Meet graduate student Melissa Melough

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Melissa Melough. Kevin Noonan CAHNR photo.

Melissa Melough has already accomplished much at such venerated institutions as Cornell University, Yale New Haven Hospital and Johns Hopkins Hospital. The achievements continued when she came to UConn in the fall of 2015. On top of doing research, being a graduate assistant and writing a dissertation, she was married (in a castle), remodeled her kitchen and got a dog. Melough is destined for more milestones as she defends her dissertation on July 25. Here is what she said about her time at UConn.

Where did you study as an undergraduate? What was your major? I received my BS in nutritional sciences from Cornell University. I also took classes at Ithaca College to earn a minor in exercise science. After graduating from college, I completed a one-year dietetic internship at Yale-New Haven Hospital in order to become a Registered Dietitian.

Why did you decide to go to graduate school? My dietetic internship was working as a research dietitian at Johns Hopkins. In this role, I collaborated with multidisciplinary teams to plan and carry out clinical studies. I loved the process of designing a research plan, as well as my interactions with participants and the day-to-day work of data collection. This inspired me to pursue a doctoral degree so that I could develop my research skills and possibly lead my own studies in the future.

Who is your advisor? What is your field of research? My advisor is Department of Nutritional Sciences Associate Professor Ock Chun. Broadly, our lab conducts nutritional epidemiology research. We are interested in examining relationships between dietary factors and health outcomes or disease risk. My dissertation research focuses on how exposure to a certain class of dietary compounds may be related to skin cancer risk.

Name one aspect of your work that you like. I like that my work varies frequently. My dissertation research has involved a human pharmacokinetic study, chemical analyses of foods to create a database of the compounds I study and statistical analyses of large observational datasets. Having such variety in my work has pushed me to learn many new skills. In addition, it has helped me identify which types of work I enjoy most.

In your opinion, what is your greatest accomplishment so far? Statistical analysis is critical in epidemiological research, but I have always been intimidated by statistical software programs that require coding. I benefited from taking several courses in the statistics department at UConn with some outstanding professors.

Learning statistics software requires good instruction and also patience and a willingness to struggle through numerous failures until you find a solution. This might sound trivial to others who are more proficient with technology, but one of my greatest accomplishments during graduate school was having the discipline to work through this challenge and gaining the skills to successfully analyze large cohort datasets for my research using these software programs.

When do you expect to get your degree? What then? I will defend my dissertation this summer on July 25! I am currently in in the application/interview process, and I am excited to see what will come next for me!

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? Graduate school has certainly kept me busy, but recently my favorite thing to do in my spare time is to go hiking with my husband and our new dog, Lily. She’s an adorable shar-pei/boxer mix, who reminds me daily to take time to stop and smell the roses!

By Patsy Evans