Abroad

'Golden Triangle'

Some months ago, I spent time abroad in the ‘City of Bridges’. I bet you’re thinking of Venice. But did you know there’s a city that knocked the former world leader off its throne by three bridges? This city is a ‘Golden Triangle’ that sits between two rivers decorated with numerous bridges. With a total of 446, the rightful claim to the nickname ‘City of Bridges’ goes to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. 

Are you wondering who enhanced your knowledge with this insightful fact? My name is Mandy, I’m a PhD candidate at Amsterdam Public Health (VU University Medical Center) with specific interest in the autonomic nervous system. This system is involved in the acute human stress response and is activated during stressful and dangerous situations. In 2016 I was one of the lucky receivers of the last EMGO+ travel grants. This grant allowed me to travel to the USA and work at Pitt University with the Adult Health and Behavior studies, two beautiful cohorts including data on autonomic activity. 

So there we went (‘we’ because I brought my boyfriend along for the ride), off to a two-and-half month adventure in the States. Before we went to Pittsburgh for hard labor, though, we decided to treat ourselves to a holiday in exotic and warm Miami. One of the most memorable events was our trip to the gorgeous Everglades National Park. To tell you the truth, my autonomic nervous system was not so cool when facing the sharp jaws of the many alligators dominating the waters.  

After a sunny week, we traded the Atlantic shore for the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers. We spent two months in Pittsburgh – too long to give you a comprehensive summary of our stay there in this short piece, but let’s try anyway. Pittsburgh is… the whimsical weather that changes from 7 degrees Celsius today to 20 degrees tomorrow; the birth city of Andy Warhol and the proud owner of the largest collection of his art in the world; the ‘City of Steel’ with more than 300 steel-related businesses; and, of course, the ‘City of Bridges’  and the ‘Golden Triangle’. Pittsburgh is also defined by its renowned university enveloping 132 acres with 17 schools and close to 30,000 students. For two months I’ve spent most of my time in the Old Engineering Hall (runner-up was Starbucks) where I’ve met with some of the great names I knew from cutting-edge research papers, discussed interesting studies during journal clubs, expanded my knowledge during psychophysiology classes, and spent many hours learning new analytical techniques. During this time I confirmed my hypothesis: the relationship between depressive symptoms and risk factors for cardiovascular disease was mediated by the autonomic nervous system. I won’t bore you with the specifics of this research, but take my word for it that this finding was pretty awesome. And for those of you who know what a mediation model looks like, you will understand my referring to these results as my own ‘Golden Triangle’.

As a researcher I’m fond of coherence. So, I would like to conclude this story with the last city we’ve visited in the USA, and thereby completing our travels with a triangle: Miami, Pittsburgh, and… New York City. The Big Apple is everything they tell you it is, and more. I would recommend everyone to experience this vibrant place for themselves. In my experience, though, New York added the ‘Gold’ to the ‘Triangle’. 

Mandy Xian Hu
PhD student at Amsterdam Public Health (VU Medical Center)

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Mandy Xian Hu
‘City of Bridges’ Pittsburgh,  Pennsylvania, USA