Recent graduate benefits from exciting research placement thanks to alumni connections

Six people in a group wearing garlands around their necks

Liz Kommu pictured second from left with a group of people in Samoa

Alumna Dr Nicola Hawley (Nicky) has supported a recent graduate with a research placement in Samoa thanks to her continued connections with the Loughborough family.

Nicky spent six years at Loughborough studying Human Biology (BSc 2009, PhD 2012) before joining Yale University in 2014 where she currently works as Associate Professor of Epidemiology (Chronic Diseases). Her research focuses predominantly on global health in Pacific Islander populations, and she frequently travels among major research sites, such as Samoa.

During her time at Loughborough she studied her PhD alongside Professor Will Johnson. In recent years, Professor Johnson has cited Nicky’s work in Samoa in his module on Human Growth. The pair have stayed in contact since Nicky’s graduation, and they are now collaborating on research together.

It is thanks to this continued research connection that in 2020 Professor Johnson was able to connect student Elisabeth Kommu (Liz) with Nicky during discussions about placement year options and Liz’s interest in Nicky’s work.

Nicky offered Liz the chance to spend her placement year in Samoa, where she would have the opportunity to work on research projects on the island.

Sadly, due to Covid restrictions at the time, Liz was unable to travel to Samoa, instead staying in the UK to undertake a year in industry.

Liz didn’t let this stop her from exploring the area of research further. Heading into her final year of studies, Liz used data collection from Nicky’s research in Samoa for her dissertation as she completed her degree in Human Biology.

Liz and Nicky remained in contact with each other, and following graduation Liz was able to take up a voluntary research position in Samoa.

Liz has lived in Samoa since November 2022. Focusing on maternal and child health monitoring, she has been conducting research as part of the “Ola Tuputupua’e” (Growing Up) study. She said:

“It’s an incredible experience. I am so fortunate to have a strong community network here in Samoa who have made me feel like family”.

Liz remains in regular contact with both Nicky, who travels back to Loughborough every year, and Will. She is due to publish a research paper with them later this year, before returning to the UK in July 2023.