Women in STEM Interview Series: Emma Benn, MPH, DrPH

Specialty: Biostatistics

Current position/s: Assistant Professor in the Center for Biostatistics and Department of Population Health Science and Policy at ISMMS; Director of Academic Programs for the Center for Biostatistics; Co-Director of the MS in Biostatistics Program; Co-Director of the MPH in Biostatistics Track


 1. Can you describe what inspired your interest in science?

When I think back, I cannot remember a time in my life when I was not interested in science and mathematics. I can remember being so excited for the math competitions in elementary school and how amazing it felt to beat the boys. However, it took me quite a while to figure out exactly what I wanted to do with my passion for science. For example, when I majored in Chemistry in college, I assumed that I would spend the rest of my life in drug development and innovation.

However, after working as a quality control chemist on the night shift for a pharmaceutical company upon graduating from Swarthmore College, I realized that chemistry wasn’t my passion. I decided to go to graduate school to get an MPH, since I wanted to gain a broader understanding about the major contributors to health. While I had been so caught up with drug development in college, I started wanting to learn more about the larger socio-structural factors that prevented some subgroups of the population from accessing the prescriptions and quality healthcare that they need in the first place. In other words, I knew that an MPH in Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University would provide me with a more thorough understanding of a new language revolving around social epidemiology and the social determinants of health.

Yet, while I was pursuing my MPH, I took a few introductory statistics courses and started falling in love with this new knowledge I was gaining. As a Chemistry major, I had taken quite a bit of math, but it wasn’t until I took my first biostatistics course in graduate school that I finally figured out what I wanted to do with my life. I realized that biostatistics was the perfect mechanism by which I could link my love for mathematics, science, social epidemiology, and medicine. Once I had that eureka moment, I knew the next step for me would be to pursue a doctoral degree in Biostatistics. While my path to where I am now was a bit non-linear, I wouldn’t change it for the world. Science is so vast that sometimes you have to get exposed to many areas of science before you can find that one area, biostatistics in my case, that really clicks for you. 

  1. What engages you the most about your research?

As a Biostatistician in academic medicine I am always exposed to new research problems. It comes with the collaborative nature of my job. For example, I recently learned more about this econometrics-based statistical method and thought it was really interesting. However, I couldn’t figure out where I could apply it, since it hasn’t been applied very much in the clinical and translational sciences. Speaking to some of my colleagues, they suggested that I might be able to apply this method to cardiothoracic research. That led me to a really great collaboration in which I could use this interesting methodology to examine selection bias when racial/ethnic minorities and women are inadequately represented in cardiothoracic studies. With this collaboration, I get the opportunity to use my expertise to answer a research question that has important clinical and policy-related implications. I am always amazed at the new knowledge I gain by collaborating with others. It keeps me engaged because I never feel stagnant. I am always challenged to figure out how my statistical background can be used to answer complex, real-world, biomedical questions. This keeps me on my feet and always keeps me striving to learn more.

  1. Do you currently have a mentor? Describe how a mentor has been of professional and/or academic assistance to you as you’ve strived to fulfill your career goals

When I first started as a faculty member at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, I don’t think I really surrounded myself with sufficient mentors. It took about a year or so for me to learn that I was going to need to reach out to more senior faculty to ensure that I was on the right track with respect to meeting both the short-term and long-term career goals that I had set for myself. Now, I have quite a few mentors who are both within and outside of Mount Sinai. They have been extremely helpful in keeping me grounded and also helping me success in academia, while also making sure that I maintain a healthy work-life balance. For example, at one point, I felt very isolated because I didn’t know many Biostatisticians of color. After attending a Diversity in Biostatistics Workshop at the Joint Statistical Meetings about two years ago, I was able to network with a whole community of Biostatistics faculty of color, mostly females, from other institutions and a couple of these faculty eventually became great mentors for me.

Also, more recently, I was invited to be the Program Chair of an important section of the American Statistical Association. At first, I thought this would be a great opportunity for me, especially since it would increase my visibility nationally and internationally. Also, having a leadership position like this, I thought, would be perfect on my CV when I go up for promotion. However, after reaching out to a couple mentors, they reminded me about all of the other leadership positions I already have (e.g. co-Director of the MS in Biostatistics Program at Mount Sinai) in addition to my research projects. Just speaking with my mentors first helped to put things in perspective for me and really helped me to understand that the invitation to be Program Chair was really wonderful, but that it might be detrimental at this earlier stage in my career.

  1. What is one of your more challenging career experiences?

This is a difficult question to answer considering I have encountered many challenges throughout my career. However, I think the biggest challenge is recovering from rejection. You often don’t always get what you want in this field the first time around. For example, I may think that I have a great idea for a research proposal, however, the study section reviewing my research proposal might not think that my research project is solid enough or innovative enough for funding. Or, maybe my colleagues and I think that our study findings are perfect for publication in a top-tier journal, but ultimately get rejected shortly after submitting our manuscript. At first, this can be really frustrating because you have such high hopes. However, what I’ve realized is that it’s important to be able to learn from rejection. Often times, someone else might see flaws that you never even noticed and once those flaws are revealed to you, you dust yourself off, revamp, and come up with an even better proposal or manuscript. Also, sometimes it’s just a matter of finding a better match, like another funding agency for my research proposal or a different journal for my publication. So now, I have begun to look at rejection as just a catalyst for revision, not an end point.

  1. What advice would you give to other aspiring female scientists?

There are three major tips that I would give to aspiring female scientists. First, surround yourself with people who see your potential and consistently provide you with encouragement. That way, if there is a brief moment when you doubt your ability to rise above your challenges, the positive people you surround yourself with will give you the motivation to keep moving forward. Second, always remember that you are a scientist first who happens to be female, rather than the other way around. That way, you stay confident even when you encounter situations when someone unfortunately negates your scientific brilliance because of your gender (and race/ethnicity for females of color). Lastly, always keep nurturing your love for science by learning as much as you can about your field. This will help to strengthen your foundation, while also keeping you up to date about the newest discoveries. This is very important if you aspire to be a future leader in your field.


Information Visualization

By Laura Childs, Levy Library Intern

As a library science graduate student at Pratt Institute, I have always focused more on the “library” than the “science” – until now.  One requirement for earning my degree is to demonstrate certain advanced tech skills.  In order to meet this requirement, I am taking a class called Information Visualization in which I am learning theories and principles of effectively communicating information through visual methods.  More simply, this means figuring out how to synthesize large amounts of abstract data into user-friendly visuals that users can easily interpret and interact with.


Graphs created by Laura Childs using Tableau

Coming from a humanities background, thinking in terms of statistics and visual design is a challenge and I was initially unsure of how learning these skills would help me in my career as an academic librarian.  Interning at the Levy Library, along with learning more about academic librarianship in school, has made it apparent that creating visualizations is very relevant to the work done by librarians in universities.

Turning data into consumable information will benefit students and librarians, as well as faculty and other university staff.  As academic librarians become more involved in instruction and collaborate more with professors, it is increasingly important to be able to communicate information to students beyond the traditional lecture.  Visualizations can help in this regard, and are also useful for more behind-the scenes work.  For example, we can further help faculty measure their scholarly impact, track our own library metrics, and present research findings in compelling ways – especially in a medical library like this.  I am far from being skilled in “info vis,” but I am motivated to get as far as I can.  Fortunately, there is a lot of inspiration to be found in the great work done here at the Levy Library.


Few, S. (2005).  Effectively Communicating Numbers: Selecting the Best Means and Manner of Display.  Retrieved from https://www.perceptualedge.com/articles/Whitepapers/Communicating_Numbers.pdf

Register today – Letting Go of Stress for Health Professionals: Mediation and Mindfulness with Kadam Morten Clausen

By Robin Milford, MSIS, and Gali Halevi, PhD, MLS

In an effort to promote and encourage wellness among all members of the Mount Sinai community, the library is pleased to host a mindfulness workshop – Letting Go of Stress: Mediation and Mindfulness with Kadam Morten Clausen.

Workshop description – 

Few things can be more debilitating than ongoing stress. We all know what a toll it takes. What we might not know is that there are extremely effective methods that we can enage in to help us reduce our feeling of inner tension, and even eliminate them altogether.

Simple meditation techniques will help us to develop a more supple mind and body. This has been proven. By learning how to reduce the distracting and oen painful chatter in our mind and instead abide in a quiet and more tranquil state, we shift our experience from one of frantic worry and concern to something altogether more peaceful. And more effective. This is where true healing takes place.

Date: November 10th, 2015

Time: 3:00pm-4:30pm

Register here to save your seat.

Complimentary tea & coffee will be served at 2:30pm.


Women in STEM Interview Series: Dr. Katherine Chen

By Robin Milford, MSIS and Gali Halevi, PhD, MLS

A recent study published by the Harvard Business Review highlights barriers that still exist for women entering STEM. Others argue that the gender gap in STEM is “overblown.” What does it mean to be a woman in STEM today? In this interview series, we’ll talk with some of the women at the heart of the STEM debate – female scientists at Mount Sinai Health System. Some interviews will be brief, some will be longer. Whether they’re doing innovative genomics research or providing exemplary patient care, these scientists will undoubtedly have significant insight about the challenges, joys, and realities of working in STEM.



Name: Katherine Chen, MD MPH

Specialty: Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Science

Current position/s: Associate Professor, Vice Chair of Education, and Director of Medical Student Clerkship in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Science at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Education: MD, Harvard Medical School

Residency, OB-GYN Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School

  1. Can you describe what inspired your interest in science?

Parents: father physicist and mother nurse midwife.

Knack in grade school, high school, and college with science classes.

Apprenticeship with pediatrician in hometown.

  1. What engages you the most about your research?

Fun topic – mobile applications in Ob-Gyn

Enthusiastic research team of nurse practitioners, medical students, residents, fellows, and faculty at Sinai and other academic institutions.

Making discoveries

  1. Do you currently have a mentor? Describe how a mentor has been of professional and/or academic assistance to you as you’ve strived to fulfill your career goals.

Yes, I do have several mentors – chair people across the country, researchers, leaders in medical education.

  1. What is one of your more challenging career experiences?

Being offered a job from one academic institution, accepting the offer, and then having to decline as another academic institution gave a counter offer.

  1. What advice would you give to other aspiring female scientists?

Read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg.

Keep publishing.

Say “No, thank you…” to committees and positions that do not advance your career.


Learn more about Dr. Chen on the Mount Sinai Medicine Matters blog.

MetaCore Workshop – Register today!

By Robin Milford, MSIS, and Rachel Pinotti, MLIS

Register today for a hands on MetaCore Workshop! MetaCore from GeneGo is a database of manually curated protein-protein, protein-DNA and protein compound interactions in human, mouse and rat. Tools allow detailed searching, pathway visualization and pathway modeling based on your own data and data extracted from the literature.

We are proud to license and provide access to MetaCore at Levy Library. All members of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai community are welcome to attend this workshop.


Where: Levy Library, Large Classroom (11-41)
When: Thursday, October 15, 1:00pm-3:00pm

Please note, registration is limited to 35 attendees.

Click here to register.

Our first Research Insider Series Seminar was a great success!

By Robin Milford, MSIS and Gali Halevi, MLS, PhD

On Tuesday, September 22nd, the Levy Library hosted our first ever Research Insider Seminar, Rx in the App Store: Current Issues in Health Care Apps. Dr. Nick Genes, MD, PhD (Associate Professor, Emergency Medicine and Genetics & Genomic Sciences, The Mount Sinai Hospital) discussed his work on Mount Sinai’s Asthma Health app, which uses Apple’s ResearchKit platform, and gave a glimpse into a future where doctors can safely prescribe apps, alongside medications.


Sudipto Srivastava (Senior Direct of eHealth, Mount Sinai Health System) discussed some of the innovative eHealth initiatives currently underway and planned within the health system, as well as planned next steps in our eHealth journey as a health system

Finally, Laura Schimming (Deputy Library Director Mount Sinai Health System Libraries) gave an interactive tour of popular mobile apps available through the Levy Library.

Members of the Icahn School of Medicine can access a recording of the lecture by visiting this Echo360 link.


Click here for information on the Levy Library Research Insider Seminar series.

Thanks to everyone who made this event a success!



ISMMS in Social Media: 2012-2014

By Robin Milford, MSIS & Gali Halevi, MLS, PhD

We tracked over 7,000 articles authored by Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai authors from 2012-2014. Using PLUM Analytics, we analyzed the social media attention to these articles including Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus. As can be seen from below graph, articles published by ISSMS researchers have been gaining significant social media attention in two years.

Our analysis results mean that more people are finding ISSMS research interesting and have been spreading the word about it on social media, which significant as it points to the fact that our research touches people’s lives and is used as an information source.


Receiving the most attention on social media is an article published in 2014 by Dr. Philip Landrigan, Director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center and the Ethel Wise Professor and Chair of the Department of Preventative Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center (NYC) and his colleague Dr. Philippe Grandjean from the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard University. The article, “Neurobehavioural effects of developmental toxicity” was published in The Lancet.

As can be seen from the image below, this article gained significant attention on social media, attracting over 10,000 mentions and shares in various social media outlets. In addition, since the article was published, it was downloaded, linked out and clicked on over 900 times.


What makes this article so popular? Possibly its topic – this article offers a global strategy to control the pandemic of developmental neurotoxicity which causes a variety of birth related cognitive deficiencies such as autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia among others.

Grandjean, Philippe, and Philip J. Landrigan. “Neurobehavioural effects of developmental toxicity.” The Lancet Neurology 13.3 (2014): 330-338.

Medical Illustrators at the Service of Science

By Robin Milford, MSIS & Gali Halevi, MLS, PhD

Medical Illustrators bring together art and science. As professional artists, they transform complex scientific and anatomical processes into visual images that support our understanding of human anatomy and disease. Medical illustration as a profession has a long and distinguished history, dating back to 1540s with Andreas Vesalius’ seminal set of anatomy texts “De Humani Corporis Fabrica” (1543). Max Brodel and Frank Netter were later medical illustration pioneers. These gifted artists invented new illustrative techniques specifically suited for science and medicine.


Medical illustration requires both artistic talent and advanced medical and scientific knowledge. From text books to journal articles, medical illustrators collaborate with scientists, physicians, and other specialists to bring science to life.


At the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Academic Medical Illustrator Jill Gregory, CMI, FAMI, supports faculty and students by creating illustrations for in-classroom and online learning materials, peer-reviewed journal articles, books chapters, conference proceedings and more. Some of Jill’s noteworthy works include illustrations that appeared on the covers of Laryngoscope, Endocrine Practice, and The Journal of Neurosurgery. In all, her work has appeared in over 60 journal articles and 18 textbooks. This spring, she was named a finalist for the Giliola Gamberini Award, an international medical illustration competition originating in Bologna, Italy.

Jill is a very active member of the Association of Medical Illustrators. She served on the Board from 2006-2011, and was Chair of the Board of this 800 member organization from 2009-2010. She recently presented at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the AMI on “Multimodal Learning Across Generations and Opportunities for Medical Illustrators.”

Jill is located in the Levy Library on the 11th floor of the Annenberg building. She also has an office at Mount Sinai Beth Israel.

For more information about Jill’s services, please contact her at jgregory@chpnet.org


Open to the World: ISMMS Global Research Collaborations – Part II

By Robin Milford, MSIS & Gali Halevi, MLS, PhD

In part I of our study on countries the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai collaborates with, we found that our scientists are working with peers the world over. As a follow up, we wanted to discover what subject areas ISMMS scientists collaborate on most frequently.

We collected all keywords associated with over 17,000 articles indexed in Scopus published from 2010- 2015 that have international authors listed along with ISMMS researchers. Each article has a list of keywords assigned to it by indexers, describing the topics covered in it. The word cloud below depicts the top 150 most recurring keywords within these articles – the bigger the word, the more times it occurs as a keyword in the articles.

It turns out that biology, cardiology, and cardiovascular research are frequently co-studied with international collaborators followed by neurology, molecular and oncological research. Other popular areas are gastroenterology, endocrinology, genetic, surgery and mental health, including psychiatry. Also of note are areas such as metabolism, immunology, dermatology, and diabetes.

The variety of research areas and disciplines is demonstrates not only global reach, but also disciplinary richness.

Open to the World: ISMMS Global Research Collaborations – Part I

By Robin Milford, MSIS & Gali Halevi, MLS, PhD

It’s a well-known fact that the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai is conducting ground breaking research at home in New York City. It turns out that ISMMS scientists are also going beyond home base and conducting research with scientists from all over the world. To discover which countries we collaborate with most frequently, we used the Scopus database to collect information about the co-authors of the Icahn School of Medicine scientists. We retrieved all the published documents attributed to ISMMS in Scopus and geo-mapped all countries listed in these documents. The map captures the countries with which ISMMS published 50 articles or more.

Not surprisingly, we collaborate heavily with Canada with over 1400 joint publications. In Europe, we collaborate with the most with the United Kingdom (over 1800 publications), followed by Germany, France, Italy and Spain with over 1000 publications each. Other countries in Europe such as Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Greece and Romania all show to have at least 100 co-authored papers with ISMMMS scientists.

In Asia, we mostly collaborate with Japan with over 800 joint publications, followed by China. South Korea, India, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan are also prominent partners with close to 200 co-authored papers.

Israel is the leading collaborator in the Middle East with close to 600 co-authored papers. Although not in high numbers, we also see collaborations with Saudi Arabia with 51 publications.

In South America, Brazil, Argentina, Puerto Rico and Mexico lead in co-authored publications with close to 200 joint papers per country.

In Oceania we find Australia with over 200 co-authored publications, as well as New Zealand with approximately 90 co-authored papers.

Finally, over 100 co-authored papers can be tracked with South Africa and Russia with over 100 publications.

What does global collaboration mean for the impact of ISMMS research? Stay tuned for Part II to find out more!