Research Staff Spotlight: Shelby Watkins

For our May 2021 “Staff Spotlight”, we interviewed Shelby Watkins, M.P.H., C.P.H. (she/her), a research associate in the Nicole Bowles, Ph.D. Lab. Each month, we feature an Institute Staff member and share with the community a behind the scenes through a question and answer session to learn more about their research areas, career path and goals, but most importantly recognize their hard work.Shelby Watkins, MPH Research Associate

Tell us more about yourself (career path, goals, anything you want us to know, etc.)

Shelby’s family moved around often for over 18 years. Her father served in the military, so she spent time living in places like Hawaii and Germany. Shelby graduated from high school in Germany and would later return to the United States for her undergraduate studies.

Shelby originally pursued a path to become a physical therapist. It wasn’t until she enrolled in an epidemiology class where her outlook of public health expanded. She had always gravitated towards individual patient care, but after taking this epidemiology course, she wanted to reach more people and impact health policy and program planning. After she switched her career path from physical therapy to public health, she was offered the opportunity to work and support the Hawaii Public Health Association to address climate change and health in Hawaii at the Hawaii State Senate, which gave her a foundation in state health policy and management.

When Shelby moved to Portland, Oregon after her undergraduate studies, she became a dance and gymnastic coach to figure out her next steps. After looking back on her time studying public health at Hawaii Pacific University and her interests to learn more about health policy and management, she decided to pursue her Masters of Public Health (MPH) at OHSU-PSU School of Public Health in Health Management and Policy.

Shelby later took to an interest in occupational health when she took an organizational behavior class. After graduating with her MPH and with her health policy background, she later-on pursued a research career in public health at the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences at OHSU. Shelby says, “You cannot get to health policy without the research. No one is going to make the change without that groundwork.” Shelby’s goals for the future are to continue to study firefighter and other emergency workers in the context of occupational health, as well as work in tandem with these industries to develop policy and organizational changes to improve Total Worker Health.”

What current research projects are you working on?

Shelby is the Study Coordinator for the Institute’s firefighter study and helps with recruitment, data collection, data analysis and engages face-to-face with study partners with different fire departments around Oregon. In addition, she works closely with the Clinical Physiology and Chronobiology Program, assisting in participant recruitment, processes and work flow development, as well as data collection for the lab’s numerous in-lab sleep studies.

Recently, Shelby helped develop and launch radio advertisements to recruit participants for the Clinical Physiology and Chronobiology Program’s sleep and blood pressure study. These radio advertisements ran for 15 and 60 second spots in collaboration with a radio news station and country station in Portland. The ads ran for almost 7 days and the study team, with help from Shelby, received over 85 phone calls and reached thousands of people. If you are interested in participating in a study, visit the Institute study recruitment page.

What do you like most about working for OHSU/Institute/occupational health research?

Shelby feels very lucky to learn every single day in her role as a Research Associate at the Institute. She has learned a lot about sleep health and occupational health psychology. She appreciates the continuous learning opportunities and resources the Institute provides, such as attending the weekly Institute Science Seminars and Symposia that take place during the Spring and Fall. Shelby says, “The Institute provides support in a researcher’s growth. I have been given the opportunity to publish papers and receive a training grant/pilot funding from the University of Washington (UW) to further my education and research leadership experience.”

What are your favorite hobbies outside of work? Home-life is very important to our health and well-being and is interconnected to our work-life.

Shelby Watkins, MPH Research AssociateShelby enjoys hanging out with her dog, Niles, a chihuahua terrier, rescued from the Hawaiian Humane Society 5 year ago. A fun fact, Niles is named after a character from the show, “Fraser.” Most recently, Shelby has enjoyed taking more road trips with her husband to Yellowstone National Park in Montana, as well as Arches National Park in Utah. She appreciates the beautiful landscapes around the states and realizes there is so much to see. Growing up in Hawaii and Germany she hasn’t seen much of the mainland, so it has been nice to see and enjoy the natural wonders of America. During the pandemic, she has gotten to know and spend time with her neighbors and enjoys hanging out with her neighbors socially distanced in their front yard.

Thank you Shelby for taking the time to tell our community more about you, your research and what your interests in occupational health, public health, as well as outside of work. Work and home life is very much interconnected.




Shelby on a hike at Arches National Park