Conducting research projects among mothers and infants in Brazil in the mid-2000s, Paola Gilsanz got to see firsthand the effects of health inequalities. She saw that, all too often, good health was elusive if you were poor, lacking education, or didn’t have access to adequate care.

Gilsanz is now on track to graduate with a Ph.D. in social epidemiology—which focuses on societal factors that affect health—from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) in May 2014. “The reward is great,” she said. “I can use the tools of public health I’ve learned at HSPH to help others.”

Gilsanz is currently at work on her dissertation, which is focused on the association between depressive symptoms and risk of stroke. She hopes her research will provide clues to if and how depressive symptoms physiologically impact health. “A lot of research has been done on stroke before depression,” she said, “but I’m looking at it in the other way. I hope to improve our understanding of how emotions like stress or depressive symptoms can also have physical health repercussions.”

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