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Student Spotlight: Bee-Ah Kang


Meet Bee-Ah Kang

Bee-Ah Kang—a student in the Department of Health, Behavior and Society’s PhD in Social and Behavioral Sciences program—reflects on finding her passion for public health through travel, cultivating her interest in mixed methods research, and supporting research for the Collaborative for Research on Women’s Nutrition (CROWN) Project.

  • Program: PhD in Social and Behavioral Sciences
  • Entry year: 2021
  • Hometown: “I grew up in Seoul, South Korea, but I moved to the U.S. to attend schools. The U.S. didn’t feel like home at first, but now that I have family and friends across the country, I finally feel at home.”
  • Fun fact: “I enjoy experimenting with ingredients when I cook, so I haven’t made the same dish twice (unless demanded by my family).”

What sparked your interest in public health?

During my undergraduate years, I felt lost because I didn’t know what I wanted to be or how to live my life after I graduated.

In hopes of finding myself, I decided to travel around the world to learn about life, society, and culture beyond my own to broaden my perspectives. Throughout my travels, I visited many low- and middle-income countries, where I witnessed how countless people were deprived of the most basic needs. The vivid image of people living without human rights and dignity was deeply engraved in me, allowing me to reflect on how privileged I had been. Thereafter, I’ve been dedicated to finding ways to improve the health of people living in impoverished environments across all borders.

What led you to join the Department of Health, Behavior and Society?

Throughout my early career in health communication, I started questioning whether behavior change programs that do not consider social and structural determinants of health would bring about change in a meaningful and sustainable way.

I wanted to become a behavioral scientist skilled in addressing the root causes of health. To deepen my knowledge of how factors at broader social levels affect the health of people in need, I decided to join HBS, where the Department’s mission, principles, and curriculum are based on socio-ecological perspectives across health issues worldwide.

Also, despite my previous academic training in quantitative methods, I wanted to integrate qualitative methodology into my research because I was convinced that understanding human lived experiences would provide me with invaluable insights into designing interventions tailored to people's needs, desires, and hopes. In this sense, the Department provides an exceptional avenue for budding mixed methods researchers like myself to discover and solve health problems through a flexible and creative lens.

What’s a research highlight you've experienced during your time as an HBS student?

I am supporting research for the Collaborative for Research on Women’s Nutrition (CROWN) Project with mentorship from the study PI and my academic advisor, Dr. Rajiv Rimal. I led two literature reviews for the project. One focused on the measurement of adherence to micronutrient supplementation across programs designed for women of reproductive age living in LMICs. The second centered around global health programs that used human-centered design (HCD) approaches.

Not only was I granted the opportunity to share and discuss these findings with our country project teams in Ethiopia, Nigeria, and India, but I attended a conference in Japan to present the findings and build networks with many scholars in the same field.

How have you built your sense of community during your time as an HBS student?

Working with a team on a project that best fits my research interest helped build my own sense of community. Through my research with the CROWN Project, I've been able to strengthen research capacity by learning from my brilliant colleagues who have tirelessly worked together to achieve project goals. There is really no better feeling than growing with people who share the same vision and purpose as me.

Outside of public health, what are some of your hobbies, interests, and personal passions?

I’m enthusiastic about visiting art museums and galleries around the world to discover unknown artists. I also consider myself an artist because I find peace when I paint, draw, or make crafts. My long-term dream is to have my own art studio to produce experimental paintings and art pieces.

What advice do you have for prospective students interested in joining the HBS community?

Be open to diverse academic and research experiences available at the School. I think it’s important to stay open-minded so that you can expand your perspectives regardless of the educational background or prior experience you bring with you.

Finding specific areas of expertise is the ultimate goal for students (especially for doctoral students). In order to do so, I believe that emptying oneself should come first because it helps us to absorb various research skills, innovative ideas, and ever-evolving knowledge in the field of science. 

Is there anything else about yourself or your public health journey that you'd like to share?

I must admit that I took a very long detour to find my passion in public health. Indeed, my prior work and internship experiences were in fashion, broadcasting, consulting, etc.

I was never the type of person who knew what I wanted without having the firsthand experience to prove otherwise. Based on my journey, I try not to let a single event or experience in life go unused. I believe that even something that seems so trivial and irrelevant in life will contribute to my personal and professional growth in the end if I own and make use of it.

This interview has been edited and compressed. Views expressed are the subject's own.