Sam Rosenthal, assistant professor in Johnson & Wales University’s College of Health and Wellness, completed both her MPH and Ph.D. at the School of Public Health. In addition to her faculty position at Johnson & Wales, she is also a research associate in the School’s department of epidemiology.
Your undergraduate degree is in engineering. How did you make your way to public health?
I was a double major in chemical and biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. I went into those disciplines because I was interested in the health side, such as pharmaceuticals and medical devices. I went to work as an engineer for Procter & Gamble just after college. I worked on beauty products and packaging. It was a great job, but it didn’t meet my health interests. That, in conjunction with an inspiring public health professor in my final year of undergrad, convinced me to return to school for a Master’s in Public Health.
Why did you chose to pursue your MPH at Brown? What was your experience like in the program?
I was accepted into all the top MPH programs in the country. However, I received a personal letter from Dr. Patrick Vivier regarding my acceptance and even referencing specifics in my application essay. His letter showed me that there was a personal approach to education at Brown and that is what I really wanted. In fact, that is exactly what I received! During the MPH I learned powerful, applied public health skills. I also developed relationships with amazing mentors in the field whom I still work with today.
Your doctoral work in the School of Public Health focused on mental health. You were an early examiner of young people’s negative Facebook experiences and their impact on mental health. What did you find?
The findings from my doctoral work suggest that young people who have had negative experiences on Facebook, such as misunderstandings, unwanted contact, or bullying, are more likely to become depressed. This is particularly true for those young people with a history of depressive symptoms.
I am interested in examining how mobile use is related to behavioral health outcomes such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and injury. Everyone spends so much time on their mobile phones today. It is essential that we understand the health effects of this and develop appropriate prevention and intervention strategies using mobile phones.
You also researched connections between the negative consequences of drinking and depression among young women. You found that, while drinking did not predict the development of depression, negative outcomes from drinking, such as relationship problems, declining grades, or campus discipline, significantly predicted whether women went on to report a depressive episode. What are the implications of this finding?
These findings are really important on college campuses. The consumption of alcohol and even large amounts of alcohol in college is ubiquitous. This study suggests that how often you drink or how much you drink, if you are a first year female college student, does not predict the onset of depression. However, if your drinking has caused tangible negative consequences in your life, such as relationship problems, missed classes, or campus citations, then you are at increased risk for depression. Taken altogether, these results suggest that we should be identifying students at high risk for depression by some of these more obvious negative consequences such as missing class, dropping grades, or campus citations. Rather than just providing education about drinking in moderation, we should put greater emphasis on drinking in ways that doesn’t cause harm to other aspects of one’s life.
After completing your Ph.D., you have remained at Brown as a research
associate. What has that experience been like?
Being a research associate at Brown isb wonderful. It allows me to stay engaged with my mentors and collaborators at Brown, stay in contact with students and research, and be a part of applied public health in Rhode Island.
You are currently a faculty member in Johnson & Wales’ College of Health and Wellness. How did the School of Public Health prepare you for this role?
Almost all of the knowledge I have about public health and epidemiology came from my education and experiences at Brown. My research, collaboration, and teaching skills were all developed at Brown during my MPH and Ph.D., and those are the major skills I use on a daily basis as faculty in the Department of Health Science at Johnson & Wales University.
Tell us about the current research projects you’re working on.
I am currently looking at the various ways young people use their smartphones: the different apps, amount of time spent on various types of activities and specific apps. I am interested in examining how mobile use is related to behavioral health outcomes such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and injury. Everyone spends so much time on their mobile phones today. It is essential that we understand the health effects of this and develop appropriate prevention and intervention strategies using mobile phones.
What advice do you have for current students who hope to pursue careers in academia?
For current students, I would suggest they follow their interests. Study what you care about and enjoy learning about. Research what you care about and enjoy learning about. If you enjoy all different areas in public health, say yes to every opportunity. Also, engage with your peers and mentors often, nurture those relationships, because those relationships will help you throughout your career.