Student Profile: Kiran Thapa

Kiran Thapa, a Ph.D. candidate in epidemiology & biostatistics at the UGA College of Public Health, studies how adverse experiences in childhood can impact health across the lifespan.

“One of the things that I find particularly exciting about the field of childhood adversity and health is the role of protective factors or resilience in overcoming the negative effects of trauma,” he said. “Adversity and resilience interact in many different ways to affect mental health, and we are limited in our understanding of the complex pathways linking these concepts.”

Doctor of Philosophy in Epidemiology & Biostatistics

May 2024

Master of Public Health in Health Policy & Management, University of Georgia
Bachelor in Public Health, Tribhuvan University

Butwal, Nepal

What is your academic & professional background?

I completed my bachelor’s degree in public health from Tribhuvan University in Nepal in 2016. I worked in a non-governmental organization (NGO) until 2018, before I came to the U.S. to pursue higher education. I completed my MPH with a concentration in Health Policy and Management from the University of Georgia in 2020. Now, I am currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics.

What particular area/field of public health are you passionate about?

I am passionate about understanding the linkage and mechanisms through which early life adversities and resilience impact health across the lifespan, especially mental health outcomes. My research experiences, prior to and at UGA, have focused on understanding inequities in health, health behaviors, and outcomes in relation to socio-economic and contextual characteristics.

For my dissertation research, I am studying inequities in health, healthcare, and mortality outcomes with respect to the early childhood environment. Health outcomes are primarily driven by non-medical factors and understanding how best to integrate them into the domain of health and health care has been a hot button issue in public health research for years. I believe my research would help answer some critical questions surrounding the field of adverse childhood experiences and health and open more questions. I also have research interests in global health and implementation science, especially interventions that focus on improving mental health care and resiliency in low-income countries.

One of the things that I find particularly exciting about the field of childhood adversity and health is the role of protective factors or resilience in overcoming the negative effects of trauma. Adversity and resilience interact in many different ways to affect mental health, and we are limited in our understanding of the complex pathways linking these concepts.

Besides, some other projects I worked on include assessment of mental and behavioral health care costs in the state of Georgia, and preliminary evaluation of Asthma self-management education and healthy home assessment program.

What do you consider to be the highlight of your time at the College?

The highlight of my time at UGA is my engagement with the Economic Evaluation Research Group (EERG) at the UGA College of Public Health. The EERG, led by Dr. Janani Rajbhandari-Thapa, provides a wonderful platform for students and researchers in all stages and from all backgrounds interested in health policy and evaluation to develop ideas, engage in research and work collaboratively. From my first year MPH program until now, I have had the opportunity to work with many wonderful faculty and students within the EERG. Being able to constantly engage in work I am passionate about, share progress, get feedback, develop both technical and interpersonal skills has helped a lot in enhancing my learning curve over the years.

Why did you choose to pursue a Master of Public Health degree? Why UGA?

My undergraduate degree in public health instilled in me the curiosity and excitement to explore the vastness of public health. In my first job, I worked as a research assistant in a pilot trial, which evaluated the preliminary efficacy of a school-based culturally-tailored emotion regulation intervention to reduce broad mental health symptomatology and improve positive mental health among earthquake-exposed youths in Nepal. The experience helped me immerse myself into the world of scientific research and its potential to inform and improve health. I felt the need to pursue higher education and choosing to pursue a Master of Public Health was a no-brainer for me.

While I was working at the NGO, I was also constantly exploring universities in the U.S., communicating with faculty and staff through emails and preparing myself to pursue an MPH degree. I had UGA on the list of my priority universities after one of my friend’s recommendations, and my research into the UGA College of Public Health resources including teaching-learning activities, research, and faculty. Moreover, I was very interested in the project that I was hired for. The project sought to evaluate a statewide physical activity policy, which was also the domain of my undergraduate research work. I was pleased with the offer I was provided and excited about the prospect of entering a graduate school and collaborating with distinguished scholars and experts in the field.

What did you do for your MPH internship?

For my MPH internship, I worked for Resilient Georgia, a non-profit organization based in Atlanta, Georgia in the summer of 2020 to conduct a narrative review of the availability of information on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and identify data gaps in different national surveys in the US. I pursued an internship at Resilient Georgia, because their work in the field of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) prevention and trauma-informed care closely aligned with my research interests.

After completing your MPH, what made you decide to pursue a PhD degree?

Because my goal was to become a professor in an academic institution, pursuing a PhD degree was always on my mind. As I was finishing my MPH, I was still deciding if I should continue to pursue a PhD degree, or if I should take a break, get some work experience and pursue a PhD later. After some thought, I decided to apply for a PhD in Epidemiology & Biostatistics, which was the program I was interested in at UGA. Fortunately, I was accepted into the program.

What activities/achievements/awards during your time here are you most proud of?

There are so many things that I am proud of during my time at UGA. Graduate school has been very fulfilling and enriching. Being a first-generation international student, I had to learn to adapt myself to the college environment and the community. I have always had positive experiences with faculty, students and support staff in the department and college. I was awarded the Outstanding Student Award in the Department of Health Policy and Management in 2020.

Over the years, I worked with faculty and students from within and outside the department on different projects and published several papers. I also mentored a few MPH/MHA students in their capstone research, data analysis, and writing. I am certain that some of these collaborations are going to last beyond my time at UGA. Reflecting on my journey, spending some of the most productive years of my life at UGA and realizing how far I have come gives me an immense sense of pride as a student.

Posted on March 16, 2023.