A Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Program
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New Connections opened doors to people with whom I collaborate today. We would have never met if it had not been for this program.

Melody Goodman, PhD, considers her journey to receiving a PhD, and entering the academic profession, as a “most unplanned path” – one which changed her life in unexpected and fulfilling ways.

An Unplanned Path to Becoming a PhD and Scholar

When Melody started college at SUNY at Stony Brook, she thought she would become a medical doctor. But after hearing an older pre-med student talk about dissecting a cat, Melody knew that medicine was not the field for her. With her open and engaging personality, Melody sought guidance from a wide range of people about their majors. She met a student in the Honors program, who was majoring in applied mathematics and statistics. Melody explored this option, and discovered that she enjoyed every class – viewing each one as a different and exciting learning experience.

After settling into her new major (which eventually expanded to include an economics double major), Melody became involved in research through the Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) program. Participating in this program set the stage for another life change. Even though Melody worked in investment banking for several years after graduating from college, she continued to consider a career in research due to her experience in the MARC program. While exploring MBA programs, Melody broadened her search to include PhD programs that focused on math and health. She discovered the field of biostatistics, and applied to several doctoral programs in that arena. Instead of pursuing an MBA, Melody decided to enroll in a doctoral program at the Harvard School of Public Health, and eventually earned her PhD in biostatistics.

After receiving her PhD in 2006, Melody returned to Stony Brook as an Assistant Professor of Preventive Medicine in the Graduate Program in Public Health. Melody points to a series of conversations she had with a graduate school professor as an impetus for her return to Stony Brook. The professor had listened to Melody, and other graduate students of color, express concerns about the lack of diversity among academic faculty nationwide.  As Melody considered her options after graduating, she said the professor “asked me how I could not go into academia, given my strong feelings about the lack of diverse faculty in the academy.”  Melody accepted her professor’s challenge.  She wanted to prove that diverse faculty could do the job, and do it well. She also wanted diverse students to see a professor in the classroom who looked like them.

In 2007, while at Stony Brook, Melody applied for and received a New Connections grant. While she often worked as the biostatistician on a team of researchers, New Connections funding enabled Melody to delve into and investigate her own ideas about health disparities. She later received additional funding from RWJF to engage in community-based work, which was a burgeoning area of interest for Melody.  Along with several colleagues, Melody organized a community forum to explore factors affecting the health of young Black girls in Long Island, New York.

Building a Peer Network

New Connections also opened doors for Melody to start building a peer network of fellow diverse scholars. These colleagues, many of whom she met at New Connections professional development sessions, or through her grant cohort, represented disciplines, such as sociology and psychology, that she did not frequently encounter in more traditional public health research venues. Besides organizing the forum on Black girls’ health, Melody has partnered through the years with her New Connections colleagues on research projects and publications (e.g., in 2014, Melody published an article in the American Journal of Public Health with Dr. Naa Oyo Kwate of Rutgers University). She plans to collaborate with this network throughout her career.

Melody’s professional journey took another fortuitous turn in 2011.  A faculty member whom Melody knew in graduate school at Harvard invited her to join a new division of Public Health Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL). Melody accepted the offer, and views it as a “life change.” She considers her research at WUSTL, on developing primary prevention strategies to reduce health disparities, as “instrumental in making me who I am as a scholar – someone who is generating new knowledge.” From her start in Queens, New York, with an unplanned path to a PhD, Melody has become an active and engaged academic professional.