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Meet the Cancer Quality and Control Training Program Fellows

Group of pre- and post-doctoral fellows in the Cancer Quality and Control Training Program at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Sean Mikles, Jessica Yasmine Islam, Sophie Mayer, Christine Hsu, Meghan O’Leary, and Olive Mbah

Post-Doctoral Fellows

The Cancer Care Quality Training Program (CCQTP) offers post-doctoral training to clinician and non-clinician scientists who wish to work in multidisciplinary research teams to improve cancer care quality across the cancer care continuum.

Christine Hsu, Sean Mikles, and Jessica Yasmine Islam

The CCQTP recruits 1-3 post-doctoral candidates per year who have an explicit interest in conducting research on cancer care quality. The program offers post-doctoral trainees:

To learn more about become a post-doctoral fellow, read the CCQTP post-doctoral application information.


Christine Hsu

Post-Doctoral Fellow
Expected Fellowship Completion Date: 2020/2021

Educational Background

Washington University in St. Louis, MPH (May 2017)
University of the Pacific, BA, PharmD (May 2015)

Why did you choose a UNC’s Cancer Care Quality Training Program (CCQTP)?

I chose to apply to the CCQTP fellowship because the training program’s goals align with my research interests in cancer care quality and the value I see in multidisciplinary collaborations and conducting research with potential policy and clinical implications in mind. The CCQTP fellowship also offered many opportunities to develop as a well-rounded researcher, through mentorship, professional development sessions, and seminars, like the cancer outcomes breakfast seminar.

Why are you interested in cancer care and cancer care quality?

I am interested in cancer care research because there are still many health disparities in cancer outcomes, despite advances in treatments. Research and policy change in this area can help move the needle towards improving equity in cancer care.

Who are your mentors/preceptors, and why did you select them?

Dr. Jennifer Lund in the Epidemiology department is my main mentor and advisor. I joined Jenny’s lab group in the pharmacoepidemiology program because our research areas aligned around cancer, older adults, and medication use. Dr. Hazel Nichols in the Epidemiology department is another key mentor, and I started working with Hazel and Jenny on a project after taking Hazel’s cancer survivorship course and developing a research interest in survivorship care.

What is one professional goal you hope to achieve within the next five years? How will your involvement in this fellowship help you achieve that goal?

I hope to complete my dissertation and continue cancer care quality research, perhaps in an academic research setting, where I could also have the opportunity to mentor students. The CCQTP fellowship helps me achieve this goal by providing mentorship and funding support, as well as professional development opportunities.

What are your research interests? Will you be working on these during your time in this fellowship?

My broad research interests include medication use and safety, and access to cancer care. I am currently working on a project examining patterns of medication use among cancer survivors, and I am also interested in hepatitis C treatment and liver cancer prevention.


Sean Mikles

Post-Doctoral Fellow
Expected Fellowship Completion Date: July 2021

Educational Background

University of Washington, PhD in Biomedical and Health Informatics (December 2018)
Columbia University, MPH in Epidemiology (May 2013)
University of Michigan, BSE in Industrial and Operations Engineering (December 2005)

Prior Work Experience

Epic Systems: Technical Services, Division Operations, Vendor Relations (May 2006 – April 2011)

Why did you choose a UNC’s Cancer Care Quality Training Program (CCQTP)?

The CCQTP is a wonderful opportunity to learn from and with leading researchers in cancer care at a nationally-recognized comprehensive cancer center. Conducting research at the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center also allows me the opportunity to work with faculty across departments at UNC-Chapel Hill with diverse research interests and expertise. This includes areas relevant to my own research interests, such as the use of patient-reported data, cancer survivorship care, and implementation science.

Why are you interested in cancer care and cancer care quality?

Cancer patients face unique challenges after diagnosis, throughout treatment, and even after treatment has finished. Unfortunately, the cancer care system can be complicated, fragmented, and difficult to navigate. Information technologies have the potential to bring all of the patient’s healthcare providers and caregivers together as a team to collaboratively determine the best course of care. Much of this potential, however, has not yet been realized. Through my research, I hope to have an impact on the lives of cancer patients with complex health needs.

Who are your mentors/preceptors, and why did you select them?

My main mentor in the CCQTP is Dr. Arlene Chung. As a physician and an informatics researcher she has a unique combination of skills and perspectives, and her guidance will ensure that the tools I design will be both innovative and practical. She is also an energetic, thoughtful mentor who challenges me to think about care from different perspectives, and her experience will be invaluable in helping me plan the future of my research. She has been a pleasure to work with!

What is one professional goal you hope to achieve within the next five years? How will your involvement in this fellowship help you achieve that goal?

Within the next five years I aim to attain a professorship position at an academic medical center. The CCQTP is providing me with excellent guidance on developing a cutting edge research agenda and also the management skills needed to develop my professional career. The mentorship I have received is invaluable!

What are your research interests? Will you be working on these during your time in this fellowship?

I am an informatics researcher who utilizes user-centered methods to design tools for supporting collaboration in healthcare and strengthening the patient’s voice in their own care. My research within the CCQTP will explore collaboration and care coordination in the field of cancer care. Faculty at the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center have the research and clinical expertise to guide my work so that it addresses the complex needs of cancer patients and the entire care team.

What hobby do you have that no one would suspect?

I love open water scuba diving! Exploring the ocean is like traveling to a completely different world.


Jessica Yasmine Islam

Post-Doctoral Fellow
Expected Fellowship Completion Date: Spring 2021

Educational Background

UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, PhD in Epidemiology (2019)
Vanderbilt University, MPH in Global Health (2014)
Vanderbilt University, BA in Neuroscience (2011)

Prior Work Experience

UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health: Graduate Research Assistant (August 2014 – August 2019)

National Cancer Institute: Summer Fellow (May 2016 – August 2016 & May 2017 – September 2017)

International Center for Diarrheal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b): International Elective Fellow (June 2012 – August 2012 & September 2013 – December 2013)

World Health Organization Country Office for Bangladesh: Intern (May 2013 – September 2013)

Vanderbilt Institute for Medicine and Public Health: Research Analyst (June 2011 – July 2014)

Why did you choose a UNC’s Cancer Care Quality Training Program (CCQTP)?

I chose UNC’s CCQTP due to the multidisciplinary nature of the training and mentorship opportunities. As a trained cancer epidemiologist, I was interested in developing expertise in pharmacoepidemiology while still focusing on my established research interests in cancer prevention and infections that cause cancer. Additionally, during my Doctoral career, in addition to my main training in epidemiology, I pursued training in health policy methods, specifically cost-effectiveness analysis and I wanted to continue building my expertise and research portfolio in health policy to build my career as a health services researcher. The CCQTP was the perfect fit to ensure I was able to meet all these training goals for my post-doctoral fellowship. I was more than excited to stay at UNC to continue my training through Lineberger.

Why are you interested in cancer care and cancer care quality?

My research focuses on cancers caused by infections. I am most interested in oncogenic infections because with early intervention through screening to detect the infection or precursor lesions, we can prevent a burdensome and costly chronic disease such as cancer. However, cancers caused by infections, such as cervical cancer, are characterized by health inequities due to poor access to screening and preventive services. My interest in health inequities in cancer prevention stems from my experiences growing up in Bangladesh, where income-based health disparities and the effects of a weak health system are conspicuous. I pursued training in epidemiology to gain expertise in methodologies to inform data-driven decisions regarding allocation of resources (both monetary and personnel), as such approaches are pivotal to the successful development of an equitable health care system. I am driven by the principle that equitable access to high quality healthcare is a human right, and my long-term objective as a cancer epidemiologist is to consistently shape my academic career with this principle.

In the future, I hope to use my training to work internationally, specifically the South-Asian subcontinent, to address inequitable health care systems through the implementation of national cancer registries, which monitor the burden of cancer and track progress in national prevention and treatment programs. Additionally, I hope to become a leader in elucidating cancer disparities in low-resource settings in the United States to shed light on healthcare associated injustices affecting specific segments of the population, particularly low-income and minority populations, through community-based approaches.

Who are your mentors/preceptors, and why did you select them?

My primary mentor is Dr. Jennifer Lund, an Associate Professor in the Department of Epidemiology. Dr. Lund is an expert in pharmacoepidemiology, and her research interests include aging and cancer. Based on her expertise and research interests, I sought out her mentorship so I may gain experience in her field of research.

My secondary mentor is Dr. Jennifer Smith, Professor in the Department of Epidemiology. Dr. Smith is an expert in cervical cancer prevention, and her research is broadly on infections and cancer. Due to our very similar research interests, I have included her in my mentorship team and I hope our work together may establish a potentially long-term collaboration for future research projects. In addition, Drs. Christopher Baggett (Epidemiology) and Christopher Dittus (Hematology/Oncology) are also on my mentorship committee. I will work closely with them as I delve further into analyses and critical interpretation of results of my HIV and cancer work.

What is one professional goal you hope to achieve within the next five years? How will your involvement in this fellowship help you achieve that goal?

In the next five years, I hope to have established relationships with the communities I would like to work with, namely people living with HIV in the US and women in rural areas of Bangladesh. I believe that to make real-world impact as a public health professional and epidemiologist, we must strive to develop community-informed research questions. Through the CCQTP, I have access to faculty and researchers at UNC who use the same guiding principles in their work. I believe my involvement in this fellowship will allow me the opportunity to learn by example, and pursue training opportunities in community engagement and community-engaged research.

What are your research interests? Will you be working on these during your time in this fellowship?

Broadly, I am most interested in the prevention of cancers caused by infectious agents, as such cancers are largely preventable with early intervention and treatment. My primary research interest is to elucidate and intervene on factors that contribute to poor cancer outcomes in low-resource settings, and among groups with a disproportionately greater burden of disease. I aim to use epidemiological methods to bridge specific substantive areas, including oncology, virology, and health services research, to advance the field of cancer disparities through the lens of an epidemiologist. During my post-doctoral fellowship, my main project will be to investigate the cancer burden among people living with HIV in the state of North Carolina. I am leading a linkage study of state cancer and HIV registries, to available multi-payer health insurance claims data in collaboration with my mentors at UNC CIPHR. I am interested in determinants of cancer outcomes and treatment among people living with HIV, specifically distance to care, patient-provider communication, and health-related quality of life. In addition to the linkage study, I am pursuing projects using publicly available datasets such as SEER-CAPHS to address these research interests.

What is the best piece of professional advice you have received to date?

The best professional advice I have received to date is to be persistent, almost stubborn, in the pursuit of my research interests and projects. Academia is filled with rejection and should be expected, so do not take it personally.


Sophie Mayer, Meghan O’Leary, Olive Mbah

Pre-Doctoral Fellows

The Cancer Care Quality Training Program (CCQTP) offers pre-doctoral training to clinician and non-clinician scientists who wish to work in multidisciplinary research teams to improve cancer care quality across the cancer care continuum.

The CCQTP recruits 1-3 pre-doctoral candidates per year who have an explicit interest in conducting research on cancer care quality. The program offers pre-doctoral trainees:

To learn more about become a pre-doctoral fellow, read the CCQTP pre-doctoral application information.


Sophie Mayer

Pre-Doctoral Fellow
Expected Graduation Date: May 2021
Expected Fellowship Completion Date: Summer 2020

Educational Background

University of Washington, MS in Epidemiology (June 2014)
Reed College, BA in Biology (May 2011)

Prior Work Experience

University of North Carolina: Graduate Research and Teaching Assistant (August 2016 – present)

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center: Graduate Research and Program Assistant (January 2015 – July 2016)

The Brookings Institution Center for Health Policy: Research Assistant (January 2013 – July 2014)

Public Citizen Global Access to Medicines Campaign: Research Intern (Fall 2012)

The World Health Organization Department of Public Health, Innovation, and Intellectual Property: Intern (January 2012 – May 2012)

Why did you choose a UNC’s Cancer Care Quality Training Program (CCQTP)?

UNC’s CCQTP is a phenomenal training program and provides the opportunity to collaborate across disciplines and explore many facets of cancer care quality, from patient well-being and financial stability, to clinical outcomes research, to health services research. I saw CCQTP as an avenue for broadening my training and perspective, and from getting out of my academic “silo.”

Why are you interested in cancer care and cancer care quality?

Cancer is primarily a disease of aging and shares risk factors with a number of other chronic diseases, such that many people with cancer have other competing health concerns and comorbidities. These individuals are rarely included in clinical trials, even though these other conditions and their treatments play a role in how cancer care is managed and can affect clinical cancer outcomes. This situates cancer care in a complex and dynamic landscape that integrates my interests in pharmacology, chronic disease, epidemiology, and health services research, and raises innumerable clinical and methodological questions about how to best treat cancer and study cancer outcomes.

Who are your mentors/preceptors, and why did you select them?

I have had a number of phenomenal mentors at UNC, including Jennifer Lund, Til Sturmer, Michele Jonsson-Funk, and Jess Edwards. They have always challenged me to think deeply about my research questions and encouraged my independence, while ensuring I had support and guidance. In particular, I appreciate all the other connections they have helped me make at UNC and elsewhere to ensure I had other valuable perspectives on my work.

What are your research interests? Will you be working on these during your time in this fellowship?

I am interested in methodological issues in studies of cancer risk and outcomes, as well as comorbidity in cancer and precision medicine approaches to cancer treatment. Most of my time is focused on my dissertation, which involves studying how differential cancer screening across populations can distort findings in studies of cancer risk. I plan to evaluate the impacts of this potential source of bias and several methods of bias control in studies of common medications proposed for breast cancer chemoprevention.

What is the best piece of professional advice you have received to date?

To stay open-minded and curious! You never know where projects will lead, what relationships you’ll build, and what opportunities could come of them!

How do you manage your time, and achieve a work-school- family balance?

I try to keep myself on a 9-5 schedule whenever possible — evenings and weekends are for friends, family, cooking, and adventuring.

What is an interesting facet of your personality that is not readily known?

As much as I love being a PhD student, my favorite job I’ve ever had was working on a vineyard in Oregon. I almost became a winemaker rather than an epidemiologist.


Meghan O’Leary

Pre-Doctoral Fellow
Expected Graduation Date: May 2021

Educational Background

University of New Mexico, MA in Anthropology (May 2012)
Northwestern University, BA in Anthropology and American Studies (June 2010)

Prior Work Experience

Department of Veterans Affairs, Cooperative Studies Program Epidemiology Center-Durham: Research Health Science Specialist  (April 2015 – present)

Feeding America National Office: Hunger Study Research Fellow (October 2012 – April 2015)

Why did you choose a UNC’s Cancer Care Quality Training Program (CCQTP)?

I was really excited about the opportunity to learn from and engage with cancer researchers – both students and faculty – across disciplines through the program’s core curriculum, speaker series, and related events. Since my prior research experience has focused primarily on cancer prevention, I was also eager to gain a better understanding of ongoing research and priority areas across the cancer continuum. In addition, I applied to CCQTP because of the many resources available to support my dissertation research, from dedicated time and funding to faculty mentorship to opportunities to present and receive feedback on my research from others in the program.

Why are you interested in cancer care and cancer care quality?

I initially became interested in cancer care as a Research Assistant during my Master’s program at the University of New Mexico. While conducting surveys and interviews with low-income and racial and ethnic minority cancer patients about their health information needs, I gained a greater understanding of the barriers many patients face in accessing preventive care. In addition, the patients addressed the myriad of challenges associated with receiving a cancer diagnosis and described opportunities to ensure patients’ information needs and preferences are incorporated into cancer screening interventions. Since then, my research interests have focused on the selection and implementation of optimal interventions to address disparities in cancer screening, especially within the context of colorectal cancer.

Who are your mentors/preceptors, and why did you select them?

Dr. Stephanie Wheeler is my advisor and dissertation chair. My additional mentors include Drs. Kristen Hassmiller Lich, Sarah Birken, Alison Brenner, and Daniel Reuland. I selected this team of mentors because they each have expertise in the content area for my dissertation but approach this topic from unique methodological perspectives. Specifically, they each conduct cancer-related research and most are actively engaged in research specifically evaluating colorectal cancer screening interventions. They also represent diverse fields of research including the decision sciences, implementation science, and clinical care, and bring expertise in both quantitative and qualitative methods.

What are your research interests? Will you be working on these during your time in this fellowship?

For my dissertation, I am primarily interested in understanding how decision-makers use information learned through simulation and systems mapping approaches in informing the selection of interventions intended to increase colorectal cancer screening. More broadly, I am interested in research assessing the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of interventions and health policies in increasing cancer screening, the use of decision-making tools in informing preventive care, and patient preferences related to screening modalities and cancer care delivery.

How do you manage your time, and achieve a work-school-family balance?

I have two main strategies. Since I work best in the mornings, getting to campus as soon as the doors open has been my most effective strategy in managing my time. This helps to free up more of my evenings and keep a similar schedule as my family.

Every Sunday, I also plan out all meetings, deadlines, and projects for the coming week. Focusing on one week at a time helps me to prioritize activities and avoid unneeded stress related to projects further down the road. It also provides me with some flexibility when selecting particular tasks to complete each day within that week.


Olive Mbah

Pre-Doctoral Fellow
Expected Graduation Date: August 2020
Expected Fellowship Completion Date: July 2020

Educational Background

UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, PhD in Health Policy and Management (Expected 2020)
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Certificate in Science of Clinical Investigation (2016)
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, MHS in Epidemiology (2009)
University of Maryland, College Park, BS in Biochemistry (2005)

Prior Work Experience

UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, Department of Health Policy and Management: Graduate Teaching Assistant – Principles of Health Policy Research Methods (August 2019 – present)

UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, Department of Health Policy and Management: Graduate Research Assistant (August 2016 – August 2019)

Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Department of Oncology: Research Program Manager (July 2012 – July 2016)

Johns Hopkins Schools of Public Health and Medicine, Departments of Epidemiology and Oncology: Senior Research Assistant / Project Coordinator (June 2009 – July 2012)

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Department of Epidemiology: Graduate Research Assistant (January 2008 – May 2009)

National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health: Cancer Research Training Award (CRTA) Fellow (October 2005 – August 2007)

Why did you choose a UNC’s Cancer Care Quality Training Program (CCQTP)?

I chose CCQTP because it’s closely aligned with my research interests. The fellowship’s vision was a good match for the type of research I saw myself doing while at UNC and beyond. I also knew I would get solid grounding in the multidisciplinary aspects of cancer research through fellowship training activities and interactions with CCQTP faculty and fellow trainees.

Why are you interested in cancer care and cancer care quality?

My initial interest in cancer care research came from exposure to statistics on cancer health disparities. I learned that not all groups have benefited equally from the significant advances in cancer care over the last few decades. For example, collectively, Blacks still have the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial/ethnic group for most cancers. These disparities largely reflect barriers to care, including high quality care. I’m interested in researching policy based interventions to help address these barriers to care.

Who are your mentors/preceptors, and why did you select them?

Dr. Cleo A. Samuel is my primary mentor and dissertation Chair. I chose her as my PhD mentor because of her expertise and ongoing research in cancer health disparities. I also got the sense that she was a great mentor and I haven’t been disappointed. Other members of my mentoring/dissertation team include: Drs. Stephanie Wheeler, Samuel Cykert, Justin Trogdon and Lindsay Sabik (at Pitt Public Health). Each of these individuals brings a wealth of expertise to bear in guiding me through this phase of my training. They’re also all nice people to work with and great role models.

What is one professional goal you hope to achieve within the next five years? How will your involvement in this fellowship help you achieve that goal?

My first priority is completing and successfully defending my dissertation. CCQTP funding gives me protected time which allows me to focus on completing my dissertation. The additional time and funding also gives me the opportunity to engage in other professional activities (like attending conferences) that may not be possible otherwise.

What are your research interests? Will you be working on these during your time in this fellowship?

I’m broadly interested in how health policy affects cancer health disparities. For my dissertation, I’m evaluating the impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on racial/ethnic disparities in colorectal cancer outcomes among Medicare beneficiaries. Because health inequities result from a complex interplay of socioeconomic and environmental factors, I will also examine how the ACA interacts with community resource/capacity to change cancer disparities.

What is the best piece of professional advice you have received to date?

This is probably not the best advice I’ve gotten so far but is currently the most relevant: the best dissertation is a done dissertation! #KeepItPushing


Learn more about the Cancer Care Quality Training Program