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A Week in My Work Life

Posted on April 30, 2021
Balancing activities illustraton

By Ana V. Diez Roux, MD, PhD, MPH

What does a dean of public health do all day? What does any dean do all day? I am sure we are all different. But here is a bit of my work life from last week… a rollercoaster, but as you will see rich and stimulating in so many ways…

Monday begins at 7:00 a.m. I connect remotely and deliver a plenary talk on urban health as part of a World Bank Deep Dive Training Session on “Healthy Cities for All” organized out of Tokyo for teams from cities around the world. It is 7:00 a.m. for me but 8:00 p.m. for others, and somewhere in between for the rest. I sit in our guest bedroom and speak into my tiny mac, a colored tapestry of birds and flowers that I bought in Guatemala behind me. We have a connection problem, so they call me on the phone halfway through the lecture and tell me I have to start the session over but, in the end, it works! It’s so exciting to speak to policy makers and practitioners from all over the world.

Later that morning, in sequential Zoom meetings, I discuss various external partnership activities with Associate Dean for Public Health Practice Jen Kolker, including a terrific partnership we have with the Big Cities Health Coalition. Then a discussion of new educational programs with Senior Associate Dean for Education Jim Stimpson. Our School has launched several new online public health programs in the last year: global health, urban health, and epidemiology. We are excited to see so much interest in public health. After that I join the Executive Committee of the Faculty for a discussion of an ongoing revision of School Bylaws. What is the best committee structure? What is a reasonable quorum for faculty votes? Intense conversations on how we can work together better.

Monday afternoon begins with a SALURBAL project meeting. SALURBAL is an amazing study of urban health in Latin America. We discuss how to deal with the bothersome habit that some countries have to change the spatial boundaries of the administrative areas over time. Then a meeting on small-area estimation: how can we use sparse data to derive reliable estimates of life expectancy for neighborhoods? Then I meet with a doctoral student to review her results on whether gender equity affects adolescent birth rates (it does!), and later with a faculty member to discuss the status of an ongoing project on COVID inequities in cities. Check out our "COVID-19 Health Inequities in Cities" dashboard here!

Tuesday morning we meet with the Graduate College to review our tuition revenues for fiscal year ‘21 and our projections for fiscal year ‘22. Forecasting is a difficult task. Then I meet with Institutional Advancement to review our fundraising status. Next, a meeting to continue discussing the longitudinal boundary alignment issues for SALURBAL, but now including collaborators from Berkeley and across the Latin American region. The problem makes your head spin, but we think we have a plan…

Then it's global health and a meeting with Dornsife Director of Global Health, Joe Amon. What is a “health and human rights approach” to global health? How can we create truly equitable partnerships? After that I co-moderate a session on "Tackling Big Problems in Big Cities" with Dean Laura Gitlin from the College of Nursing and Health Professions. We share all the exciting work that is going on at Drexel on urban health and health inequities and are joined by terrific faculty and students from both of our units. At 5:00 pm I briefly pop into an Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) leadership meeting on planning for the fall, but unfortunately, I can’t stay 6:00 p.m. I have my last meeting of the day with a collaborator in Australia who is leading the development of some cool agent-based models we will use to evaluate how transportation policies impact health and environment in cities.

Wednesday begins with a meeting of the Academic Council with Provost Jensen. There is lots to talk about, fall return, university budget, faculty hiring. Then it’s time for “Caffeine with the Dean” where I meet with two wonderful students, one an online MPH in epidemiology student, another a PhD student in Environmental and Occupational Health. We talk about their stories, why they got into public health and what they want to do next. We also talk about how the pandemic has affected all of us and in particular how it has changed their learning experiences. We also talk about what we need to do in the fall to balance the need for community (and face-to-face interactions!) with safety.

Wednesday afternoon I meet with a department chair, it's complicated to balance all the needs we have this year. But we still want to give students the best experience possible. Then there is a meeting of the Executive Committee of SALURBAL. And finally, a meeting with the National Academy of Sciences to review the plan for a workshop on environmental justice that I will participate in as a speaker. This workshop is May 21 and is called on Geospatial Needs for Environmental Justice. It is open to all!

On Thursday at 8:00 a.m. I meet with the Director of Finance and Administration Mary Ellen Sarno who does a miraculous job managing all things budget, human resources, and so much more at our School. There is so much to talk about that we never finish! Then a meeting with the planning group for the Conference of the International Society of Urban Health, which will happen remotely from July 6-8. We are sponsoring the conference this year (join us!). After that, a meeting to review progress on our “Heat Study,” a project to determine the current and future impact of rising temperature on urban mortality. Dornsife Endowed Professor of Biostatistics Brisa Sánchez presents some really cool analyses…I love this stuff.

Later that day, I join a meeting to review the status of work we are doing to develop a data platform to compare health across cities. And then an update on some analyses using unique data that describes the climate change hazards faced by cities and the barriers that they perceive to addressing these hazards. Also, a budget meeting where we review budget for the Urban Health Collaborative (UHC) last year and plans for next year. It’s a juggling act that I have been doing for so many years. Somewhere in between, I fit in a quick talk with our Executive Administrator of the Dean’s Office and Faculty Affairs Diane Benckert. We review my crazy calendar and over-commitments…what would I do without Diane?!

At last Friday. I end the week like it began: 7:00 a.m. online meeting with the Tokyo Deep Dive Training on Healthy Cities. Today various city teams present their plans and I am the lead commentator on the team from Yemen. They present an ambitious plan to address COVID (and more) in their city. Then I meet with the new search committee for the chair of one of our departments. We discuss the process and what we might look for in a chair. Later, in a meeting with all the department chairs, we review exciting plans for our new center on racism and health (the Ubuntu Center more soon!). On Fridays, the UHC hosts their Brown Bag Lunch Series and I always try to make that, so many great presentations, but today I have to take an unexpected call and have to miss it.

It’s Friday afternoon. I have a lovely meeting with a fellow Dean of Public Health. Our Schools have much in common, we discuss common challenges and opportunities. We complain a bit and we laugh too. I end the meeting wishing I did this more often. Only three more meetings to go! I meet with a faculty member to review progress on his NIH K award and finalize a report for the Bloomberg Foundation: Did their intervention to reduce drunk driving reduce crashes and deaths? It did! Then I meet with a Brazilian colleague (and old friend!) to review some great data they have been able to obtain for Brazil: geocoded deaths for all Brazilian cities and how we might work together on it. Last but not least (it’s 5:30 p.m.!) I have an emergency meeting with two colleagues regarding issues that have arisen in a common collaboration. And then the work week is done. I squeeze in a paper review and send in comments before checking my to do list for the weekend and closing my laptop.

As I look back on the week, I see how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to do so many different things and work with so many talented people, staff, faculty, and students at Dornsife and colleagues from all over the world with whom I chat and connect on Zoom all day every day. It is an incredible community that I am part of and I am thankful for seeing you every day, sometimes peeking into your homes (and you into mine), catching a glimpse of a son or daughter, a pet, a partner…and all of this through this little computer that I have in front of me. Now not only a tool to write and check email, but an indispensable tool for social connection and a window into the world.

I’ve realized when I speak to people about the time of the pandemic that although I miss seeing people in person, I have never felt disconnected. And this is because despite all the troubles, I see so many of you every day, all over the world. Thank you for being there. It’s truly amazing. May we all see each other in person soon.