Geography Connections Across Disciplines

I am a three time OSU Geography/ASP graduate (BS, MS, PhD). Currently I work as a Research Scientist at the Ohio Colleges of Medicine Government Resource Center (GRC), which is an applied health policy research center located at OSU. I oversee the Instrumental Data section and lead projects focused on Medicaid population health and technical assistance requests from state agencies. However, my graduate research focused on hurricane climatology, specifically hybrid cyclones (MS) and concentric eyewall formation (PhD). How did a hurricane researcher end up in public health?

At a basic level, I see a connection in the core research process: being able to divide a problem into pieces, craft a suitable analytic approach for a question with appropriate data, and interpret the analysis (including limitations!) using a deep understanding of the problem’s context. That was my PhD training, and it’s a large part of my work now.

I became fascinated by hurricanes as a young child, and by sixth grade I decided I wanted a PhD in atmospheric science. Up until halfway through my PhD, I was set on an atmospheric science research career. Then I realized I faced the two-body problem: my spouse was long established in Columbus, while my career opportunities were elsewhere. I began wondering if I could use my skills outside weather and climate research.

A fellow graduate student connected me to GRC, which needed a graduate research assistant trained in data visualization. I quickly realized I am most engaged by research that serves to inform policymakers and stakeholders about critical problems. Instead of supporting efforts to improve hurricane forecasts, I support efforts to improve health outcomes in Ohio by helping the state understand population health patterns and the effects programs and policies may have on service utilization and provider access and capacity.

My graduate experience was excellent training for my earlier roles at GRC. Weather observations and health services data are both composed of patterns and code sets. I learned Fortran coding as an undergraduate, and picked up additional programming languages during my PhD. In terms of gaps, tasks like conference calls were not a significant part of my graduate education. Also, atmospheric science research methods are quite different than public health methods, so I speak a different research dialect than most of my colleagues. My current Research Scientist/Principal Investigator role is outside my PhD training. I oversee multiple project timelines and budgets, work directly with sponsors and stakeholders on detailed work plans, and supervise six researchers. Honestly, though, I have my dream job— finding robust data insights that support informed decision-making and improve people’s quality of life.

Rachel Mauk, PhD

Research Scientist

The Colleges of Medicine Government Resource Center