What sparked your decision to become an epidemiologist?
MW: After receiving my BS in biology, my plan was to study toxic effects of pollutants at the cellular level. The director of the program to which I’d applied had an inkling that I’m not really the wet lab type and took me down the hall to meet an epidemiologist. I wasn’t aware of epidemiology before then but I liked what I heard and switched concentrations that day.
What do you see as the biggest obstacle facing epidemiologists in the next five years?
MW: Accessing research dollars is a huge challenge. I think moving population health to the forefront of scientific research is crucial for more grant funds to be directed toward epidemiology studies. But this requires advocacy, which doesn’t come easily to many epidemiologists. We are trained to be cautious in our interpretation of research findings, to consider sources of bias, and to expect consistent results across studies. How does one strongly advocate a public health issue, while simultaneously acknowledging potential limitations of observational research (and within 140 characters)?
Do you have any pets?
MW: Yes, two dogs and a cat. Trixie is old, lumpy, and very sweet; she is made of the spare parts of all other breeds. Odie is little, yippy, and passive-aggressive; he keeps Trixie moving. Cleo is a tabby mix who barely tolerates the dogs.
Why did you join SER? What keeps you coming back?
MW: I joined SER in 1983 and attended my first meeting in Calgary Canada. Methods sessions were as popular then as they are now. I joined to keep up with the latest methods while I was studying for my doctorate in epidemiology. My research area is perinatal health and birth defects, but always at the core of my identity is epidemiology. Attending the SER annual meeting affirms that for me.
What advice do you give students who want to become epidemiologists?
MW: I tell them epidemiology is an excellent field if you love math, writing, and problem-solving and you want to influence a healthier world. But I also tell them that really hard work is a key to success.
Outside of epidemiology what do you enjoy doing?
MW: I love being in the great outdoors. Hiking, bike-riding, gardening, canoeing, and camping are all favorites.