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Inspiring a new generation of researchers

By DAVID J. HILL

Published May 16, 2013

Pavani Ram
“What I want to do is inculcate a sense of purpose and passion among the students”
Pavani Ram, Associate Professor
Department of Social and Preventive Medicine

There’s a transformation a person undergoes when traveling to far less privileged places in the world, especially when those travels expose you to the untenable conditions in which so many children live and force you to think about ways you can make a difference.

Students in Pavani Ram’s public health courses have the opportunity to undergo such a change through learning about public health issues in low- and middle-income countries and, in some cases, actually doing field research in these locales.

“What I want to do is inculcate a sense of purpose and passion among the students,” says Ram, who teaches courses in global health and epidemiology of infectious disease in addition to mentoring master’s and doctoral students at UB and other universities.

Through her teaching, Ram is able to open students’ eyes to parts of the world that lack infrastructure, such as access to safe water and sanitation, critical to ensuring public health. Ram’s research has taken her to Africa and South Asia, among others.

“There’s a whole constellation of reasons why people in Africa and South Asia have these tremendous health concerns,” she says. “It’s not a lack of ability or capability, but a complex set of conditions that set up the inequities that exist for public health in our world.”

Ram relishes talking to students when they return from their field research journeys. “They come back with a new sense of purpose, a vigor for the work that we undertake,” Ram says. “To me, one of the most precious times I have with students is the day they come back. To teach students who demonstrate intellectual curiosity is a joy for me.”

One such student is Emily Fiore, who as an undergraduate recently took Ram’s graduate level Global Health class. Fiore says Ram has been instrumental in her success as a student. “She is extremely knowledgeable and provided me with a comprehensive introduction to the health issues that plague low-income countries, as well as the successes and failures of the public health sector in combating these issues,” says Fiore, who just finished the fourth year of a five-year dual degree program in biology and anthropology.

After graduating, Fiore wants to go to medical school to work in the global health sector. “Dr. Ram’s class helped foster this passion by exposing me to the issues in a scientific fashion,” Fiore says, adding that Ram has continued to mentor her.

“Despite her involvement with current public health projects, Dr. Ram has still found the time to serve as my faculty adviser for an independent research project I am conducting on the burden of disease of landmines in a post-conflict setting. She has found time to discuss with me my future plans, and has always been sure to remind me of my value as a woman in science.”

While there’s great satisfaction in helping to address major public health problems around the world, Ram says she most enjoys the interactions she has with students. “Teaching, both in the classroom and in one-on-one mentoring relationships, rewards me tremendously, both professionally and personally,” Ram says.