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Pandora's Box Opens for Oregon ARCS Scholar Alum Holly Dixon

Posted on Sunday, May 3, 2020

According to Holly, “Research is very focused, but now that I’ve received my PhD in toxicology from Oregon State University, pandora’s box has opened.” After receiving her degree, Holly settled into a career at Oregon Health Authority (OHA) as a public health toxicologist – a perfect fit for her. Suddenly the world was faced with a pandemic and a new job opportunity presented itself.  Her new role is COVID-19 senior health advisor manager. 

A few days after volunteering on the COVID-19 team, Holly wrote to her advisor at OSU: “I’m feeling fortunate that my graduate degree prepared me for wearing many hats besides toxicology – coordinating, public speaking, organizing, and working with subject matter experts.” She is grateful that her graduate degree gave her the experience and confidence to manage large projects. “While I’m not working on toxicology in my new role, I am utilizing all the skill sets I had to use to be a successful PhD student,” said Holly.

For her research at OSU, Holly worked on the development and application of novel passive sampling silicone wristbands which measure personal chemical exposure to organic chemicals. The wristbands have been deployed to over ten countries and worn by over two-thousand people to solve the mystery around personal chemical exposure and is helping researchers investigate the health implication associated with chemical exposure after catastrophes such as hurricanes and floods. Although Holly defended her dissertation in April 2019, in her spare time she continues to work with her advisor and other collaborators at OSU to finish this project.   

When Holly first joined OHA she helped identify, assess, and report on threats to human health from chemical exposure, and advises Oregonians on how to best understand potential risks where they live, work, or play. Providing consultation on the development and implementation of policies that regulate or mitigate risks to communities from exposure to chemicals in the environment is part of her work. She spent a great deal of time collaborating with the DEQ on the Cleaner Air Oregon program.

In her new role, Holly helps organize the large number of health inquiries that OHA receives from community partners, citizens, clinicians, legislators, the governor’s office, and others. She helps the senior health advisors set daily priorities and coordinates health information through an internal review process. Holly LOVES to organize, so this new position is a great fit for her. She also loves to learn new things, so she’s using this opportunity to learn as much as she can about epidemiology and diseases.

Holly says, “It will be interesting to see how air quality has changed before, during, and after the pandemic. This will be such a great case study.” She is also interested in the unintended consequences of physical social distancing.

When asked how the ARCS Scholar Award impacted her, she stated: “I’m so thankful for the ARCS support I have received over the years! The ARCS financial gift allowed me to live by myself and have a short ten-minute walk from my house to campus. The close distance to campus also made it easy for me to run to my lab late at night or early in the morning to work on wristband research. Having a comfortable and safe place to live made a large impact on my success in my graduate program. I also greatly enjoyed the ARCS events throughout the years. I have met many wonderful people. Attending ARCS events has also helped me refine my elevator speech and become more comfortable talking about my research interests in front of large groups.”