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Epidemiology student wins award for international public health entomology work

September 23, 2022 | Erin Bluvas,

Lídia Gual Gonzalez, a doctoral candidate in the Ph.D. in Epidemiology program, has been selected to receive the John Henry Comstock Award from the Entomological Society of America’s International Branch. The honor is a reflection of Gual’s current and future contributions to the field, particularly in global settings. 

Born in Barcelona, Spain and raised in a small tourist village, Gual always knew two things: she loved animals, and she loved helping people. After completing a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences (Universitat de Lleida, School of Medicine), she enrolled in a master’s program in One Health and zoonoses at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona.   

That was the moment where I realized ‘this is what I want to do. Helping animals, helping people, serving rural communities and learning from different cultures.

-Lídia Gual Gonzalez, Ph.D. in Epidemiology candidate

Her epidemiology courses sparked an interest in the field, with the vector-borne disease classes offering the perfect marriage between her love of animals and helping people. An internship researching Chagas disease in a clinical laboratory was followed by another hands-on experience as a field epidemiologist with an NGO helping poor, rural communities in Uganda combat vector-borne diseases. The rest is history.

“That was the moment where I realized ‘this is what I want to do’,” Gual says. “Helping animals, helping people, serving rural communities and learning from different cultures.”

Looking for additional international experiences, Gual decided to attend UofSC for her doctoral program so she could study with epidemiology assistant professor Melissa Nolan. As a member of Nolan’s Laboratory of Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases, the graduate assistant conducts research in South Carolina and South America.  

This past summer saw Gual traveling to Colombia to contribute to the Boyacá Health Department’s efforts to reduce Chagas disease risk in rural communities through a triatomine control study. Her dissertation research is also grounded in Colombia, where she is focusing on tick-borne Spotted Fever Group Rickettsiosis.

After graduating next year, Gual plans to work in academia where she can lead projects that support vulnerable populations. Long term, she would like to start an NGO (in parallel with her academic career) to connect students/researchers with these underserved groups.

“I want to make the best use of my degree to help those who need it,” Gual says. “I would like to encourage students to volunteer and have the same experiences that I had that made me so passionate about my field.”


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