Hi! My name is Keely and I’m an MPH candidate at Gillings School of Global Public health with a concentration in nutrition. This summer, I’m working with the London-based Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) to develop reports which will be used to help guide future alcohol research and inform evidence-based alcohol policy in the UK.

Prior to my studies at Gillings, I received my bachelors in German studies and taught English with Fulbright Austria before working for a short time with a major health insurance company as a health advocate—I’ve jumped around a bit in fairly different areas, but the accumulation of all of these experiences is what led me to pursue public health nutrition. This past year has taken a slight turn, however, as my interest in nutrition education and community involvement has shifted to one of bringing change through policy advocacy. I’ve also grown more interested in alcohol consumption and misuse as a public health issue—two of my major projects last year focused on alcohol misuse. As a result, I’ve reflected a lot on alcohol’s role in my life and in my surrounding community, and on the social responsibility of the alcohol industry. When it came time to search for a practicum, I fortuitously stumbled upon my current position with the IAS and knew that it was the perfect fit for my developing interests.

Over the past three weeks, I worked on a briefing for alcohol use and harms among UK-based LGBTQ+ people, intended to identify gaps in knowledge (spoiler, there are a lot), and guide future research. Ultimately, this should help tailor health messaging and provide evidence behind advocacy for safer, more inclusive spaces for queer people within healthcare and alcohol treatment services. I had a slower start than I’d planned for—my job is fully remote, and I meet with my team for only one hour per week. Because of this, I found it really difficult to feel like a part of the organization and find the momentum to start during my first week (luckily that didn’t last long!). Aside from a slow start, my practicum hasn’t felt so out of the ordinary as I was expecting; I’m learning new things and my work is meant to contribute to more than a grade on my transcript, but I feel comfortable and confident working from my living room. Now that I’ve settled in and finished up my first product, my attention has turned to my second project, which will be a rapid review on the calorie labeling of alcoholic beverages.

Currently, the alcohol industry is not required to label beverages with nutritional information; UK government has announced a consultation to consider requirement of calorie labeling on alcoholic beverages as part of their new Obesity Strategy. The review that I’m putting together will be used to guide IAS’s work on the consultation. I thoroughly enjoyed my areas of research in alcohol use for last year’s academic, skill-building projects, but it is such a different (read: more enjoyable) feeling to begin work on something that will hopefully help create real societal impact. It’s somewhat intimidating, but in a good way that also makes me incredibly excited to begin a career in less than one short year.

For both projects, my days have consisted of and will continue to consist of literature reviews and writing. I’m excited to continue learning about this topic and the alcohol industry, and how the UK parliamentary system works. I’m considering pursuing a career in alcohol research/policy following graduation, so it’ll be interesting to build this base of knowledge and identify potential areas for alcohol research and policy advocacy within the US. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to improve upon my research and writing skills and work within a small, female-run research organization that has significant influence in the UK policy sector.

The rest of this summer will be quite busy, as I’m working a second job atop my practicum, but it’s already shaping up to be one of the best I’ve had— from the meaningful work and connections I’m building, to making the most of my free time and weekends. I’m looking forward to what’s to come!

Keely