My hometown when I was a student was:
I graduated from Alma in:
Program of Emphasis – Public Health and Policy, Minor in Biology
I currently live in:
Durham, North Carolina
I am now:
Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Since graduating from Alma:
I completed an MPH at the University of Michigan (2013) and a PhD at the University of Maryland Baltimore (2018); both of my degrees were in Molecular Epidemiology. I am currently a postdoc in the Institute of Global Health and Infectious Diseases at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
My current research focuses on how we can use next-generation sequencing technologies to enhance infectious disease research. The neck-breaking pace of sequencing technology development has left in its wake a vast resource of genetic and genomic data, and the enormous scale of available sequences (and required resources for analysis) present daunting challenges on how to efficiently incorporate these data into sound epidemiologic studies. With a little bit of work, epidemiology and sequencing data make a powerful pair in our fight against infectious diseases.
I primarily study members of the genus Plasmodium that infect humans; these parasites are important public health pathogens that cause malaria. My research has taken me to Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia… you know, places where you’d find malaria! I use genomic and genetic data generated from sequencing to conduct population genetic analyses of parasites collected from different studies and regions of malaria endemicity. Interventions can leave distinct marks on the parasite genome, and this information can be invaluable to malaria control programs looking to plan interventions, or assess the effectiveness of public health programs designed for malaria control or elimination. Day-to-day I’m mostly behind a computer, crunching numbers and doing lots of bioinformatics! I also interact with private and public stakeholders, including private companies involved in vaccine design, and governmental public health agencies in countries where we conduct research.
My Alma education:
I came to Alma knowing that I wanted to have a public-health related career, but I wasn’t sure what area I wanted to work in. I decided to pursue Alma’s Program of Emphasis degree option, which allowed me to tailor my own curriculum which reflected my interest in both policy and molecular biology. The end result was a Program of Emphasis in Global Health and Policy, which was a mix of biology, public health, and public policy courses.
My favorite place(s) on campus included:
I spent many of my weekends in the fall on the soccer field, so that’s definitely a favorite!
My favorite professor(s) included:
I really enjoyed upper level biology courses with Dr. Keeton; I took his spring term course and picked up a lot of useful lab skills that were helpful in getting my graduate school career off the ground. To give myself a break from STEM, I also took a lot of my policy classes with Dr. Lorenz, whose passion for the subjects he taught was infectious!
My most vivid/best memory of my time at Alma is:
Definitely my study abroad experience. I spent a semester in Kerala, India. The people, the food, the culture… it was all amazing.
How Alma has helped with my current plan/job/graduate school/etc.:
I have found many of my experiences at Alma to be invaluable to my career. The ability to design my own degree curriculum allowed me to study public health issues from multiple angles, and I have found that this background has given me the ability to communicate with many different types of public health professionals, from government aid workers, to clinicians, to statisticians and software engineers. It is also increasingly important that as a scientist, you are able to both hold a pipette and can conduct analyses (ie, code!). Alma provided a solid base on which to expand these skills in graduate school.
How I have given back to Alma since graduation
If anyone wants to talk about career paths for public health, let me know!
Advice I would give a new graduate:
Keep in touch with your peers from Alma; networking is a great way to open new doors and career opportunities. Your classmates may also have gone through similar hurdles or career benchmarks, and may have useful advice! Other than that… don’t be afraid to try new things!