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6 Questions for First-Year Research Assistants: Mahima Kumara

Mahima joined OrACORe in August 2021, after graduating from Yale College in May 2020 with a BA in Statistics & Data Science. After college, she spent a year on a fellowship with the Yale Music in Schools Initiative, teaching and organizing music education programs for students in New Haven Public Schools. At Yale, Mahima sang and played piano in the Yale Glee Club and worked in health disparities research at the Yale Equity Research and Innovation Center, where she assisted with a cohort study of chronic disease in the Eastern Caribbean and for her senior thesis, analyzed data on environmental and health-related risks in Rohingya refugee camps. In the summer of 2019, she interned with a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research team in Asheville, NC, studying population vulnerability to extreme heat across the Southeastern US.

Mahima at Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA. Photo courtesy of Mahima Kumara.

1. What about this research position attracted you to it?

I was excited about the wide range of projects here at OrACORe/PIVOT and the unique opportunity to engage in both policy-related modeling and clinical research experiences. After college, I knew I wanted to continue pursuing my interests in policy, health disparities, and statistics, and as such, I was especially interested in working on the Osteoarthritis Policy Model (OAPol) project. I was also keen to explore clinical research options and to interact directly with study subjects because my previous research experiences were mainly focused on data analysis.

2. What’s a typical week on the job for you?

I spend most of my time working on the MeTeOR (Meniscal Tear in Osteoarthritis Research) trial and on OAPol (the Osteoarthritis Policy Model), although every week is different! For MeTeOR, I meet with trial participants for study visits about once a week, work throughout the week to recruit participants by telephone, and assist in training new staff and coordinating study activities across the other five MeTeOR hospital sites. I recently started working on a couple of OAPol-related projects involving computer simulations of knee osteoarthritis outcomes and costs. One specific topic involves analyzing the impacts of an exercise program for knee osteoarthritis, and I currently spend two to three days a week running the OAPol model and analyzing data, reviewing literature, and planning project methods with Dr. Losina and other OAPol research assistants. For the rest of the week, I am usually contributing to various exciting grants, writing projects, and presentations that are always underway here at OrACORe. Finally, my colleagues meet frequently for journal clubs, anti-racism discussions, community service planning meetings, project working groups, and much more.

3. What do you like most about being a research assistant at OrACORe?

One of the things I like most about OrACORe is the supportive and dedicated community of people who work here. I really appreciate the emphasis on learning and mentorship, and on any given day, you can always find research assistants asking each other questions and taking time to help one another with projects.

4. What’s one thing you’ve learned in the past month here that either changed the way you understand health care or influenced you in some other way?

Over the past few months, I have been able to dive much more deeply into the applications of statistical and research methods to clinical trials and healthcare. From reading about and discussing modeling frameworks such as survival analysis to learning about causal graphs during an OrACORe journal club session, it has been illuminating to see methods I briefly encountered during college applied in fascinating ways to the questions we study. Recently, I presented on literature related to the OAPol model, with topics including outcomes of knee replacement and characterization of pain trajectories in knee osteoarthritis, and I appreciated the chance to talk through and critically think about the methods of numerous papers with our faculty and research assistants. Through these experiences, I hope to become more discerning and thoughtful regarding the utility of various statistical methods in research. Another experience I have found extremely valuable is our weekly and monthly discussions on community engagement and anti-racism, which have allowed me to learn more about Boston communities and the intersection of race and medicine.

Mahima (center stage, front left) during a performance with the Yale Glee Club. Photo courtesy of Mahima Kumara.

5. What are your plans post-OrACORe?

I am thinking of applying to graduate programs related to public health and health policy (though I am in the process of deciding!), with an interest in research and policy related to health disparities and the impacts of climate on health.

6. How are you engaging with your community outside of work?

I am enjoying connecting with the Boston community as someone new to the area! I am part of two choirs in the area, Cantata Singers and Triad, and have loved singing and conducting for local audiences again after a year spent mostly on screens. In addition, the first-year RAs on OrACORe’s community service committee recently helped organize a clothing drive to benefit Haley House, a local soup kitchen. We are looking forward to creating and supporting more community engagement initiatives in the new year.

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