Member Insight – Erin Bowles

What sparked your decision to become an epidemiologist?

When I was 17, my dad was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. While I was away at college, he underwent a very serious (and at the time – very experimental) bone marrow transplant, and there was nothing I could do living far away. At that point, I knew I wanted to do something in the cancer field, I just wasn’t sure what. After taking an undergraduate class in epidemiology, I started looking up graduate schools with epidemiology programs, applied, and was accepted at the University of Washington


What do you see as the biggest obstacle facing epidemiologists in the next five years?

Funding (or lack thereof) is an obvious answer. So beyond funding, I think one of the biggest obstacles is being nimble enough to address the high priority health care questions that our country is facing in a timely manner. It often takes years to write the grant, get the study funded, collect the data, analyze the data, and publish the paper. We need to figure out a way to move more quickly without sacrificing the quality of the science.

Do you have any pets?

We have a 7 year-old dog, Luna, who (we think) is a cross between a German shepherd and a beagle.

Why did you join SER? What keeps you coming back?

SER was the first big conference that I ever attended. While in graduate school, my mentor offered me the opportunity to attend the Congress in Toronto in 2001. I jumped at the chance. I stayed in the student quarters and met so many great people. I loved the meeting, not only for the science, but I couldn’t believe how welcoming everyone was. I was a little star-struck seeing some of familiar names I recognized from classic epidemiology papers – here they were in-person! I couldn’t wait to return one day and present a poster of my own. Funny story…my mentor and I ended up sharing a cab with another epidemiologist from Seattle who, about a year later, called me up and told me about a job at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute.  So I can honestly say if it weren’t for that first SER meeting and that fateful cab ride, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

What advice do you give students who want to become epidemiologists?

Obtaining practical work experience is extremely valuable. I went straight from undergrad to graduate school and after I received my MPH, I stopped. I was burnt out. Luckily, I landed a job that allowed me to continue to do research without a PhD. In that job, I felt I never stopped learning. I’m not discounting the value of a PhD, but sometimes I feel I learned so much more gaining practical work experience than I would have in school. Everyone’s path is different. But practical experience – beyond a short-term practicum or internship – is invaluable.

Outside of epidemiology what do you enjoy doing?

I love to dance! I’ve been tap dancing since I was 11 and am currently taking an advanced adult tap class at a Seattle dance studio. I also do some choreography for a local choir. And then there’s the occasional Lady Gaga dance party with my kids in the living room.

What is something that not many people know about you?

I ran the Vancouver marathon in 2004. I ran it with Team in Training and raised over $3000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I’m proud I did it, but the training was so intense that I have absolutely no desire to run a full marathon ever again!