Fall Newsletter 2014

Current Newsletter – Fall 2014
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Sonia Hernandez-Diaz, 2015 SPER PresidentPresident’s Corner – Sonia Hernandez-Diaz

As Martha Werler had predicted, we had another blockbuster meeting last June in Seattle, with 254 of you coming to the meeting and 94 attending the methods workshop. In total, 264 abstracts were submitted, resulting in 17 talks and 219 posters. I hope everyone had a wonderful time and enjoyed the stimulating sessions. Special thanks to those who submitted abstracts, and to our reviewers! And congratulations to our award winners: Jessica Tearne (Heinz Berendes International Travel Award), K.S. Joseph (Mentoring Award), Sunni L. Mumford (Rising Star Award), and Quaker Harmon (Student Prize Paper). You will find highlights of our 2014 meeting on the following pages.

SPER is only possible because of the generosity of our many volunteers. I would like to particularly thank our outgoing officers: Past-President Robert Platt, Treasurer Danelle Lobdell, Member-at-Large Claudia Holzman, and Student Representative Samantha Parker. At the same time, we welcome new officers: President-Elect Suzan Carmichael, Treasurer Candace Robledo, Member-at-Large Emily Harville, International Liaison Jennifer Zeitlin, and Student Representative Audrey Flak.

In order to define an SPER trajectory and organize our next conference accordingly, we did what we have been trained to do… collect data to make evidence-based decisions. We therefore sent a brief survey to our membership about the meeting. We want to learn what people liked and didn’t like from past meetings, and what features we should continue or discontinue. We need feedback so that we can improve any aspect of the conference, including workshops, round tables, poster tours, and debates for the 2015 meeting. Stay tuned for the results, and please send us any further thoughts and specific suggestions.

While the 2015 SPER conference is still in the oven, I can anticipate that we will maintain the focus on cutting-edge methods and their application to perinatal and pediatric epidemiology; as well as the development of trainees and the involvement of junior members in the Society. In addition, we will increase our emphasis on translational science and enhance the focus on research that identifies which interventions work best to prevent or treat adverse perinatal and pediatric outcomes. To keep up with the high scientific quality of the meeting we need the involvement of both novel and senior colleagues. The new generations fuel our meetings with their energy, methodological skills, passion for research, and familiarity with new technologies and social media. SPER provides the space to exchange ideas and facilitate the growth of future leaders in the field. However, we cannot forget those who brought us where we are. SPER meetings offer a unique opportunity to learn directly from the founders of the field.

In August 2014, SPER sponsored a Symposium at the IEA World Congress of Epidemiology in Anchorage, Alaska. Looking forward, SPER will be one of five primary sponsors for the 4th Epidemiology Congress of the Americas meeting. Robert Platt and Martha Werler sit on the executive committee; planning h as already begun. Let’s keep up with the momentum as we approach this special 2016 Congress meeting in Miami!

Looking forward to seeing you in Denver in June 2015.

Highlights from 2014 Annual Meeting
Seattle, WA – June 23-24, 2014

Meeting Quick Stats:
Attendees at our regular meeting: 254
Attendees at the advanced methods workshop: 94

Advanced Methods Workshop - SPER MeetingJudith Hall, Martha Werler, Russ Kirby, SPER Meeting 2014Day 1: Advanced Methods Workshop

This year’s Advanced Methods Workshop was a wonderful start to our Annual Meeting. The first half of the workshop was led by Dr. Matthew Fox and Dr. Kelly Getz and a focused on simulation methods in epidemiologic research and learning. The second half of the workshop, presented by Dr. Jennifer Hutcheon and Laura Schummers, explored the creation of risk prediction models in perinatal epidemiology. The workshop was well attended with over 90 participants. Many thanks to Dr. Samantha Parker for organizing this event.

Day 1: Opening Night Presentation

Northwest Aboriginal Peoples and their Totems
Presented by Judith Hall, OC, MD

SPER Meeting - RoundtablesDay 2: Roundtable Discussions

Roundtables - SPER MeetingThe second day of the meeting opened early with five roundtable discussions. Topics included: Fetal growth restriction, twinning, pre-eclampsia, neurodevelopmental outcomes, and the placenta.

Many thanks to the discussion leaders: Katie Laughon, Judith Hall, Hilary Gammill, Brent Collett, and Claudia Holzman.



Day 2: Plenary Sessions

Plenary Sessions - SPER MeetingThis year’s four plenary sessions focused on topics that “matter” to SPER members:

  • Counting Time Matters, which included talks describing unique ways of incorporating time into analysis;
  • Behavior Matters, which included talks on modifiable risk factors and behaviors related to pregnancy outcomes;
  • Meditation on Mediation Matters, which included talks on assessing mediators in analysis; and
  • Childhood Matters, which included talks on childhood outcomes

Day 2: Keynote Address by Judith Hall
Judith Hall
“Epigenetics: The interface between genes, the environment, and disease.”

Poster Sessions

There were 219 posters presented at two poster sessions. The first poster session was held on Monday night in conjunction with the Welcome Reception; the second poster session was held during lunch on Tuesday.

Poster tours were once again offered to enhance the experience of attendees. We thank our poster tour guides: Brian Whitcomb, Pauline Mendola, Suzan Carmichael, Sarah Keim, Lynn Messer, Nigel Paneth, and Sonia Hernandez-Diaz!

Poster Sessions - SPER Meeting

Award Recipients:

Quaker Harmon - Student Prize Paper Award2014 SPER Student Prize Paper AwardQuaker E Harmon (NIEHS) received the Student Prize Paper Award for her paper “The risk of fetal death with preeclampsia.” Dr. Harmon started the project as a doctoral student at UNC and completed it at NIEHS with her mentor, Dr. Allen J Wilcox. K.S. Joseph - Mentoring Award2014 SPER Mentoring Award

K.S. Joseph (University of British Columbia) was awarded the Mentoring Award in recognition of “a generation of scholars raised professionally by Dr. Joseph.” He was nominated by Dr. Sarka Lisonkova.

Jessica Tearne - Heinz Berendes Winner2014 Heinz Berendes International Travel Award

Jessica Tearne (Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, West Perth, Australia) received the Heinz Berendes International Travel Award for her paper “Does late childbearing increase the risk for behavioral problems in children? A longitudinal cohort study.”

Sunni Mumford, Rising Star Award2014 SPER Rising Star Award

Sunni L Mumford (NICHD) was nominated by Enrique Schisterman. She was recognized for “her combination of talents, her ability to synthesize knowledge from biology, reproductive epidemiology, and epidemiologic methods and thus able to tackle important biological questions with the most sophisticated methodological approaches.”

Germaine Buck Louis - President's AwardPresident’s Award

This year’s meeting marked the introduction of this award, which honors an individual who has given significant, dedicated, and sustained service to SPER. Germaine Buck Louis (NICHD) was the inaugural recipient of this award

Post-Grad Possibilities
Opportunities for Next Steps

We will be starting a semi-regular newsletter feature highlighting different opportunities for recent pediatric and perinatal epidemiology graduates. For our inaugural column we will be focusing on CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS). If you have ideas for future programs to highlight, please contact Sarah Tinker at zzu9@cdc.gov.

EISWhat is EIS?

The Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) is a 2-year postgraduate program in applied epidemiology for health professionals interested in public health; it provides competency-based training through classroom instruction, e-learning, and on-the-job experience. The program is modeled on a traditional medical residency program, where much of the education takes place through hands-on assignments and mentoring. During the 2-year program, EIS officers are employees of the CDC and receive a salary and benefits. They provide service to public health while training as an epidemiologist.

CDCYou are eligible if you are a doctoral-level scientist with a degree in behavioral science, biostatistics, epidemiology, informatics, or nutrition; a health professional such as a veterinarian, nurse (BSN, MSN), or dentist with an MPH or equivalent; or a physician with at least 1 year of clinical training.


Many SPER members are EIS alums, including Suzan Carmichael, our SPER President-Elect and Candice Johnson, creator of our SPER logo!

Suzan Carmichael, SPER President-Elect and EIS alumna

Suzan CarmichaelHow do you think doing EIS compares to a more traditional post-doc position in academia?

“EIS gives you a feel for what it’s like to work in the government realm and provides a lot of flexibility in the type of experience you have. EIS Officers have a focused research agenda but also have the opportunity to obtain a variety of other types of experiences, from being more involved in policy implications and decision-making efforts, to being involved in disease outbreak investigations, often in an entirely new field.”

What was your most interesting/best experience during the EIS program?

“I joke that the ‘outbreak’ investigation that I conducted was to examine the impact of welfare reform (i.e., the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996). It was a very interesting project – I got to live in New York City for a month and work with folks at the health department to develop a plan for monitoring potential health impacts of welfare reform on pregnant women and children.”

How has being an EIS Officer impacted your professional life?

“I met a lot of excellent colleagues, many of whom are stalwart SPER contributors! Also, since being at CDC, a large part of my professional work has been supported by CDC grants related to birth defects research. Specifically, I’ve been an investigator with the California Center for Birth Defects Research and Prevention, which has been headed by Dr. Gary Shaw. The familiarity with CDC helped me transition to the role of grantee.”

Do you have any advice for those who are interested in EIS?

“It’s a great experience, which offers a lot of flexibility and a variety of opportunities.”

Candice Johnson, SPER Member and EIS alumna

Candice JohnsonHow did you decide to apply to the EIS program?

“I wanted to explore various research areas outside of birth defects (the topic of both my MPH and PhD research) during my postdoc, but thought it would be difficult to work on several unrelated projects in an academic postdoc, where your work is tied to a grant. EIS seemed like my best option to try many new things in a short amount of time.”

How has being an EIS officer impacted your professional live?

“The most unexpected impact was deciding to put my academic career plans on hold and stay at CDC after EIS. I’m fortunate to work with smart, passionate, and dedicated researchers at NIOSH, and after witnessing the good work done by CDC and NIOSH domestically and internationally, I’m proud to be a part of these organizations. Without EIS, I probably wouldn’t have discovered interests in occupational health and health disparities, which are now areas of focus in my reproductive health research.”

What was your most interesting experience during the EIS program?

“There were so many! My first assignment as an EIS officer was interviewing workers at a poultry processing plant. Seeing 200,000 chickens processed daily was fascinating, even for a vegetarian; listening to the workers explain the effects of their job on their health sparked my interest in occupational health in a way that no textbook could.”

Do you have any advice for those who are interested in EIS?

“Think about the skills you need to meet your career goals, and then decide if EIS or a traditional postdoc is the most appropriate route. EIS is a training program geared towards people with little prior experience in epidemiology, and so it can be challenging to meet all of the training needs of a PhD epidemiologist. However, EIS offers unique experiences not found in most postdocs. Talking with current and former EIS officers (many are SPER members) is by far the best way to learn about EIS because every EIS officer has a very different experience. There are plenty of opportunities in EIS for pediatric and perinatal epidemiologists!”

SPER Sponsors Symposium at the IEA World Congress of Epidemiology

In August 2014, SPER sponsored a Symposium at the IEA World Congress of Epidemiology on “Problems and Paradoxes in Perinatal Epidemiology”. The so-called birth weight paradox, in which risk factors appear to have protective effects on perinatal mortality among low-birth weight infants, has perplexed the perinatal epidemiologic community for decades. This paradox appears consistently when we stratify on a variable (e.g. birth weight, gestational age) that is affected by the exposure interest (eg. smoking, socioeconomic status), and that shares common causes with the outcome (e.g. perinatal mortality). Several authors have proposed eIEA World Congress - Schisterman, Platt, Werler, Messer, Hernandez-Diazxplanations for the paradox based on different causal frameworks, as well as methods for study design and analysis to avoid the paradox. Similar paradoxes can be found in other epidemiological areas. More recently, an apparently different source of bias has been described in perinatal epidemiology: the use of live births, as opposed to fetuses at risk. Fundamental to these problems is a precise research question and careful definition of the cohort under study. In this symposium, speakers first described the paradox and provided a historical overview. Then, they described methods for specifying the question of interest and analyzing the data to avoid the paradox. Finally, they gave an example of the biases that arise with inappropriate design, cohort definition, and analysis in the study of seasonal effects on preterm birth. The symposium concluded with an interesting discussion with the audience of around 50 colleagues that attended this session in Anchorage, Alaska.

2014-2015 SPER Executive Committee

Sonia Hernandez-Diaz (President)
Suzan Carmichael (President-Elect)
Martha Werler (Past-President)
Candace Robledo (Treasurer)
Una Grewal (Secretary)
Emily Harville (Member-at-Large)
Brian Whitcomb (Member-at-Large)
Lynne Messer (Member-at-Large)
Sarah Tinker (Member-at-Large)
Audrey Flak (Student Representative)