Aisha Langford, Ph.D, M.P.H.
Assistant Professor, Department of Population Health, New York University School of Medicine
I first became interested in science when I became an adult literacy specialist at the San Mateo County READS (SMCR) program in East Palo Alto, California. At SMCR, I served as a consultant for a NIH-funded study, “Cancer Narratives for Low-Literacy Adult Learners,” led by Colleen Crangle of Converspeech LLC. The study aimed to help low-literacy adults understand information about colon cancer screening and prevention. This experience was the catalyst for me obtaining my Masters of Public Health (M.P.H.) degree.
During my M.P.H. studies at the Saint Louis University School of Public Health, I worked as a research assistant in the Health Communication Research Laboratory on a research project called Ozioma, a Nigerian word for “good news.” Ozioma was designed to educate African Americans about cancer by developing locally relevant, cancer-specific press releases for black newspapers. This experience piqued my interest in health communications and health disparities, and ultimately led me to apply for a unique position as director of community outreach at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. In this position, I was responsible for implementing community-based health education programs for communities of color. My community engagement work, coupled with my growing desire to ask and test my own research questions, prompted me to pursue a Ph.D. degree.
As a doctoral student at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, I conducted primary research on attitudes about clinical trial participation, in partnership with 16 black churches in Michigan. In addition, I conducted a secondary analysis of cancer clinical trial enrollment data provided by the National Cancer Institute. After completing my Ph.D., I did a postdoctoral fellowship with the Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Clinical Management Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In September 2015, I joined the faculty at the New York University (NYU) School of Medicine as an assistant professor in the Department of Population Health. I also co-direct the Recruitment and Retention Unit under the NYU Clinical and Translational Science Institute.
Overall, I think successful translational scientists should be open to working on multidisciplinary teams and with colleagues who have different skill sets and perspectives, which makes the science stronger. Additionally, I think it is important to be able to “speak” to different professional and lay audiences.
The NCATS diversity supplement was critical to my success as a minority, junior faculty member on the tenure track and helped launch my career in many important ways. The supplement helped facilitate mentorship opportunities from senior leaders, enabled me to travel to professional conferences and gave me exposure to various networking opportunities. Most importantly, the award provided me with protected time to publish papers and develop ideas for future research projects. For example, one of the papers generated from my diversity supplement project, on which I am the senior author, was published in Contemporary Clinical Trial Communications. In August 2018, I received a K award from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
Like life, research has hills and valleys. My advice to trainees is to stay positive, keep going and do not be afraid to ask for help. Finally, remember to celebrate your wins, both big and small!
As an assistant professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU’s School of Medicine, I study how health communication can improve individual decision-making and reduce population health disparities for conditions or behaviors that lead to preventable mortality and morbidity.
Historically, I have done research in cancer prevention and clinical trial participation in community-based settings. My research has expanded to include cardiovascular disease, with a particular interest in hypertension (HTN)-related decision-making. In August 2018, I received a five-year career development award from the NHLBI to explore patient and clinician preferences for HTN management. My K award proposal will enable me to elucidate important preferences of black patients and clinicians related to HTN management, with particular emphasis on lifestyle change interventions, building toward a decision support tool to facilitate preference-concordant decisions. With increased preference-concordant decisions for HTN management, it is likely that racial gaps in HTN mortality and morbidity between blacks and whites will be reduced over time.