PhD Student Profiles

Anthropology | History | Psychology Sociology



Tasfia Rahman 

Tasfia Rahman, SMS PhD Student Track: Anthropology

Areas of Interest: Medical Anthropology • Mental Health • Gender • Immigration, Race & Ethnicity • Asian American Health • Bangladeshi Diaspora • Social & Health Inequalities • Culturally Competent Care • Ethnographic Methods • Community-Based Participatory Research 

Education: MA in Social Sciences (Anthropology), University of Chicago; BA in Anthropology, Medieval Studies, and Classics (Latin), SUNY Binghamton

Tasfia Rahman’s research focuses on understanding why there are gendered trends toward suicide, suicide ideation, and depression among Bangladeshi immigrant women in New York City. She is particularly interested in how broader social trends such as immigration, migration, colonization, and globalization can elucidate these trends often coded as mental conditions. Through her Master’s thesis research, she learned more about help-seeking thoughts and behaviors among Bangladeshi-American second-generation women regarding mental health and identified barriers in accessing culturally competent care. Before beginning her doctoral studies, Rahman worked for a pan-Asian policy advocacy organization, Coalition for Asian American Children & Families (CACF), where she collaborated with NYC-based Asian-led and serving community-based organizations, community members, local government, and researchers to address systemic inequities in health, education, and language access.

As an incoming fellow in the NIH Predoctoral Training Program in Gender, Sexuality, and Health (GSH) at Columbia University, Rahman further seeks to study the challenges Bangladeshi immigrant women face in the American healthcare system and develop more effective culturally competent care models through the use of ethnographic and community-based participatory research methods.

Cohort Year: 2020

Alyssa Basmajian

Track: Anthropology

Areas of Interest: • Medical Anthropology • Gender and Sexuality • Reproductive Health • Embodiment • Ethnographic Methods • Social Movements in the United States • Health Advocacy

Education: MA, Cultural Anthropology, City University of New York Hunter College (2014), BA, Cultural Anthropology, City University of New York Hunter College (2014)

Alyssa Basmajian’s research interests are grounded in the political and social tensions surrounding reproductive health in the United States. For Basmajian’s master’s thesis research, she examined a new form of political expression known as the abortion or full-spectrum doula by drawing on theories of embodiment and social transformation. In her current role, as fellow in the NIH Predoctoral Training Program in Gender, Sexuality, and Health (GSH) at Columbia University, Basmajian plans to further investigate doulas and the care they provide in the Southern United States. Most recently, Basmajian has received the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF-GRF) to further support her research. Prior to beginning her doctoral studies, Basmajian was the health educator at NYU Fertility Center and also volunteered for ATHENA Network, a nonprofit organization that aims to advance human rights and gender equity in the global response to HIV.

Cohort Year: 2018

Heather Wurtz  

Track: Anthropology

Areas of interest: Medical anthropology • Migration • Embodiment • Gender • Perspectives of care • Borders and transit zones • Global health inequality • Immigration Policy • Ethnographic methods • Mexico • Latin America • U.S.

Education: MPhil, Sociomedical Sciences, Columbia University (2016), BSN, Nursing, University of Kansas (2011), BA, Latin American Studies and Anthropology, University of Kansas (2009)

Heather Wurtz has maintained a long-standing interest in global health, gender and sexuality, and political economy. Prior to beginning her doctoral studies, Wurtz worked as a Registered Nurse, gaining international health care experience in Central America and southern India. She has conducted qualitative research on social and health inequalities in the United States, Peru, Ecuador, and along the US-Mexico border.  After beginning the doctoral program at Columbia, Wurtz was able to further refine her interests as a fellow in the NIH-funded Gender, Sexuality, and Health Training Program, with additional support from the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program. Her dissertation research, entitled “Inhabiting Injurious Worlds: Interrupted Migration and Everyday Survival in the Mexico-Guatemala Borderlands”, employs ethnographic methods along the southern Mexico border to examine the perspectives and embodied experiences of Central American migrants who are delayed en route due to encounters with violence, crime, and physical affliction. Wurtz is particularly interested in how social hierarchies, such as gender, ability, and legal status, interact with migration regimes and state policies in ways that affect migrant mobility and reconfigure migrants’ social relations, intimacies, material realities, and life courses over time. In addition to the funding from NIH and NSF, her dissertation research has received support from the Social Science Research Council.

Cohort Year: 2012




Sara Jane Samuel

Track: History

Areas of interest: History of Public Health • Vaccination Policy • American Foreign Policy • South Asia •  Public Health Ethics • Health Law & Policy

Education: MPH, Sociomedical Sciences, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University (2018); Bachelor of Arts, History of Science/History of Medicine, Yale University (2015)

Sara Jane Samuel developed an interest in the history, politics, and ethics of public health as an undergraduate at Yale University, where she wrote her senior thesis on the moral and methodological underpinnings of family planning programs in South Asia during the Cold War. As a student at the Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health at Columbia, she is interested in the intersection of public health with American foreign policy in South Asia. Specifically, Samuel is interested in examining the historical roots and consequences of coercive vaccination campaigns on the Subcontinent after World War II. Prior to her doctoral studies, Samuel worked in central California to increase access to prenatal healthcare to migrant workers and also has professional experience working to reduce sexual misconduct and promote sexual health on college campuses. 

Cohort Year: 2018

Sadie Bergen

Track: History

Areas of interest: History of Public Health • Women's and Gender History • Environmental History • Public Health Ethics • Environmental Health • Reproductive Health

Education: BA, History, University of Chicago (2015)

Bergen developed an interest in the historical roots of the birth control movement in the United States as a history major at the University of Chicago, where she wrote her thesis on Progressive Era women reformers who framed family planning as public health project.  As a student at the Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health, she plans to study the historical intersections between environmental and reproductive health and the gendered impact of American environmental policies, with the goal of contributing to research and policies that address reproductive health disparities. Before beginning her PhD studies, she worked in the publications department of the American Historical Association, where she learned to think about the work of history as a force for the public good. 

Cohort Year: 2017

Kristen Meister 

Track: History

Areas of interest: History of public health and medicine • History of disability • Health policy and politics • Disability and chronic disease • Social determinants of health • Food Policy and Nutrition • Data collection and surveillance • Public health ethics 

Education: MPH, Columbia University (2016), BA, University of California-Berkeley (2011)

Kristen Meister’s interest in the social history of medicine and public health began while she was as an undergraduate history student at the University of California-Berkeley, where her research explored health reform during the Progressive Era. Meister pursued this interest further as an M.P.H. student in the Department of Sociomedical Sciences, conducting research on the relationship between policy, social thought, and the lived experience of disease and disability. Building on her previous professional experience in health promotion and health technology, Meister conducted research on the use of big data in public health surveillance for the Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health and the World Health Organization, and she became interested in the role of new technologies in public health practice. As a doctoral student, Kristen’s work integrates history, disability studies, and sociology to study public health, biomedical, technological, and political approaches to the prevention, management, and elimination of disease and disability. Through her work, Meister seeks to bring disability theory into public health research and practice. She plans to one day launch a center for disability research. 

Cohort Year: 2016

Yoka Tomita  

Track: History

Areas of interest: History of public health • Public Health ethics  • Health and social policy  • Death with dignity laws  • End of life options  • Healthcare policy  • Privacy

Education: MA, Area Studies (America), University of Tokyo (2015), BA, Area Studies (America), University of Tokyo (2013)

Tomita is interested in the history and ethics of public health, in particular the history of end of life options and death with dignity laws. Prior to Columbia, she received her BA and MA in American Studies at the University of Tokyo in Japan, where she examined the history and significance of death with dignity laws in America. As a doctoral student, she is examining how various actors in the United States have tried to shape when and how people die. Tomita is a recipient of the Fulbright Scholarship. 

Cohort Year: 2015

Ian Bradley-Perrin

Track: History
Areas of interest: HIV/AIDS • Social Policy • Social Movements • Law and Ethics • Gender and Sexuality • Consumer Politics • Citizenship and Rights

Education: MPhil, Sociomedical Sciences, Columbia University (2019); MA, History, Concordia University (2015); BA, History, Concordia University (2012) 

Ian Bradley-Perrin’s research interest lies at the nexus of social movements, public health, law and policy. His focussing on the historical transformations seen in these areas through the first two decades of the AIDS crisis. With a background in historical research and oral history practice, as well as advocacy and activism in Canada and the United States, Bradley-Perrin has spent his time at the Mailman School of Public Health developing his understanding of the history of Public Health Ethics under Dr. Ronald Bayer and social movements and social policy change with Dr. Constance Nathanson. Bradley-Perrin’s dissertation investigates the social forces and historical context in which the Ryan White CARE Act was developed, passed and funded in the early 1990s and the impact that the new funding regime had on HIV/AIDS advocacy, health care delivery and treatment development, as well the transformations it made in broader field of Public Health. 
Cohort Year: 2015

Desiree Abu-Odeh

Track: History

Areas of Interest: History of public health • Public health ethics • Women’s history • History of social movements • Social determinants of health • Sexual health • Teaching and education   

Education: MPhil, Sociomedical Sciences, Columbia University (2017); MPH, Sociomedical Sciences, Columbia University (2015); MA, Bioethics, University of Minnesota (2012); BS, Neuroscience, University of Minnesota (2010) 

Desiree Abu-Odeh became interested in social and political histories of public health and intermeshed constructions of gender, sexuality, race, and disease as a bioethics MA student. These interests are reflected in her MA thesis on the impact of body ideals and obesity on people’s identities and her MPH thesis, a historiographical essay on gendered and racialized understandings of addiction and their relationships with anti-narcoticism and drug control policies in the United States. Abu-Odeh’s bioethics and public health work have been published in the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, Public Health Reports, and the American Journal of Public Health. Her dissertation examines responses to sexual violence on American college campuses in the post-World War II era. She has received funding for her doctoral studies and dissertation research from the Department of Sociomedical Sciences’ Predoctoral Fellowship in Gender, Sexuality, and Health, the Columbia Population Research Center, Harvard’s Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Barnard Library, and Smith College Libraries. Abu-Odeh is a 2019 NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellow. She is also an Editor and Social Media Manager for the online blog NOTCHES: (re)marks on the history of sexuality.

Planned Dissertation Date: 2021 

Cohort Year: 2014



Ruth Shefner

Ruth Shefner, SMS PhD studentTrack: Sociology

Areas of interest: Criminal Legal Systems • Substance Use & Overdose Prevention • Policing, Law & Social Policy • Collateral Consequences of Mass Incarceration • Social Determinants of Health 

Education: MPH, University of Pennsylvania (2018); MSW, University of Pennsylvania (2017); BA, Community Health, Brown University (2013)

Ruth Shefner became interested in public health and mass incarceration as an undergraduate community health student at Brown University, where she worked with the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights on a series of projects related to harm reduction and criminal justice policy in Rhode Island. As a doctoral student in the HIV, Substance Use, and Criminal Justice Systems fellowship, Ruth hopes to investigate opportunities to apply harm reduction principles to criminal legal systems, as well as evaluate the impacts of current criminal justice reform policies. Prior to coming to Columbia, Ruth spent two years as a Health Research Analyst at IMPAQ International in Washington, DC, working with Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) on a variety of quantitative and qualitative support projects. She completed her MSW and MPH at the University of Pennsylvania, where she spearheaded research related to opioid overdose and criminal justice contact, supported the evaluation of Philadelphia’s prearrest diversion program pilot initiative, and worked as a case manager for Penn’s Goldring Reentry Initiative (GRI), supporting individuals pre- and post-release from Philadelphia’s county jail system. Ruth also spent two years as the Director of the GRI, where she oversaw all program operations, including client selection, collaboration of community and legal partners, clinical supervision of social work students, and program evaluation.

Cohort Year: 2020

Alexander Borsa

Track: Sociology

Areas of interest: HIV Epidemiology • Sexual Health • PrEP • Stigma • Feminist Science Studies • Medical Sociology • Queer Theory 

Education: BA, Molecular Biophysics & Gender Studies, Yale University (2016)

Alexander Borsa became interested in public health by supplementing his biomedical research experience with undergraduate coursework in gender and sexuality studies at Yale. After conducting independent research on PrEP, Borsa became a care coordinator for patients on PrEP/PEP and those newly diagnosed with HIV at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. He is currently a member of the HIV Planning Group at the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and of the GenderSci Lab at Harvard University. Borsa’s research investigates best practices in sexual health provision, the effect of stigma on health, and sex/gender as a variable in biomedical research. 

Cohort Year: 2019

Sharon Green

Track: Sociology

Areas of interest: Social Determinants of Health • Migration • Inequality • Gender • Race/Ethnicity • Health and Social Policy • Globalization

Education: MPhil, Sociomedical Sciences, Columbia University (2019); MPH, Sociomedical Sciences, Columbia University (2015); BA, Public Health Studies, Johns Hopkins University (2011)

Sharon Green is a PhD student studying sociology and public health. She is also an NIH-funded Gender, Sexuality, and Health Fellow. Her research utilizes population-level survey data and qualitative data to explore how migration and globalization produce health disparities and social inequalities.  Green’s earlier work examined harm reduction approaches to tobacco control through the use of qualitative interview data, and gun control strategies through the use of computational social science techniques. Her work has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine, American Journal of Public Health, and Social Science and Medicine – Population Health.  Prior to her doctoral studies, Green worked as an HIV screening and counseling program coordinator at the Johns Hopkins Emergency Department; a middle school science teacher in rural Ghana; and an emergency medical technician in Israel, where she treated Israelis, Palestinians, and refugees.

Cohort Year: 2016

Sonia Mendoza-Grey

Track: Sociology

Areas of interest: Latino Health • Clinical Cultures • Science Technology Studies • Qualitative Methods • Social Determinants of Health • Epistemology   

Education: MPhil, Sociomedical Sciences, Columbia University (2019); MA, Sociology, Columbia University (2012); BA, Human Biology, Stanford University (2010)

Sonia Mendoza-Grey became interested in ethnographic research and Latino health as an undergraduate at Stanford where she conducted qualitative interviews with Latinos who were part of community-based health intervention studies. As an MA sociology student at Columbia, she continued to pursue her interest in the social determinants of health for minorities. Her MA thesis analyzed the role of social networks and social cohesion in relation to obesity rates and health measures within sub-ethnic enclaves of Latino communities in the United States.  Her publications to date, which explore racialized medicine and addiction treatment, are informed by her work on a NIDA-funded study at NYU Medical Center and her interests in mental health and stigma. Current major areas of focus include structural influences on health and qualitative research methods.  As a doctoral student, Mendoza-Grey uses ethnographic research methods and science technology study (STS) frameworks to analyze clinical cultures, the production of medical knowledge, and biomedical initiatives in ethnic minority communities. 

Cohort Year: 2016

Karen Shiu-Yee

Track: Sociology

Areas of interest: HIV/AIDS • Substance use disorder • Health services delivery • Program evaluation

Education: MPhil, Sociomedical Sciences, Columbia University (2018); MPH, Infectious Disease and Vaccinology, University of California Berkeley (2011); BS, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of California Davis (2009); BA, Economics, University of California Davis (2009)

Karen Shiu-Yee is a public health sociologist with expertise in HIV/AIDS care and prevention, particularly among populations with substance use problems. Ms. Shiu-Yee’s work combines the principles of public health and the social sciences to advance equitable healthcare and reduce health disparities. Ms. Shiu-Yee’s current research utilizes the sociological concept of habitus and mixed quantitative-qualitative methods to better understand physicians’ behaviors when treating HIV-positive substance-using patients, with the goal of informing the development and implementation of novel, targeted physician-based interventions. Ms. Shiu-Yee is also a data and evaluation professional with nearly a decade of experience working on various health improvement projects within academia, hospital systems, non-profit and community-based organizations, local health departments, as well as the business sector. Ms. Shiu-Yee currently resides in San Francisco, California.

Cohort Year: 2014

Hawi Teizazu

Track: Sociology

Areas of interest: Health Equity • Health Policy • Population Health • Race and Ethnicity • Resilience • Social Capital • Social Construction of Health and Illness

Education: BS, College of Biological Sciences, University of Minnesota (2015)

Hawi Teizazu is interested in investigating the social and structural factors that impact health outcomes and utilizing mixed-method approaches to better understand and improve interactions between underserved groups and health systems. Hawi’s interests include race and bioethics, the health care delivery system, and the ways that the social and cultural capital of underserved groups can inform health services and policy. Previously, Hawi worked at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, where she focused on chronic disease, substance abuse, and maternal and child health. 

Cohort Year:  2017

Emily E. Vasquez

Track:  Sociology

Areas of Interest: STS • Critical Global Health • Risk • Chronic Disease • Genetic & Genomic Technologies • Latin America • Race & Ethnicity • Latino Identity in the United States

Education: MPhil, Columbia University
MPH, Columbia University
BA, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Emily Vasquez is studying the social dimensions of diabetes and diabetes risk in Mexico.  Broadly, she is interested in how biomedical science and its applications shape our social world, including notions of care, hope, responsibility and identity, and racial formation. She previously earned an MPH at Columbia University and is an Allan Rosenfield doctoral fellow in the department of Sociomedical Sciences and Sociology. She is also an affiliate of the Science & Technology Studies (S&TS) Laboratory in the Facultad de Ciencias of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).  

Cohort Year:  2011