Category Scientific Research   Show all

  • Write Your Own Story: Recognizing Your Potential as a Woman or Minority in Research

    supporting image

    By Anna María Nápoles, Ph.D., M.P.H.
    Scientific Director
    Division of Intramural Research
    National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities

    I recently did an interview for NIH’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, to help celebrate Women’s History Month. I spoke about how mentoring and networking can help diversify science, my work as the scientific director of the Division of Intramural Research at NIMHD, and the importance of diversity in science. I also shared my personal experience, because it led me to the research that I do. It was my own family’s experiences that taught me the importance of research on health disparities.

    My parents were both immigrants from rural villages in Jalisco, Mexico. My father worked two jobs that were very hard on his body, but he made sure that my two siblings and I had the benefit of an excellent education. Although he had little formal education, my father worked to better himself and was involved in politics and social volunteerism in our community. This had a lasting impact on me.

    My family did not have much money, which meant we had limited access to preventive care. Immunizations were out of the question, which meant that I was often sick as a child. I also served as the interpreter for my mom during medical visits. These experiences made it clear to me that language and economic and cultural factors have a significant impact on your health and your ability to access healthcare.

    Today, my research focuses on people who have not typically felt a great sense of control in society over their own future and their health. My goal is to give them tools to manage their chronic diseases and the healthcare system.

    For example, I tested and developed an evidence-based intervention that focuses on stress management for rural and urban Spanish-speaking Latinas with breast cancer. These women have very high stress levels, and that leads to high rates of problems like anxiety and depression. It’s important to reach people who don’t have access to services because of a language barrier or other problems.

    At NIMHD, I hope to grow a program that focuses on identifying how social adversity affects our health. I want to help the people who experience that adversity and feel like they can’t escape it, by developing treatments and preventive measures that lessen the effects of difficult social circumstances.

    The best advice I’ve ever received, as a woman and a minority and a person, was to create a narrative for myself. Who are you, what type of person are you, and what do you bring to the table? I used to have imposter syndrome. I felt like I wasn’t good enough to be a scientist or to survive in a prestigious academic medical institution. I tried to fly under the radar and avoided putting my research out there. We’re socialized, as women, not to put ourselves first and, culturally, I was socialized to be humble.

    So, I had to write myself a new narrative: I realized that I can handle setbacks, that I’m a confident person, that I do good science, and that I can help improve the health of minority populations. I had to learn to advertise who I am, my strengths, what I bring to a situation, and how I can make the situation better. I’ve had setbacks, blatant racism and discrimination, financial problems, and stressful situations that made work-life balance difficult. But I persisted.

    Our backgrounds are reflected in the kind of work we do. There’s a lot of evidence that shows that diversity improves science, and that diversity leads to ground-breaking discoveries that might not have happened otherwise.

    It’s so important to find your strengths and create that narrative for yourself. Recognize what unique qualities you bring to the table and what unique contributions you can make. I guarantee that your history will bring you to ideas and questions that no one else could have thought of.

  • Quitting Tobacco Now: A Short Guide for Your New Year’s Resolution

    supporting image

    By Kelvin Choi, Ph.D., M.P.H.
    Stadtman Tenure-Track Investigator
    Division of Intramural Research, National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities

    Happy New Year!

    Many people make New Year’s resolutions to live a healthier lifestyle. If you use commercial tobacco products, such as cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco among others, quitting tobacco (or helping someone quit tobacco) may be on your list of New Year’s resolutions. Stopping tobacco use has many health benefits, including lower risks for many types of cancer and cardiovascular diseases (e.g., stroke, heart diseases), and longer life expectancy. However, changing behaviors is hard. Here is a short guide to help achieve your New Year’s resolution to quit tobacco products.

    All commercial tobacco products are harmful

    The harms of cigarette smoking, as well as smokeless tobacco use, are well documented. Cigar use is also harmful and particularly common among Blacks in the United States. Research has shown that cigar use is associated with dying from various types of cancers, including lung, oral, and pancreatic cancers. A recent report by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concluded that e-cigarette use likewise poses health risks.

    Some cigarette smokers try to quit smoking by switching from cigarettes to products that they believe to be less harmful than cigarettes. However, no studies to date have shown that such a strategy is effective in quitting cigarette smoking. So, it is important for your health to stop using all commercial tobacco products.

    Find your allies

    Many tobacco users try to quit tobacco “cold turkey”; that is, they stop using tobacco abruptly without using any cessation aids. It is true that people can quit tobacco solely with willpower, just like people can multiply 5-digit numbers in their head. As calculators make math easier for us, cessation aids, including nicotine gums and patches, prescription medications, and support programs, will make quitting tobacco easier. Unfortunately, compared with non-Hispanic White smokers, minority smokers are less likely to use these cessation aids. Try them out! And find the right one that works for you!

    Smoking cessation support programs are available for free at The website offers text-messaging and a mobile-based program for general smokers, as well as veterans, women, and Spanish-speaking individuals. These programs help you manage your nicotine craving while you are trying to quit tobacco for good.

    Stay away from tobacco marketing

    During the holiday season, you often receive discount coupons for tobacco products as “gifts.” Our research showed that these coupons hinder smoking cessation and increase the chances of relapse. These coupons may also promote switching to different tobacco products (including e-cigarettes) instead of giving up all tobacco. Don’t be fooled by these ads! Instead, you can choose to remove yourself from their mailing lists.

    Learn from your trials

    Just like learning a new skill, it takes many trials to get rid of commercial tobacco products from your life. And just like learning a new skill, practice makes perfect. Don’t think about your past trials as failures. Instead, pay attention to why you relapse. Take note of these triggers and develop strategies to deal with them. And then try again. I wish you great success in quitting tobacco in 2019!

    To learn more about Dr. Choi’s work at the NIMHD Division of Intramural Research view his short video here


    1. Babb, S., Malarcher, A., Schauer, G., Asman, K., & Jamal, A. (2017). Quitting smoking among adults—United States, 2000–2015. MMWR Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 65, 1457–1464.
    2. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health. The Health Consequences of Smoking50 Years of Progress. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014.
    3. Christensen, C. H., Rostron, B., Cosgrove, C., Altekruse, S. F., Hartman, A. M., Gibson, J. T., . . . Freedman, N. D. (2018). Association of cigarette, cigar, and pipe use with mortality risk in the U.S. population. JAMA Internal Medicine, 178(4), 469–476. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.8625
    4. Choi, K., Chen, J. C., Tan, A. S. L., Soneji, S., & Moran, M. B. (Epub 2018). Receipt of tobacco direct mail/email discount coupons and trajectories of cigarette smoking behaviours in a nationally representative longitudinal cohort of U.S. adults. Tobacco Control. doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2018-054363.