Dr. Burns has more than 10 years of experience working with youth (ages 0-21) in a variety of clinical, community-based and academic settings. Her research is centered on innovative approaches using community-engaged research and technology (e.g., social media, mobile apps, messaging) to improve healthcare and sexual health outcomes among adolescents at community health care centers. Her secondary area of interest is improving nursing practice and training programs in underserved areas.
Why did you decide to apply and participate in UROP as an undergraduate?
As an undergraduate student I was always very active, UROP was recommended by my CSP (comprehensive studies program) advisor, I was in the bridge program (which is sponsored through CSP). We were paired with an advisor and they had given us a list of opportunities and UROP was one of them... they said if you’re interested in science, health or anything similar they suggested that you get involved with UROP because there are a lot of projects focused on some of the things you may be interested in, so I took their advice.
What do you think you learned from your UROP experience? Who did you work with and what was your project?
For me it’s always the networking and building relationships. My project was at the University of Michigan hospital with Dr. Sewon Kang, he was one of the leading dermatologist. At the time I was pre-med and his research project - there were two research projects - one was to reverse aging signs in the elderly and the other one was to get more people of color to come to the clinic for an acne study and look at how acne impacts people of color. Those two projects were way different, but I learned a lot. I myself had dealt with some skin issues as a teenager, I think when you’re passionate about something you want to connect with that and see what it’s all about. People often say ‘If you want to do something shadow someone” and I wanted to learn all about dermatology. It actually grossed me out after being in that office, but I learned research protocols, I learned professionalism, I learned recruitment language, office etiquette, what grant proposals were - those type of things. That was my first introduction into clinical research, later on I learned about other types of research. Dr. Kang was wonderful, he was with the university a long time - you never know in terms of who you work with how their role as a professional is going to develop. I learned at the time that many people of color did not come to U of M to seek treatment for acne or any type of other treatment. That was my first exposure into seeing who comes to seek treatment and why? Not that it has anything to do with the university. It could be transportation or location or preference in providers. Those little subtleties were things that I learned.
How long ago?
1999 or something like that (pausing to reflect) I had a really good peer advisor and that person set a great example for me. They made a really great impact on me because they were trying their best to fit me with a good project situation so I could make the most of my experience. I think when someone mentors you you should try to soak up as much as you can and pay it forward. I have always tried to make an effort to make sure others have the same experience I did, cause that could really shape a person directly and influence where they want to go. As a mentor I have always been directly involved with my research faculty mentors, I was with Dr. Kang. I was never off in a corner just copying papers or doing detached work and I feel like that’s the way I am with my students. They see me one-on-one and they get to work with other people but being with that person is the best experience you can get.
What type of impact did UROP have on you? What advice would you give to your younger self?
I think knowing in advance what the opportunity is and lining up projects that interest you - I wouldn’t change anything but I think what I do now, is when I want something I make sure I lay out all my options early enough to make a good decision. When you’re dealing with research, when you’re dealing with something that’s your career you don’t want to just jump at things, you want to make sure you do all the research, meet with all the people and make that final decision on how it’s really going to impact your life. My road was definitely not straight in terms of my career - I didn’t come into the University of Michigan as a nurse thinking pre-nursing, it was something I picked up along the way. I got a second degree from Michigan and I went on from that. If I had to do it all over again I would do my research a little better and make sure all my options are viable options and that getting the best experience. Instead of having a good project I would make sure I had two, three, four good projects that are potentials. For anyone who’s trying to seek out an opportunity, make sure you give yourself time.
What led you to become a UROP faculty mentor?
Oh, I love mentorship programs! I’m involved in tons of mentorship programs. I mentor public health students, I work with SCAN (second career and nursing students) - I think when someone really cares about you it makes the learning experience fun. I really can’t put myself in that seat again to where I was a freshman in college. As you came in here - I had two freshman guys. One is in the school of kinesiology, one is in business - I treat them as equal partners, you’re on this team and I don’t care if you’re a freshman. Of course you have to mature a little bit as you go through college, but I am treating them like “you’re important! You’re a part of this and I feel like when you feel that way about something (when you feel included) you do better work - you’re more engaged and I am a very hands-on person. I just really love mentoring and I have had a lot of really great mentors. I have never been the person to just get a thing right away, I would be like “could you explain that for the seventh time?” you know what I mean? (laughs) and I am that person where if I am working with a student and they don’t get it for the eight time, I understand where they’re coming from. I am willing to sit down and work through it. I have had people where I have had to wait for them for a couple of hours and go over whatever article with them. It’s worth the wait because they’re taking time to teach me and show me how to perfect the craft, to make sure I am doing it right. It’s almost like I am that auntie, they don’t see me as Dr. Burns or whatever. They just see me as someone who cares and wants to give them a good experience. I want them to build their resume, I want them to find something that connects with them. For instance the student I have in business, he’s not a nurse, but I am working on a project with young men - so what components from business can you take and apply to healthcare? Understanding how different profession work together is also very important. Mentoring is like having a basketball coach or a football coach, those people who are coaching you really want to build you up as a player and I am the same way but I am building you up as a scholar and that’s going to help you make decisions and ultimately give back to whoever you work with in the future.
Now that you are a UROP mentor what advice do you have for current UROP students?
Don’t just be picking projects to pick projects! (laughs)
Find something you don’t know anything about. Find something cool where you look forward to working with that person or that project. Everybody that I’ve worked with, they’re all wonderful students. Find someone who you can build a relationship with. Build relationships and ask that person about others ways you can build yourself, especially if you’re working directly with a professor. Write down everything that they’re saying and soak it up and ask them “who else can I talk to?” because you may not ever have that moment again and years later you may need to go to that person and if you have a good relationship and if you have a good relationship with them you can ask them five years from now for a recommendation and they may even be a bigger person then. Not that you’re looking for someone who’s going to be all powerful and big - but yeah, I remember all of my students for the most part. Soak up all the knowledge get as many resources as you can.