Home » Blog » Where are they now? Leanna Kalinowski talks about how the Research!America science communications internship inspired her to pursue an MPH

Where are they now? Leanna Kalinowski talks about how the Research!America science communications internship inspired her to pursue an MPH

Research!America relies on interns and fellows, whose skills drive our mission forward. In this blog series, we are catching up with previous interns and fellows to see how Research!America impacted their career, helped them build transferable skills, and network with experts in the science research landscape.

Leanna Kalinowski, MA, is an intern for the Office of the Science and Technology Adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State (STAS), the Analytics & Policy Fellow at Research-to-Policy Collaboration, and the Member Engagement Fellow at the Scholars Strategy Network. Her extensive resume includes years of experience conducting quantitative and qualitative research in diverse settings – academia, nonprofits, and government. In addition to her various roles, she is also a full-time master of public health (MPH) student at the University of Buffalo, where she also received her MA in psychology. Leanna was a research assistant at Research!America in early 2022, before she became the full-time science communications intern – a role she took on for six months. We caught up with Leanna to discuss how her time at Research!America has impacted her career. Here are some of her responses:

What made you choose Research!America for your internship?

“I started at Research!America in April of 2022, through the Science Policy Scholars-in-Residence Program at the National Science Policy Network (NSPN). That program starts with a boot camp and then they pair people with internship sites. One of the options [for the Policy Scholars and Residence Program at NSPN] was that you could find your own site and pitch [that site] as an option [for your internship], so that was what I decided to do. I was Googling, looking for health advocacy-related organizations and I stumbled across Research!America. I remember clicking onto the website and seeing the mission statement, ‘… to achieve better health for all.’ When I read that, I thought, ‘This is perfect.’ I was doing so much related work around the same time – I was an early career policy ambassador with the Society for Neuroscience, so I was doing some advocacy work related to neuroscience and neurological disorders. I also saw all the different organizations that were part of the Research!America alliance network and I thought this would be an exciting role, so I reached out to someone at Research!America and went from there. My first three months with Research!America, it was a part-time contract, doing research through that [NSPN] internship program. Then in June [of 2022] I worked full-time in [the science communications intern] role until the end of September 2022.”

What were some of the projects/tasks that you had during your time at Research!America?

“At the time, Jenny Luray, Research!America’s Senior VP of Strategy and Public Engagement, was working closely with another intern, Caterina, on a pretty large evaluation of the Civic Engagement Microgrant Program, so I did a lot of work on that too. I would analyze survey data from the micrograntees, as well as some interview transcripts – pulling out key themes, learnings, and how the program could be improved from interviews with the micrograntees was a big focus of mine. After the analysis, I wrote several sections of the [microgrant] program report that was published last year. That was a great experience. In the science communications intern role, I would say my biggest task was getting the alliance discussion blog posts up. Every single alliance discussion I was pulling out quotes and doing the [blog] write ups. Also, drafting content for the social media channels, getting to learn about the different health awareness days and weeks and months. I wrote a resource on differences between lobbying and advocacy, which was then shared with a microgrant recipient. My final project was writing a pair of blog posts about mental health and mental health policy. I wrote one about the 988 Suicide Lifeline and the other about COVID-19 and mental health.”

How did your experiences as an intern at Research!America differ from other companies?

“At other companies, a lot of the people I was surrounded with were people like me coming in with a scientific background. I have a neuroscience background and everyone else in my circle were other scientists wanting to learn more about policy and advocacy. When I joined Research!America, it was totally different. Yes, we had scientists, but we also had public health professionals, communications professionals, and people like Jenny that worked on the Hill for so many years. So really, it was my first experience in an environment where we had so many people coming together with so many different backgrounds, and all of us having that same goal of achieving better health for all. I thought that was exciting and a really great opportunity to learn about how different disciplines can interface in this way. At that time, I was exploring what my next [career move] was going to be – to go back to school or to work. Getting to meet so many different people really helped me see different career paths and what I could possibly see myself going on to do after that.”

Was there a person or an experience at Research!America that inspired the next step in your career path?

“Ultimately, I decided to go to back to school for my MPH. A lot of [the inspiration] was going to the different alliance discussions and seeing the different backgrounds of our guest speakers. Before that, I always thought of public health as pandemics and vaccines, things like that, and I was never interested in that sort of thing. So, we had [alliance discussion speakers] talking about the social determinants of health or mental health and I thought, ‘Oh, all of these people MPHs and that’s really what I’m interested in.’”

Can you briefly talk about what you have been up to since you left Research!America?

“I also got really involved with NSPN. This was while I was a [Research!America] intern, I ended up getting the coordinator job for the NSPN program that I was a participant in. For a year and half, I got to coordinate that program – teaching bootcamps, internship matching – which was a lot of fun. I did that until this summer [2023], and then my MPH [program] kind of took over. I’ve since taken a scaled back role in NSPN, where now I’m the chair of their first ever Science Policy Committee. This is a new committee that’s going to be developing training opportunities, workshops, and events for people interested in learning about how policy is developed, and how scientists can engage in the policy making process.”

Where do you see yourself after your finish your MPH?

“I’ll be wrapping up my MPH in the spring [of 2024]. I’ll be doing my required MPH practicum, along with my final research project. My practicum is going to be with a local organization in Buffalo called CCNY. They’re a data analytics and program evaluation firm that helps local health nonprofits and hospitals get better at analyzing their programs and knowing what to do with their data. So, improving capacity for those for those organizations that wouldn’t otherwise have it. That’s going to be my first experience within the applied data analytics and statistics role. That’s something I’m excited to see moving forward. Then my final project is just going to be a typical research project; I know that research is something I enjoy, but maybe not for my long-term career. In the spring, I’m going to reflect on how those two things are working out and go from there. I have a strong feeling that no matter what, I’m going to end up at a health nonprofit and not in government or academia, but I’m keeping an open mind of course.”

How did your internship at Research!America prepare you for what you are doing today?

“I think this goes back to the cross disciplinary nature of Research!America staff. As you know, public health involves collaboration across so many different disciplines – medical professionals, community leaders, policymakers. I was in communications and all those different professionals are working together. My [MPH] program really emphasizes the importance of this cross disciplinary communication, and we take classes on collaboration. Sitting through those classes, I’m like, ‘Wow, this honestly feels so much like Research!America.’ They’re teaching us how to engage with all these different people, but I had learned how to do that already, so I felt like I had a leg up.”

What drives you to stay in the science/advocacy/research space?

“I think a lot of it starts with my background of neuroscience. For the longest time, I was so siloed at my lab bench and not seeing any sort of public benefit to my work. I was studying the impact of Ritalin on the brain using rat models, and that’s a huge public health problem. But we never engaged in any initiatives to push that forward into the real world. As I’ve entered this advocacy and research space, I see it as a way to take those things that never leave the lab and give them an opportunity to see the light of day and, and potentially improve lives in the future.”

Is there any advice that you would give current/future Research!America interns?

“Take advantage of everything that [Research!America] has to offer. Alliance discussions are happening all the time, the [National Health Research] forum happens once a year, and the early career summit. If your supervisor isn’t making you go to those things, take the initiative and go, because it’s a really great opportunity to see different opportunities to engage in this type of work.”

Is there anything else you would like to share about your time at Research!America or your career path?

“One thing we haven’t really touched on is how much I underestimated the importance of the social media aspect of a public health. I had a lot of fun when I was writing [content] for our social media channels, and I enjoyed learning about the different health awareness days. Reflecting on it now, I feel like I gained so much insight into public health communications and campaigning. It’s something that I find myself highlighting in different interviews and personal statements because it’s such a valuable experience to have.”