Last week, I was sitting in my Introduction to Probability lecture when my professor stopped mid-explanation to greet about fifty or so parents and admitted students who had taken their seats in the back of Hodson 110. While I expect that they were probably all a little early for some sort of admissions information session that was to be given in the same lecture hall after my class ended, I was surprised to see how many of them were actually sitting and listening and (maybe?) enjoying these mathematical chalkboard hieroglyphics that I was furiously copying down into my notes to try and decipher later. But then I realized that these admitted students were admitted for a reason. If they’re going to be Hopkins students, they’re definitely bright and probably enjoy this kind of stuff. If you’re an admitted/prospective/hopeful Hopkins student and you’re interested in what an applied math/public health double major studies, you’re in luck. Here’s a couple of things I’ve been learning in some of my classes.
Global Health Principles and Practices
A major portion of our grades in GHPP is based on two major assignments, the first of which I’ve already completed. For this assignment, we were to research a health problem anywhere in the world. I focused on tuberculosis in Vietnam. The prompt is as follows:
Based on your research, create a story about a specific person or family… Find a way to weave in three or more of the local and global factors that contribute to the problem into your story. The story should be engaging, believable, and respectful of the local peoples, their traditions, religions and livelihoods. The story should take us behind the statistics, and provide a sense of the struggles people face in avoiding, living with, or seeking treatment for the health problem. You can structure the story in different ways to illustrate what it is like to struggle with this health problem, including but not limited to: a day in the life of a person with the health problem, experiences seeking treatment, or a family member’s experiences in caring for and seeking treatment for a relative. You may also write the story from the perspective of a health worker who treats people with the health problem you have chosen.
To accompany this narrative, we were to also write a more formal research paper based on this specific health problem as another portion of the assignment. The goal, however, was to illuminate a global health problem in the context of an individual, which is the type of public health framework that I haven’t really explored, considering my background and interests in the data side of public health. I found this assignment, and this way of looking at global health issues to be both fascinating, and extremely important.
Further, check out this TEDx talk we were assigned to watch before one of our lectures — it’s about the “silent epidemic” of depression in Africa, a continent where addressing mental health problems often takes the backseat to solving problems with HIV/AIDS, malaria, and infectious disease.
Data Visualization for Individualized Health
Every week, we’re assigned to develop a web application that visualizations global health and/or economic data. My partner, Anjani, and I have been focusing on indicators like GDP per capita, life expectancy, food supply, and infant mortality in our weekly homework apps, and here’s one we made last week! In class that week, we focused on logistic regression, so our app shows two visualizations:
- The first plot predicts the probability that a hypothetical country has a “low life expectancy” based on the country’s food supply. Use the slider bar on the left side to change your selected food supply and see how the probability increases and decreases!
- The second plot predicts the probability that a hypothetical country is designated “low-income” based on the country’s life expectancy and infant mortality rate. On the left side again, you can input the life expectancy you want to estimate the probability for, and also change whether or not your country is “low infant mortality” or not. The logistic regression model we created shows that if your hypothetical country is designated “low infant mortality”, you have a lower probability of being designated “low-income”!
If you haven’t already read my other posts about this class, I’ve really enjoyed this class. It’s a lot of work. We have to complete readings and code and analyze data and debug (truth: this is the only class I’ve actively attended office hours for) but it’s fantastic. There’s nothing more satisfying than having your code run and it outputting beautiful, meaningful, interactive data visualizations. The class is a little bit of everything I like:
a public health focus + data and statistics perspective + a little bit of coding + visual theory
What’s not to like?
Fiction/Poetry Writing I
I’m going to go out on a limb here and share one of the poems I wrote for IFP. It’s a sonnet that I’m actually pretty proud of. The class has definitely helped me improve my creative writing skills (they were quite lacking to start), and I’ve gotten the opportunity to read some fantastic poems and short stories — favorites right now have to be “This Is Just To Say” by William Carlos Williams and “Symbols and Signs” by Vladimir Nabokov. Without further ado, here is my poem, which clearly shows my love for slant rhyme and the feeling of nostalgia —
On nights like this, we’d open hidden drinks
on wooden porch seats stained with youthful times.
And early in the evening I would think
of twinkling lights we’d passed on nightly drives.
You’d say, “I’ll stay the night”, and there we’d talk
of cities that you’d wander to someday,
of trains that’d sweep you fast into the dark.
I’d pass my dimming cigarette and stay
with you for just another hour or two.
And when I’d shuffle back into the warmth,
I’d leave an extra blanket out for you
in case you’d rest upon my bedroom floor.
I wonder if you still think of these days
of you and I before we went away.