My research focuses on broad interdisciplinary approaches to addiction and its related social and personal harms. This means that I necessarily work across fields that include sociology, anthropology, psychology, biology, and political-economy. It has also allowed me to develop specialized research methods in network analysis and hard-to-reach populations, methods that are needed to do research with groups that are highly stigmatized and often not easy to find. This includes work on rural drug injectors in Puerto Rico, rural drug users in the Great Plains, and substance users in Alaska. We have operated a three- to five-person field team and permanent field station in Puerto Rico’s interior since 2013, and have recently opened new field stations here in Nebraska. We also have ongoing partnerships with researchers from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks (where I serve in a permanent visiting professor role as President’s Professor of Biomedical Research, in affiliation with the Center for Alaska Native Heath Research) and with the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health. These collaborations focus on two distinct projects in rural Alaska that focus on suicide prevention and substance abuse prevention through culture-focused interventions in predominantly Alaska Native communities. Together with Professor Bilal Khan, I help develop software that allows for better fieldwork and project evaluation, including network data collection software and simulation tools. Altogether, the research describe above has been supported by more than $6 million in NIH and NSF grants over the last 10 years.
In addition to my work as Principal Investigator at the REACH Lab, I also serve as a the founding Director of UNL’s Rural Drug Addiction Research (RDAR( Center, an NIH-designated Center for Biomedical Research Excellence. In addition, I am the Director of UNL’s Minority Health Disparities Initiative and the Associate Dean for Research in UNL’s College of Arts and Sciences. In these role I mentor junior faculty and post-doctoral scholars in project design, grant writing, project management, and overall professional development. Mentees come from a range of departments including Psychology, Counseling, Sociology, Nutrition, Ag Econ, Communication Studies, and others.
Most of my work as a researcher and mentor takes place with large interdisciplinary research teams that place sociologists in conversation with other social, behavioral, and health researchers across the US. Since arriving at UNL in 2013 I have published more than 70 peer-reviewed papers, 70% of which included a graduate or undergraduate student, and more than 80% were published in general science journals or journals outside of sociology. More information on my projects or mentoring opportunities can be found at the RDAR, REACH Lab or MHDI websites.
Our Center/Lab is interested in working with undergraduate and graduate students who have a strong computation and theoretical background, can work in a team science environment, and whose thesis or dissertation interests align closely with the current topics of the REACH Lab—addiction, social determinants of health and health disparities, network science and social science methodologies, and rural, Native American, or hard-to-reach populations. Student who join the REACH Lab are immersed in “lab culture”—meaning that they will work as a team member on a range of projects, and often many different projects at the same time, and that students’ roles change through time as they gain experience and take on more responsibility. Throughout, multiple lab-wide weekly meetings serve as an unofficial additional course (or two), and lab members gain exposure to a range of projects, methodologies and theoretical ideas from each other and from an interdisciplinary group of post-docs (whose backgrounds range from anthropology to psychology, and computer science to mathematics). Throughout students are encouraged to take an aggressive role in contributing to the research outputs of the Lab. It is not uncommon for graduate students who have worked at the REACH Lab for 5 years to complete their PhD with 5-10 published papers, often as lead authors by their last year or two in the lab. In addition, all lab members contribute to grant writing and thus gain exposure to this critical aspect of current academic life.
In general, the REACH lab accepts one student each year onto the team. Students work as a TA until they have completed a master’s thesis. After this, students are generally supported by external fellowships though one of the Lab projects. At that stage they no longer have any teaching assistant responsibilities, but are instead full time Lab researchers while completing their coursework and dissertation. Work in the Lab is demanding, generally more so than simply completing a PhD. As such, it is not the right place for every graduate student. But the extra work is rewarded by being part of a team that is there to support the student’s class work as well as their research plans. For the right person, it is a unique graduate school experience and one that can lead to a promising research career. Each year the lab sends multiple undergraduate students on PhD programs, and graduate students on to tenure track jobs or prestigious NIH post-doctoral fellowships.
Some undergraduate students may also want to teach middle-school aged youth network science for health in afterschool clubs through Worlds of Connections, an NIH funded project that I am a co-investigator on. To learn more, visit http://worldsofconnections.com/
I generally teach graduate and undergraduate courses on social theory and social network analysis. In the last few years I have offered advance courses in research with hard-to-reach populations and medical sociology. Many of my classes allow student to work with original data that I have collected over the years—offering them a first-hand experience in “doing” rather than simply consuming sociology and social science.
2019 (forthcoming) Elizabeth Stevens, Kimberly A. Nucifora, Holly Hagan, Ashly E. Jordan, Jennifer Uyei, Bilal Khan, Kirk Dombrowski, Don des Jarlais, R. Scott Braithwaite, “Cost-effectiveness of direct anti-viral agents for hepatitis C virus infection and a combined intervention of syringe access and medication assisted therapy for opioid use disorders in an injection drug use population.” Clinical Infectious Diseases.
2019 Lisa Wexler, Suzanne Rataja, Jerreed Ivanich, Jya Plavin, Anna Mullany, Roberta Moto,Tanya Kirk, Eva Goldwater, Rhonda Johnson, Kirk Dombrowski “Community mobilization for rural suicide prevention: Process, learning and behavioral outcomes from Promoting Community Conversations About Research to End Suicide (PC CARES) in Northwest Alaska.” Social Science Medicine 232:398-407.
2019 Juan Carlos Reyes, Melissa Welch-Lazoritz, Laura Zayas Martinez, Bilal Khan, and Kirk Dombrowski. “Prevalence and risk factors associated with homelessness among drug users in Puerto Rico”. Puerto Rico Health Sciences Journal 18(1), 54-59.
2019 Jungyoon Kim, Wael El-Rayes, Renaisa S Anthony, Kirk Dombrowski, Shinobu Watanabe-Galloway. "Sampling, Recruitment, and Data Collection Methods of Survey Research for African Refugees: A Review Study" Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health 6(1), 160-181. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40615-018-0511-0.
2018 Bilal Khan, Ian Duncan, Mohamad Saad, Daniel Schaefer, Ashly Jordan, Daniel Smith, Alan Neaigus, Don Des Jarlais, Holly Hagan, Kirk Dombrowski. “Combination interventions for Hepatitis C and Cirrhosis reduction among people who inject drugs: An agent-based, networked population simulation experiment.” PLoSOne 13 (11), e0206356.
2018 Hsuan-Wei Lee, Miranda Melson, Jerreed Ivanich, Patrick Habecker, G. Robin Gauthier, Lisa Wexler, Bilal Khan, and Kirk Dombrowski. “Using Perceptual Tomography for Balance Clustering in Helping Networks of Alaska Natives”. PLoSOne 13 (11), e0204343.
Recent Grant activity
“Rural Drug Addiction Research COBRE” March 2019-January 2024. P20 GM130461 National Institutes of Health, General Medical Sciences.
“Biomarkers for Dysbiosis-Related HIV-Associated Cognitive Disorders among Persons Who Inject Drugs in Puerto Rico” April 2019-April 2024. R01 DA048705 National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse
“Assessing the effects of hurricane Maria on Opioid Agonist Treatment access among PWID in rural Puerto Rico.” November 2018-October 2020. R21 DA047304 National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse.
“Promoting Community Conversations about Research to End Native Youth Suicide in Rural Alaska” August 2018-July 2023. R01 MH112458 National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health
“REU Site: Social Network Analysis for Solving Minority Health Disparities”. February 2018-January 2020. National Science Foundation 1757739
“Modeling Social Behavior via Dynamic Network Interaction” May 2016-April 2019.R01 GM118427 National Institutes of Health, General Medical Sciences. .
“Qungasvik (Toolbox): Prevention of Alcohol/Suicide Risk in Alaska Native Youth.” August 2015-July 2020 R01 AA023754 National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
“Applying Behavioral-Ecological Network Models to Enhance Distributed Spectrum Access in Cognitive Radio” August 2014-Dec 2018. National Science Foundation AST 1443985.
“Injection Risk Networks in Rural Puerto Rico” August 2014-July 2019. National Institutes of Health / National Institute of Drug Abuse R01 DA037117. NIDA Minority Supplement R01 DA037117-S1 -S2. “Competing Supplement: Injection Risk Networks in Rural Puerto Rico”. National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse R01 DA037117-S3.
“Developing Effective Proximal Care to Prevent Rural Alaska Native Youth Suicide” May 2014-August 2019. R34 MH096884. National Institutes of Health / National Institute of Mental Health.