and not too hard on myself. This whole experience is a process and there is a steep learning curve at the beginning of the career path. We learn more each year and build on our previous work, so it is okay if it takes time and if we do not have all the answers right at the beginning.