Esme Gibson: Excelling in the lab and on the pitch

Published on February 21, 2024

portrait of CBH MPH student Esme Gibson

Esme Gibson is a graduate student in the Department of Community and Behavioral Health and works as a research assistant examining bicycle safety behavior. She is also a member of the nationally ranked University of Iowa Women’s Field Hockey team and has received multiple All-Big Ten and All-American honors. Esme recently answered questions about her interest in public health, her work as a research assistant, and how academics and athletics sometimes overlap.

Where is your hometown?

I am from Malvern, England, which is a small town near the Welsh border.

What is your degree/program of study?

I am in my first year of the community and behavioral health Master of Public Health (MPH) program.

Why did you choose to study public health? What about it interests you?

I completed my undergraduate degree in neuroscience here at Iowa. Throughout the classes I learnt about behavior and the way we learn and interact. This sparked a passion for health and behavior. I landed on community and behavioral health for my graduate degree as I want to be able to work with and positively influence local communities’ health and well-being. Public health is a profession where there is constant change and a large range of challenges. This appeals to me as I would like the opportunity to explore many different things, and I work well in changing landscapes.

In addition to being a student, you are a member of the University of Iowa Women’s Field Hockey team. How do you balance your athletic commitments with your time in the classroom?

Esme Gibson playing field hockey

Over my five years at Iowa, being both a student and an athlete I have learned a lot about time management and the importance of communicating honestly with academic and athletic staff. I have been fortunate to have coaching staff who care deeply about the student side of a student-athlete. They support us and allow us the flexibility to succeed in all areas of life. Prioritizing time is an important skill for any student, but even more so as a student-athlete as we are traveling across the country to play games. Having the ability to work on both buses and planes is important to use time effectively to get work done.

From both the pandemic and field hockey I have appreciated the importance of mental health and finding time to do things for myself. Reading and going for walks have been important in keeping my stress levels low so I am able to do my best in the classroom and on the field.

Are there skills and concepts that you have learned as a public health student that you can apply to athletics? Things from athletics that apply to the classroom??

As a public health student, I have had the opportunity to work with people from a range of academic and personal backgrounds. This helped me to work with both my team and coaches on the field hockey side as everyone has a variety of expertise and experiences to draw from. From field hockey I have developed resilience and strong problem-solving skills that have applied to the classroom. Public health requires a lot of problem solving to design and implement the best interventions for the community. Things will always go wrong with research and interventions, and it is key to adapt and find ways to work past issues that arise.

You have done some volunteer work in the community. Tell us about those activities and why you think it is important for students to engage with these community organizations.

Over my five years on the field hockey team, we have built strong bonds with multiple community organizations. We have worked closely with Habitat for Humanity to build homes within Johnson County, and this provided a great opportunity to give back to our community and develop practical skills. We have done volunteer work with the Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County, which has included repairs to their play areas and helping with their 50-year anniversary celebration.

Our team also participates in Dance Marathon and partners with the local Domestic Violence Intervention Program. As student athletes, we receive so much support from the local community and it is so important to give back at any opportunity we can. Working with local community organizations provides an opportunity to gain experiences and skills that cannot be found elsewhere.

You also work as a research assistant for the Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Safety (TRIPS) Lab based in the College of Public Health. Describe your work there and how the experience could help you in your future career.

I have been working on the current TRIPS project for nearly a year and have worked on a variety of tasks. During the summer I worked as part of the field team. We fitted camera systems to participants’ bikes and collected video and survey data to analyze participants’ bike safety behavior. Throughout fall and winter, I have been focused on assessing videos for correct helmet fit as well as entering and checking data from participant trip diaries completed with the camera system fitted.

Working with families throughout this project has shown me importance of the child-parent relationship and how much influence parents have on their child’s behavior. Seeing both the field and data side has given me the opportunity to learn how they interact and the processes behind them.

What are your plans post-graduation?

My plan is to graduate in spring 2025 and look for work opportunities near Iowa City. I would like to work with the community and local organizations to create and implement interventions for nutrition and physical activity to reduce rising obesity rates. I also have a passion for travel and would like to work with many different communities around the world to gain experience and partner with a range of programs.

What have you enjoyed most about your time at the College of Public Health?

The first thing I noticed when I came to Iowa was how friendly and welcoming the people are, and the College of Public Health is a perfect example of this. The students are knowledgeable yet always open to learning. The diverse range of experiences and specialties encourages learning and broadening of horizons. The professors are supportive and enthusiastic, and always display a willingness to go above and beyond to create opportunities for students.

Top photo by Joey Loboda

Field hockey photo by Stephen Mally/