Monik C. Jimenez ’04
Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Instructor of Medicine
Harvard Medical School
What first attracted you to Whittier College? When I was getting ready to transfer from community college to a four-year institution, my initial inclination was toward the UC system. However, after speaking with some people who had recently graduated from various UCs I was advised to look for a school where I would be more than a number, an institution that would actually invest time in me rather than just give me a degree if I jumped through “X” number of hoops. I completely refocused my search to small liberal arts school. Since I had spent a part of my childhood growing up in the Whittier area, my family naturally had some loose connections to Whittier College. All it took was my first campus visit to Whittier and I knew it was the only place where I wanted to be. In fact it was the only application I filled out!
Why did you choose to study biology? Going into college, I wanted to be a medical doctor, a dream I had held for years. When I came home from the Navy and started going back to school, I was determined to make it to medical school. Not exactly where I ended up but that’s OK.
Describe your experience at Whittier College. What was your favorite class? I loved so many classes I took at Whittier. They provided such a strong foundation for my graduate studies later. I loved all of my bio classes with professors Bourgaize, Hanson, and Swift. I also really enjoyed my "19th Century Literature" and "Islamic Studies" classes. Whittier was a unique opportunity to broaden my world intellectually, providing a solid foundation for my future endeavors.
Did you intern while at Whittier College? Where, and what was that experience like? I had several amazing summer internships at Harvard School of Public Health. I had started those internships while in community college and continued while at Whittier. I learned about the basics of epidemiologic research, from literature reviews and putting together PowerPoint presentations to auditing graduate level classes on social determinants of health. It was during those summer internships that I developed a passion for public health and realized that research would be a better fit for me than clinical medicine.
What was your first job after Whittier? What are you currently up to in the field of epidemiology? How has your Whittier education benefited you professionally? Right after Whittier, I went into a Master of Science program at Harvard School of Public Health and then continued on to finish my doctorate. My first official post-Whittier job was actually while I was in my master’s, working as a research assistant doing statistical analysis at Boston University School of Dental Medicine. After my doctoral studies I took on a postdoctoral fellowship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Harvard Medical School (HMS). I just recently completed that fellowship and was promoted to associate epidemiologist at BWH and instructor of medicine at HMS.
Whittier has an incredible reputation and that has certainly been positive for me. When people ask me where I completed my undergraduate education they are always impressed I went to Whittier. I think there is a lot of renewed interest in small liberal arts schools like Whittier, and we have certainly made a name for ourselves. Furthermore, I gained stellar skills at Whittier. I honed my skills as a student, learned new techniques which set me apart from others “even at Harvard,” and, most importantly, it gave me the opportunity to reach my potential. I carried significant family challenges as the primary caregiver of my mother, who is permanently disabled, and my sister who was a toddler at the time. All of my professors knew my situation and supported me in countless ways. If it were not for the compassion that Whittier provided, I would not be where I am today. I am indebted to Whittier. What is amazing to me is that on my first campus tour, there was this tangible sense of compassion, encouragement, and positive nurturing that I felt from everyone I met. I knew it was the place that would help me reach my full potential.
What do you do as a researcher at Harvard Medical School and at Brigham and Women’s Hospital? Can you describe what a day is like at these two places? My research is focused on racial/ethnic and gender disparities in cardiovascular disease with a particular interest in stroke and hypertension. I am particularly interested in why women, and particular racial/ethnic minorities (e.g. African Americans, Latinos and American Indians), experience exceedingly higher rates of stroke than their White counterparts. The burden of hypertension is overwhelming carried by older women, African Americans, with the highest rates among older African American women. On the other hand, Latinos appear to have lower rates of hypertension but few studies have examined Latinos by country of origin. I’m interested in why we see these patterns, what are the lifestyle and biological factors influencing these disease profiles?
My work days are super busy! I juggle my research, teaching, and committee responsibilities. I try to commit the majority of my time to my current research projects, which include analyzing data, writing up results, collaborating with other investigators, presenting at meetings, attending conferences, and, of course, writing grants. I also teach a few research methods and biostatistics classes each semester, some face-to-face and some online. In addition, I serve on a committee for diversity and inclusion at Harvard School of Public Health. My work comes in waves, there are times when I’ll be crazy busy trying to finish up several papers and maybe even a few grants back to back, this is often late in the year into early February. Then things calm down a little and I can focus on writing and teaching through the end of spring. The summer is usually wonderful with time to brainstorm for the next grant and lofty ideas for finishing up lingering analyses and manuscripts.
What advice would you give to future biology alumni when they graduate? I would advise young graduates to actively build your network. Be willing to step outside your comfort zone and introduce yourself to new people. You have NO idea how new connections can open doors for you later. I remember my first conference; I was with a bunch of other students huddled in a corner talking. My advisor came over to me and said, “You see them all the time, GO WORK THE ROOM!” She reprimanded me like a little girl and I was irritated, but I did what she said. In fact, from that point forward I always did just that and it paid off. By the time I finished my doctoral program, I was rubbing shoulders with the chairs of departments from the top five universities in my field, simply because I introduced myself.
Finish this sentence: I am a ‘Poet for Life’ because… I will never stop learning and encouraging others to strive towards their educational goals.
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