Kayla Iuliano, Postdoc

QA with Kayla Iuliano, postdoc

Kayla Iuliano, a postdoc in the Department of Epidemiology, is originally from Racine, Wisconsin. She earned her bachelor of science in environmental science from the University of Delaware, and both her Master of Health Science and Doctor of Public Health in Environmental Health degrees from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. Iuliano won the award for Best Poster at Postdoc Research Day 2024. 

What do you consider your hometown? 

I grew up in Racine, Wisconsin along the shore of Lake Michigan. I'm a proud cheesehead who feels right at home in all the New Hampshire snow!

What department are you in? 

The Department of Epidemiology

Where did you earn your undergraduate and graduate degrees? 

I earned my bachelor of science in environmental science from the University of Delaware, and both my Master of Health Science and Doctor of Public Health in Environmental Health degrees from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

What is your graduate degree in? 

Environmental health with a focus on public health communication.

What is your area of research? What inspired you to pursue this research? 

I have proposed research to integrate environmental exposures with female cycle tracking: that is, the daily observations women can use to track their menstrual cycle. These observations are external indicators of the internal rise and fall of hormones, such as progesterone, that are important to the female cycle.

There aren't many studies that examine how environmental chemicals impact daily levels of women's hormones throughout the cycle. We know infertility rates are rising, and a lot of scholars hypothesize that exposures to environmental contaminants are driving that increase. This research fills an important gap.

I was inspired to pursue this research after seeing a group of clinicians utilize cycle tracking in their patient care. While writing my dissertation, I had the opportunity to work with a nonprofit called "FACTS About Fertility." I was able to meet, and learn from, physicians who use information from cycle tracking to uncover root causes of infertility and help couples conceive.

I found myself thinking, if cycle tracking has such important clinical implications, it should also have important epidemiological applications.  This kind of application can help us understand how environmental chemicals are impacting cycles. 

What does it mean to you to receive the best poster award at Postdoc Research Day? 

I was so excited to receive the award - there were a lot of wonderful scientists in attendance, and I enjoyed talking with them about the science of cycle tracking, and brainstorming with them about different impacts the environment may be having on fertility. I'm glad to know that they enjoyed my poster as much as I enjoyed presenting it! I felt very encouraged to know other people were excited about my research area.

Why did you choose Dartmouth for your postdoc?

There are actually two Dartmouth entities that brought us here for my postdoc – the Department of  Epidemiology and the Tuck School of Business.

While I was finishing my dissertation at Hopkins, my husband was applying to business schools following being active duty in the Navy. I was cross-listing the schools where he was admitted with public health opportunities for myself.

After he was admitted to Tuck, I was researching Dartmouth's epidemiology department and found Dr. Megan Romano's lab group. Her work was exactly in line with my interest in environmental exposures on maternal health and pregnancy. I was so excited to connect with her, as well as Dr. Judy Rees in the Dartmouth Cancer Center, who is doing important work in public health outreach and community engagement. All of my research interests were beautifully integrated into this postdoc position. We are now a proud Dartmouth family!

What do you like best about Dartmouth? 

I have two favorites: how supportive the environment is for helping me grow as a researcher, and how welcoming the environment has been for me as a new mom! 

I came into my postdoc with a list of epidemiological skills I wanted to improve, and my mentors – Drs. Judy Rees and Megan Romano – have been such wonderful guides in helping me develop those skills. They, along with other employees in the epidemiology department, made me feel so welcome and part of the team – even from day one.

On a personal note, I have two young children; my daughter was born a few months into my postdoc. Megan and Judy have been so supportive in helping me balance my time as a postdoc with my new role as a mother of two. And on my first day back from maternity leave, Dr. Lisa Purvis in the Dartmouth Cancer Center threw me a surprise party, complete with a cake, baby Dartmouth swag, and a children's book about lead testing. "Happy, Healthy, Lead-Free Me" is now my son's absolute favorite book. Every time he wants to read it (which is daily), I'm reminded of the wonderful group of people I get to work with!

What career/professional development advice do you have for current graduate students? 

It can be so easy to feel discouraged about the environmental problems that surround us, but try to find the positive deviances – the times someone or something has found a way to break a negative trend  – and be inspired by those!

My interest in women's and children's health started during my MHS at Hopkins, a few years after we saw the BPA phenomenon. That was when there was such widespread concern about BPA in baby bottles and consumer products that it rapidly started being phased out by industry. As a result, during my MHS, there was a lot of chatter about the impact mothers had on the field of public health, and the power of women's concern for their children, to drive the field. I've continued to be inspired by that phenomenon, and am hoping my work might add to our knowledge about environmental influences on women's fertility – and how we might ameliorate that impact.