Darya started working at OrACORe in June 2023 after graduating from Bates College with a…
Following her graduation from Princeton University with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering (BSE) in computer science, Samantha Chin joined OrACORe in July 2023. During the summer of 2022, Samantha pursued her interest in computational science and healthcare with a position in the computational oncology department of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, researching racial disparities in colorectal cancer. Samantha also acted as a Peer Academic Advisor throughout her time at Princeton where she mentored first-year students during their transition from high-school to college. With her love of volleyball, Samantha played on Princeton’s club volleyball team for four years. Outside of work at OrACORe, Samantha volunteers with the Read to a Child program where she reads one-on-one to elementary students at under-resourced schools. Samantha also volunteers as a cross-country coach and a mentor for youth in the Boston area with Youth Enrichment Services (YES).
What about this research position attracted you to it?
This research position offered a unique blend of quantitative, policy-relevant research and hands-on clinical experience that aligned seamlessly with my interests. As an undergraduate student, I explored health policy through classes that were apart of Princeton’s Global Health and Health Policy program. My studies illuminated the importance of social determinants in health outcomes, and I grew a deep appreciation for the role of policy in shaping more effective and equitable healthcare systems. Outside of the classroom, my enthusiasm for using computer science to address key medical challenges led me to diverse research projects, ranging from epigenetics to computational oncology. These projects cultivated my interest in quantitative research with policy implications and, in my search for post-grad opportunities, I hoped to channel my research endeavors more directly towards informing clinical policy and decision-making. The position at OrACORe allows me to apply my quantitative skills to meaningful health policy and medical decision-making analyses using a complex computer simulation model. Importantly, I was also drawn to OrACORe because it complemented my research interests with direct patient interaction. I knew that engaging with research subjects would both enrich my clinical skills and imbue my research with real-world relevance and impact. Finally, I was attracted to OrACORe because I was excited to join a supportive cohort of research assistants with both similar career interests and diverse perspectives. The prospect of having a social, supportive work environment sealed the deal, and my ongoing experiences at OrACORe have only reinforced this mindset.
What’s a typical week on the job for you?
For me, a “typical” week on the job includes a mix of different projects. One of my projects uses the OAPol model, which is a Monte-Carlo simulation model that incorporates various cohort characteristics to evaluate the efficacy and cost effectiveness of different treatment courses. I enjoy working with the OAPol model because it involves collaboration with other RAs, physicians, and statisticians to inform model usage. FraPol, another state-transition model, focuses on frailty in people with HIV. From week to week, I contribute to FraPol in different ways, most frequently helping to derive different model inputs.
I also engage in the KArAT study, which investigates whether personalized health coaching in conjunction with financial rewards can increase physical activity post-TKR. As a baseline visit assessor, I consent participants for the study and conduct Musculoskeletal (MSK) and Quantitative Sensory Testing (QST) exams. I also manage multiple aspects of KArAT data and conduct analyses to determine participants’ weekly financial incentive goals. I have been able to utilize my background in computer science as I collaborated to develop python scripts to track participant physical activity levels captured with Fitbit devices. Finally, I am eagerly anticipating my role as an interventionist for TOPS, a pioneering knee OA prevention study. As recruitment gains momentum, I have been training to lead physical activity and diet interventions. In addition to my projects, a typical week might include journal club presentations and other educational seminars at BWH.
What do you like most about being a research assistant at OrACORe?
My favorite aspect of being a research assistant at OrACORe is the interdisciplinary nature of the position. The group is full of experts in different disciplines; I collaborate with clinicians, statisticians, and RAs with diverse academic backgrounds. I have quickly learned that “clinical research” is a broad term that encompasses study design planning, clinical data collection, data analysis, administrative work, and more. Beyond collaborating with team members with different roles within OrACORe, I also enjoy experiencing different roles within my one position. For example, as a baseline assessor for KArAT, I collect data from study participants; as an OAPol modeler, I integrate data such as pain scores into the models. Having comprehensive exposure to clinical research operations has allowed me the opportunity to experience research from both the data collection and data analysis perspectives. I have gained different insights from participant interactions and data analyses, and the insights derived from each experience have ultimately enhanced my skills in the other domain.
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?
Learning about cost-effectiveness analysis through my work with the OAPol model has expanded my understanding of the impact of health policies on patient care. Incorporating parameters such as quality of life and discounting (decreasing the value of future cost and life-years to reflect present bias) into the model has prompted me to reflect on how real patient experiences are operationalized in mathematical models. A salient example is quality of life; while one treatment course might lead to a longer life expectancy, it is important to consider the quality of these lived years to fully compare different treatments. OAPol analyses focus on quality-adjusted life years (QALY) in addition to life years alone, which reflects the aforementioned emphasis on a comprehensive modeling perspective. Learning about the process of interpreting model outputs has further shaped my understanding of health policy evaluation. Even after producing results on the incremental cost-effectiveness ratios (ICERs) of treatments, identifying appropriate willingness to pay (WTP) thresholds is a crucial step in determining whether certain treatment courses are truly “cost-effective.” This WTP threshold, which represents the amount that a patient/payer/society would be willing to pay for an incremental health benefit, varies based on the target population and the analysis perspective. Recognizing the nuances of output analysis has added to my understanding of how real-world considerations – beyond treatment cost and efficacy alone – should be integrated into clinical decision-making and health policy evaluation.
What are your plans post-OrACORe?
Directly after OrACORe, I hope to attend medical school. Looking farther down the road, I remain open-minded but currently foresee a career that centers on working with patients, but also includes contributing to clinical research and, ideally, mentoring.
What makes you laugh the most these days?
My friends, family, and co-workers make me laugh the most these days! Whether it’s joking with my roommates every day after work, spending time with my family (who luckily live in Boston!), or bonding with fellow RAs both in and out of the office, I am grateful to have such uplifting people in my life.