My Path to RTC

Associate Research Scientist Ljiljana (Lily) Rajic

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I was driven to study Environmental Chemistry so that I could use my skills and knowledge for a greater purpose – to protect the environment for current and future generations.  I earned my PhD in Environmental Chemistry (2007-2010) at the University of Novi Sad, Serbia, where I studied electrochemical technologies for removal of heavy metals from sediments. After completing my PhD, I continued to investigate the remediation of contaminated sediments as part of a number of projects supported by the European Union and Republic of Serbia.

In 2013, I joined Dr. Akram Alshawabkeh’s PROTECT Center as a Postdoctoral Fellow and later as an Associate Research Scientist. While at PROTECT, I have helped to develop a number of electrochemical remediation technologies designed to remove chlorinated organic compounds from groundwater. In addition to receiving in-depth training in the field of groundwater remediation, being part of a multidisciplinary and multi-institutional project such as PROTECT has familiarized me with the many aspects of environmental pollution issues. It has become clear to me that environmental contamination is a complex problem requiring solutions that go beyond the development of efficient remediation technology; treating contaminated water is just one part of the many steps needed to solve environmental problems.

In 2014, I attended a three-part series of environmental justice seminars presented by postdoctoral researchers working with Dr. Phil Brown, who directs our Research Translation Core. Those presentations from the postdocs in the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute helped me see that engineers and scientists in the life and natural sciences need to be aware of social, economic, and political aspects of environmental issues. Additionally, I saw how informing the public on the knowledge normally shared only in scientific papers and at conferences could empower them to advocate on Environmental Justice issues. I also learned a lot about these issues from webinars that Dr. Brown helped organize, along with our Training Core.  These included a series on environmental justice and community-based participatory research, as well as an ethics session.

As a result, I decided to get involved in the Research Translation Core within PROTECT. Since that time I have worked to spread the word about the PROTECT’s achievements, inform the public about the newly learned facts about the pollution around us, and create materials to teach people how to protect themselves and their families. This work includes developing local presentations on reproductive health and the environment and developing a comprehensive brochure on environmental factors in reproductive health for widespread distribution in Puerto Rico.  I also help interview each project and core leader to develop reports on their research translation work so that they can share it in team webinars and in a special series of essays on our website.

I have learned that trainees can easily figure out how to do research translation based on their own projects.  But I have also seen how exciting it is to get involved in center-wide research translation activities.