Student Profile: Tzu-Chun Chu

For doctoral student Tzu-Chun Chu, the impactful mentorship she has received at UGA Public Health has played a huge part in fueling and sustaining research passions that lie at the crossroads of cardiovascular health, infectious diseases and machine learning.

“Connecting with dedicated professors and researchers who took a genuine interest in my academic journey has been transformative,” she said. “Their guidance not only enhanced my understanding of epidemiological research but also fueled my resilience and passion for contributing to public health.”

Doctor of Philosophy in Epidemiology & Biostatistics, College of Public Health
Master of Science in Statistics, Franklin College of Art & Sciences

Bachelor of Science in Horticulture, National Taiwan University
Master of Public Health, University of North Texas Health Science Center

May 2025

Taichung, Taiwan

What is your educational and professional background?

I initially earned a bachelor’s degree in Horticulture from National Taiwan University and later transitioned into Biostatistics by obtaining a Master of Public Health degree from the University of North Texas Health Science Center. I am currently pursuing a doctoral degree in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the UGA College of Public Health. Concurrently, I am also pursuing a Master of Science in Statistics at UGA’s Franklin College of Arts & Sciences. Before beginning my doctoral studies, I worked as Senior Biostatistician for two years at Brown University. My work involved assisting clinical and translational investigators in supporting the creation of study designs and statistical analysis plans, as well as implementing advanced data modeling to enhance diagnostic and long-term clinical outcomes within the realms of infectious diseases, global health, and personalized decision-support tools.

What particular area/field of public health are you passionate about? How did you become involved in your field?

My research passion lies at the crossroads of cardiovascular health, infectious diseases, and machine learning. I have accumulated six years of professional experience focusing on infectious diseases, with a particular emphasis on HCV, Ebola, acute diarrhea, and COVID-19. My work has revolved around strategies for prevention and early treatment initiation, as well as addressing intricate issues related to health disparities. During my time at Brown University, I also led the analysis of a N-of-1 trial study to test individualized triggers for Atrial Fibrillation, a type of heart arrhythmia that can lead to various heart-related complications, with the aim of improving quality of life. This marks my very first exposure to cardiovascular research. These experiences have fueled my growing interest in continuing my endeavors in these vital areas.

What exciting projects are you working on? 

I am currently working on a project led by EPIBIO faculty members Dr. Jessica Knight and Dr. Allan Tate that employs wearable devices and mobile apps to gather health data, including heart rate variability, physical activity, and sleep patterns. We will use Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA), a tool involves real-time, repeated sampling of individuals’ daily thoughts, behaviors, and environmental interactions, to study stress responses in both teenagers and their mothers from Athens and neighboring counties. Our research focuses on identifying stress patterns and disparities, especially within low socioeconomic status families. This work aims to inform targeted interventions to enhance cardiovascular health outcomes among both teenagers and mothers. We are currently in the process of validating the Bangle.Js Watch, an open-source, cost-effective, and research-friendly device, using the Polar H10 heart rate sensor. I am enthusiastic about advancing this project to explore how momentary stressors impact both parents and children within a real-world, non-laboratory setting, examining the cycle of stress and its effects on mental health.

What attracted you to getting your doctorate at the College of Public Health?

I was drawn to pursue my doctorate at the College of Public Health due to my deep passion for statistical methodologies, modeling, and epidemiological research. The Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, within the college, provides a course curriculum, environment, and research opportunities that specifically emphasize the comprehensive aspects of both disciplines.

Another reason that really captivated me was its proven track record of being a truly supportive and diverse community. One aspect that stood out for me was the program’s exceptional commitment to providing extensive resources for fostering meaningful collaborations between faculty and students. I worked on various projects alongside dedicated faculty, fellow students, and clinical researchers, and each experience was nothing short of remarkable. These collaborations let me explore different aspects of public health, contributing to my personal and professional development. It’s been an incredible opportunity to apply and expand upon my background in such a dynamic and impactful environment.

What do you consider to be the highlight of your time at the College (so far)?

I have had many rewarding experiences through engaging in diverse research projects at the College. One of them involves interdisciplinary collaboration across universities for the National COVID Cohort Collaborative (N3C) study, a crucial component of my dissertation. My research focuses on constructing an interpretable machine learning model, including Bayesian belief network, to identify individuals at high risk of developing major adverse cardiovascular events (MACE) during hospitalization for COVID-19. While current studies related to COVID-19 primarily focus on pulmonary and inflammatory complications, severe cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes significantly contribute to mortality, particularly in individuals with pre-existing cardiovascular conditions. Leveraging the diverse N3C data cohort, collected from 83 clinical sites across the United States, I am working towards a practical approach for conducting detailed risk assessments and optimizing therapies, with the potential to make a positive impact on the well-being of COVID-19 patients.

What achievements/honors during your time at CPH are you most proud of?

I appreciate the opportunity to present our research findings at various national and international conferences. One achievement I value is the acknowledgment of our research project on the heterogeneity of childhood obesity in diverse households, featuring a machine learning-informed intervention. This collaborative effort involved our department and the Family Matters team from the University of Minnesota, and it received recognition at The Obesity Society. This acknowledgment underscored the importance of our work and facilitated valuable discussions and collaborations within the academic community. Additionally, I take pride in receiving the UGA Graduate School Doctoral Fellow Award when joining the program, as it served as an encouraging recognition of my commitment to academic excellence and provided valuable support for my research endeavors throughout my academic journey.

Do you have any external activities that you are passionate about?

Outside of my research, I love hitting the road with my husband, friends, and Leia, my 9-year-old Lab Retriever mix. She’s always up for a good adventure. I also love baking, painting, watching movies, and enjoying stand-up comedies.

What are your career plans beyond graduation?

After graduation, I look forward to continuing my focus on cardiovascular and infectious disease research due to their significant global health impact in the biomedical industry.

What are the biggest takeaways from your educational experiences at UGA so far? 

In the program, the standout lesson for me has been the impactful mentorship I have experienced. Connecting with dedicated professors and researchers who took a genuine interest in my academic journey has been transformative. Their guidance not only enhanced my understanding of epidemiological research but also fueled my resilience and passion for contributing to public health. I truly appreciate everything I have encountered during my time at UGA College of Public Health.

Posted February 14, 2024.