Ni Gusti Ayu Nanditha

Burden of HIV and chronic comorbidities in BC’s aging populations: A population-based cohort study
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

Working in a field that positively impacts the health of others has always been the focus of my personal and professional goals. It was my community involvement as a Residence Volunteer at the Dr. Peter’s AIDS Center in Vancouver, though, that first inspired me to pursue research dedicated to improving the life of people living with HIV. This passion led to my research endeavor as a qualitative data analyst for the CIHR-funded ETHICS study, which focused on understanding the experiences of sex- workers and other HIV-affected communities with regards to available HIV care and barriers to access this care in my home island Bali, Indonesia. This same passion has also motivated me to pursue graduate studies in the epidemiology of HIV at UBC Experimental Medicine program, where I have subsequently transferred from the master’s to the doctoral program. In the long run, given the increasing importance of big data in health research, I aspire to be a well-rounded infectious disease epidemiologist with not only proficiency in HIV epidemiology and research, but also transferrable methodological expertise in handling and analyzing large and complex datasets. My present graduate training undoubtedly prepares me to achieve this goal.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

The unique training environment offered by UBC, a world-class academic institution, and the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, a global leader in combating HIV and related disease, along with the mentorship of Dr. Viviane Lima, a leading scientist in the fields of HIV, epidemiology and biostatistics, was an opportunity of lifetime. Indeed, it was the right decision. The combination of academic courses, direct research experience as well as exposure to relevant stakeholders such as policy makers and community members have, collaboratively, strengthened my research abilities, productivity and subject-matter expertise in infectious disease epidemiology. This skillset will allow me to achieve my short-term goal of conducting high-caliber dissertation research on a cutting-edge topic with great public health importance: HIV and aging, utilizing innovative tools such as big data sourced from provincial administrative databases and advanced statistical procedures. Moreover, the leadership of BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS includes expert scientists and physicians with close relationships to policy makers responsible for creating BC’s HIV treatment and primary care guidelines. Thus, my work has the potential to influence policy that better responds to the needs of people aging with HIV.

What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?

UBC Experimental Medicine program's emphasis on research meant that I was able to be involved in practical research since day one. While my pre-doctoral coursework provided me with a strong theoretical and practical foundation in epidemiology and statistics, I have to say, the biggest bulk of my learning occurred outside of the classroom. As a new graduate student, then, immersing in the process of designing an epidemiologically-sound study to answer questions of patients or clinicians' interests or facing methodological challenges and analytical anomalies from the use of complex province-wide administrative datasets, I was challenged to critically apply my theoretical knowledge to produce real life solutions. As a result, I quickly became more versed in the research practices and current state of knowledge in the HIV field including gaps that need to be addressed. UBC Experimental Medicine program has also provided me with ample funding opportunities, including travel fund supports which has allowed me to showcase my work and receive valuable feedback in national and international conferences.

What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?

Even after living in this city for a few years, Vancouver's magnificent nature never ceases to amaze me. I feel privileged to have both the mountains and the ocean on my "backyard". From hiking and skiing, to kayaking and biking along the seawall, I have never been exposed to outdoor activities as much as I have been since living here. UBC Point Grey campus is also one of a kind. With a ton of open space, including access to a secluded beach and a regional park, yet a short bus ride away from a vibrant culturally diverse metropolitan. The cultural diversity in the city also means that there is a ton of delicious, authentic and affordable food from all around the world. Trying out new food with friends has become some of my favorite activities, especially after a long day of studying or paper-writing.

UBC Experimental Medicine program's emphasis on research meant that I was able to be involved in practical research since day one. [It] also provided me with ample funding opportunities, including travel fund supports which has allowed me to showcase my work and receive valuable feedback in national and international conferences.
What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?

My doctoral work is bolstered by my solid track record in academic achievement, securing scholarships and enthusiasm for community engagement. I first left my home island Bali upon receiving a full scholarship to attend the United World College in New Mexico, USA, where I graduated with an International Baccalaureate diploma. Subsequently, I attended Simon Fraser University (SFU) in BC as a recipient of Ronald W. Heath international full scholarship, graduating with a BSc with Distinction in Health Sciences. My undergraduate coursework provided a strong foundation in public health systems and research in Canada. This culminated in my receipt of the SFU Vice President Research - Undergraduate Student Research Award to carry out independent research with the SFU Epigenetics laboratory team in identifying the molecular properties of a novel protein Structural Maintenance of Chromosomes flexible Hinge Domain Containing 1(SMCHD1). Alongside my education, I have remained a passionate volunteer and active member of my communities. In addition to my involvement with Dr. Peter’s AIDS Centre, I was the vice president of Club for the Cure, an SFU student organization which raised more than $50,000 for childhood cancer and blood disorders. Most recently, I have also joined Gamelan Gita Asmara, a UBC collective dedicated to performing Balinese gamelan, offering me an opportunity to share a piece of my heritage with communities in BC. Together, all these experiences, I believe, have best prepared me to make the most of my doctoral training leading to, hopefully, ultimate academic and research success.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

Get yourself an umbrella and a rain coat... the city is called Raincouver for a reason :) On a more serious note, there are a lot of great advices for new graduate students out there, but my advice would be one word: self-care. Like others have said, you are about to embark on, perhaps, some of the most intense and challenging (academically or beyond) journey of your life. There will be times when you will feel overwhelmed and pressured, ready to give up. There will also be times when you will feel like an imposter, undeserving of the praise and accolades that you have received from your hard work (search for "imposter syndrome" on Google, it is real and you are not alone). No matter how busy and challenging your graduate student life gets, creating a purposeful time and space to practice self-care is critical. Do something that makes you happy outside of your coursework or thesis work (and make sure to check out the countless programs that UBC offers that might suit your need; from sports and outdoor recreations to arts and meditation). Your self-care practice will help with better self-esteem, stress management, and overall well-being, which in turn will better prepare you for the challenges of your graduate study.

Not of my work per se, but this is a picture of myself (left) explaining my study on the impact of a BC-wide Treatment-as-Prevention-based intervention on the optimization of HIV care continuum. The picture was taken during the The International Workshop on HIV and Hepatitis Observational Databases (IWHOD) conference in Athens, Greece in March 2019, and to my right was a fellow HIV researcher from Uganda.

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