Travel story: Renae Fernandez

Renae Fernandez from the Robinson Research Institute’s Life Course and Intergenerational Health Research Group attended the International Symposium of Reproductive Hazards in the Workplace (RHICOH) in Barcelona, Spain in September 2016.

Renae presented her research on Application of a shift work job-exposure matrix to investigate occupational differences in women’s accessing of fertility treatment and infertility diagnosis.

This is what Renae had to say about her experience:

What was a highlight of the conference?

A highlight of the conference was being able to share a Spanish tapas-style lunch with A/Prof Eva Schernhammer, who is an expert in the field of shift work and epidemiology of chronic disease, and four other students/ECRs. At this lunch, A/Prof Schernhammer encouraged us to brainstormed ideas for a future collaborative research project that would draw on our shared interest in shift work and reproductive health. With A/Prof Schernhammer’s ongoing mentorship, we are planning to develop this into a grant proposal.

Did you meet any researchers or collaborators of significance? Why are they important to your work?

Dr Tran Huynh, Drexel University, Philadelphia. Dr Huynh presented work on Bayesian modelling of occupational hygiene data. This was relevant to my PhD work, which has involved learning and applying Bayesian data augmentation methods.

Prof Lin Fritschi from Curtin University, Western Australia. I have collaborated with Prof Fritschi previously and the conference provided a good opportunity to catch up about the work we are each doing. Prof Fritschi attended my presentation and gave me positive and helpful feedback. She was also able to introduce me to other researchers attending the conference.

A/Prof Eva Schernhammer from Harvard University. I found her to be very open and approachable. She was also very supportive of new researchers and women in research. At this lunch, I also met two PhD candidates who, like me, have an interest in shift work. Each of us took a different approach to assessing shift work exposure in our work – job exposure matrices, light exposure using personal measurement devices and time card/roster data. Our shared interests and varied expertise may be useful in developing collaborative projects in the future.

How will the experience support you and your research going forward?

This was my first time presenting at an international conference and in front of experts in occupational epidemiology. I presented during the RHICOH sessions, which specifically highlight research relating to occupational and environmental risks to human reproductive health. The session was well attended and I received several questions from the audience, allowing for an interesting discussion.

During the RHICOH and EPICOH sessions I was able to hear from several experts in the field of occupational and reproductive epidemiology. These speakers described their work on maternal occupational exposures, including endocrine disrupting chemicals and shift work, and perinatal outcomes including congenital anomalies, preterm delivery and low birth weight. These sessions were very interesting as they illustrated how population-based registries and rostering data can be use in novel way to assess occupational exposures.

I also attended several presentations and networking events specifically for student and new researchers. The presentations on starting a research career, writing manuscripts for publication and developing collaborations were useful and timely for me as I am nearing the end of my PhD. During the networking sessions I met early career researchers from all over the world, some of whom I have already kept in contact with via email. Overall, the conference experience helped me to identify potential collaborators for the future and helped me to focus my thinking about the direction of my research career.

What was the most exciting thing you learned/experienced at the Conference?

One of the highlights of the scientific program was a keynote presentation by Dr Lisa F. Berkman, a social epidemiologist whose work examines work/family dynamics as a major health risk for women. This presentation explained how work schedule control, supervisor support and family and work demands and control combine to influence workers’ health, and how this acutely affects women, who are more often engaged in caring responsibilities. I thought that this session really emphasised the importance of considering physical, psychological and social exposures when studying workers’ health and wellbeing, and that of their families.

What was the most interesting or unexpected moment of your travel?

One of the networking activities for student and early career researchers was a yoga session on the beach. This was a really lovely way to meet other ECRs and do something informal and fun. It was also a good way to relax before my presentation the next day!

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