Hien Q. Le, PhD, MPH (PhD ’08)

Hien LeWhich university should I attend? What will I study? Will I attend graduate school? Having grown up as the youngest of 10 children in South Vietnam after the war ended, questions of this sort were not even on my radar. My dad lost his job working for the South Vietnamese government, which put my family under severe economic stress. Whether we would be kicked out of our own house and where the next day’s meal would come from, however, were constant concerns.

Despite my humble upbringing, I obtained a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo and was working as a research and development chemist for a biomedical company in Berkeley, California. I enjoyed my job, but something was missing; at the end of the day, the job was not satisfying and I couldn’t imagine myself working in a lab for the rest of my life. It was then, during a flight to visit my homeland that I happened to sit next to a CDC officer working on HIV/AIDS prevention in South East Asia who also happened to be an alumnus from the University of Michigan School of Public Health (UM SPH). Our discussions on that flight inspired me to think of further educational possibilities. After I returned from my trip, I decided to quit my job and to go back to school.

In 2002 I applied to and was accepted into the second class of the newly created Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology (OEE) Masters of Public Health (MPH) program at UM SPH. My original plan was to obtain my MPH and then find a job in the field; however, in the second year of my program those plans changed. At that time, I became a research assistant for Stuart Batterman on a project focusing on air pollution. Stuart convinced me to continue on for the PhD, which I started in 2004. In fact, I continued my research on air pollution for my dissertation which focused on the association of ambient air pollution exposure with adverse birth outcomes among women and respiratory related illness among children in the Detroit metropolitan area. This was one of only a few studies that included a large underrepresented population.

Since graduating from UM in 2008, I have been working as a research investigator for the DuPont Epidemiology Program where I have conducted occupational health research with an emphasis on contemporary occupational epidemiology with a global perspective, which is a new research direction in the field. Rather than conducting epidemiological studies on occupational mortality, my research has taken a prospective approach to focus on musculoskeletal disorders, preventive care and wellness. In 2015, I will begin a new position as the lead epidemiologist for a new company to be created from DuPont Chemicals and Fluoroproducts and DuPont Titanium Technologies. I will continue conducting occupational health research. Going forward, I also plan to take advantage of other professional opportunities including guest lecturing and teaching at colleges and universities, actively participating on COHSE’s External Advisory Board, and presenting research at international professional conferences. Taking a new direction, utilizing new methodologies in occupational and environmental health research, and conducting regulatory risk assessments are all a part of my future, a future which will rely significantly on the training I received at the University of Michigan.