Two BYU Students in Cancer Research

By Eliza Joy

Three BYU students received funding from the BYU Simmons Center for Cancer Research to participate in a full-time paid fellowship at the Ohio State University Cancer Control Center for the summer of 2021. Of these three students, two of them were from the College of Nursing: Morgan Utley and Haley Branham. These students were able to complete their fellowships, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, by working remotely.

Photo of Haley

Haley is a current third-semester student. When Haley began the process of applying for  funding from the SCCR, she didn’t feel qualified. “I was worried about my lack of experience,” she recalls, “I hadn’t taken the research class that I’m in now.” In working with Dr. Deborah Himes on her application and receiving feedback, Haley was able to communicate her desire and willingness to learn. Her advice to other students getting into research is to do the same and not worry too much about feeling qualified.

After getting into the program, Haley was assigned a mentor who she met with to decide on a research topic. Around this time, Haley had two people in her life who were battling cancer, one of which was a Hispanic immigrant. She was able to see how they were affected as well as the challenges they had because of their ethnicity. This helped guide her to study breast cancer within Hispanic women. Using a database of cancer diagnoses, Haley studied a population of more than 300,000 women and found that Hispanic women are more likely to receive late-stage breast cancer diagnoses. About completing the fellowship, Haley comments, “I was able to identify an issue and an opportunity to improve healthcare for certain populations and by doing that work, I felt really fulfilled.”

Photo of Morgan

The other nursing student to complete this fellowship, Morgan, is currently a sixth-semester student. Like Haley, Morgan was able to choose her research topic under the guidance of a mentor. Her focus was gerontology. Running regression analyses, she was able to research the relationship between emotional health and physical health outcomes of geriatric cancer survivors. Morgan found a strong correlation between those with strong social support and reporting lower levels of pain. She is interested in potentially researching further to determine the causation of these variables. Morgan’s advice for nursing students intimidated by research is to simplify. “It’s really easy to get caught up in little details,” she says. “Be patient with yourself and the process.” 

Both students reported similar schedules. Each week, Morgan and Haley were given a specific assignment or part of the research to complete, and were each given specific instructions for how to complete these assignments. They also had frequent meetings with their mentors and program director to ask questions, and receive additional assistance. In addition, both participated in a book club and journal club where they, along with other students in the program, read and discussed research and books. Morgan and Haley also had plenty of time to themselves to work on their research.

We want to congratulate these amazing students for their hard work and dedication to making strides in the field of cancer research!

Don’t forget to tune in to The College Handoff on November 16 to learn about cancer research being done here at BYU!

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