Douglas Roehler is a morbidity-focused Health Scientist on the Epidemiology and Surveillance Team in the Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention at CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. At CDC, he is working on the drug overdose epidemic. Prior to joining CDC, Dr. Roehler completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago where he focused on child injury prevention. He completed all of his graduate work at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. He was a UROP student from 2005-2007, and a UROP peer advisor from 2007-2009.

Why did you decide to apply to UROP?

I think I first heard about UROP at orientation, so it was the summer before I started my freshman year. I saw that UROP provided an opportunity for undergraduates, specifically underclassmen to get your hands dirty in research right from the get go, so I jumped at that opportunity and when I arrived at Michigan I had no idea what I really wanted to do but I knew getting involved with research would be important and as it turns out UROP set the course for my career because basically all I’ve done since is be involved in research in some capacity. Another good thing about the UROP experience is learning how to apply for jobs, just as a freshman to land my research position I had to go through several interviews and to be honest that was really my first time I ever had to interview for anything. UROP does a good job not just getting students well connected with professors but also developing a whole host of skills, not just research skills but also professional development skills such as interviewing. I found out about it at orientation and I was hooked from day one. 

What do you think you learned from UROP?

I learned about research ethics and I also remember learning how to interact with professors through UROP. At Michigan it’s a massive university and you’re often in courses with hundreds of other students, it’s difficult to develop relationships with professors, but I intentionally sought out different positions where I would be working with professors of my own course. I had a Psych class with 100 other students but I was meeting one-on-one with that professor to do research and work on the research projects. I think that kind of gave me a leg up in these courses as well because it’s easier to ask professors questions if you have a relationship with them. I got better with my presenting skills, I probably have between 50 and 100 presentations on my CV and if you look at my CV today the first presentation that is listed is the UROP symposium. I’m not even joking, I recently interviewed for a position and they wanted me to talk about one of my research projects that I was involved in with UROP because the topic was interesting to them. 

How did the experience shape and inform the next steps in your career and professional journey? 

I look at my UROP experience as one of the fundamental stepping stones, so I got involved in research as a freshman and then that summer between freshman and sophmore year I was part of a community based research fellowship program that was affiliated with UROP where I was conducting a needs assessment at a boys home in Detroit for youth who had gotten involved with the criminal justice system in some capacity, so that was a summer long, I was at the boys home everyday interacting with the boys and the staff and I wouldn’t have got that position if it wasn’t for my initial UROP position. And then in year two I was part of a different research project through UROP, I was part of the minority international health training program, which sent me to South Africa for the summer to do a research project on youth violence. And again I wouldn’t have gotten that position if it wasn’t for my UROP experiences. I had to do an independent study with a professor in the school of public health, Mark Zimmerman and through working with him he encouraged me and helped me find that passion through public health. That experience translated into me entering a Masters after undergrad. And from there I had a career doing research mainly around injury prevention. 

What type of impact did UROP have on you? What advice would you give a current UROP student?

For current UROP students and students interested in joining UROP I would definitely say “go for it” the variety of research projects that students could work on through UROP is endless. You could go from biomedical research, to engineering, to different sorts of humanities projects, you get to develop relationships with professors and research professors, graduate students and you get a chance to pick their brains about their own career trajectories. That opportunity as an undergrad is not easy to come by, especially at a university such as the University of Michigan, it just opens up all those opportunities that are available without UROP but it makes the process way more streamlined and there’s tons of great mentorship to really - UROP just provides you with the tools to jumpstart your career at such an early age. 

Could you recall a good experience you had with a research mentor? Which mentor had a profound impact on you?

Professor Joseph Gone was probably my best UROP mentor, he was my professor for a Psych course - I don’t recall much about the actual research, but the lessons that I took from him were mainly related to professional development. For example, I was a sophomore and we would meet weekly, and I remember being three minutes late to a meeting and I didn’t think anything about and he sat me down and told me how it’s unacceptable behavior and his time is valuable. I still think about this often even though it was 13 years ago, mainly because it showed that if I want to present myself in a professional way, I can’t be three minutes late to meetings and stuff like that. That may be extremely minor, but you know that just set the stage for some of the success I have had today. Also, Professor Gone was there to help me with some of my applications for graduate school - It’s really about building relationships with professors, I happened to have a research trajectory as a career, so I was trying to put myself in their shoes. I could have gone their route and tried to be a professor but just by picking their brain and working with them, specifically as a first generation college student. By having mentors who had been in your shoes, give you advice as just a freshman or a sophomore it’s extremely valuable and I think it’s one of the best things that UROP offers.