My interest in epidemiology comes from my interest in social justice. After college, I spent a year in rural India teaching chemistry in a school with pit toilets and without overhead lights. The caste system in the village where I lived was palable and omnipresent; students from lower castes weren’t expected to succeed by their teachers, their families or themselves. I taught students who couldn’t afford pencils or their annual $40 school fees. Meanwhile, when I’d go to the city, I’d see friends who were diamond merchants and planning international vacations. Seeing such stark inequalities in another culture helped me see them more clearly in the US. Since then, I’ve been interested in tangible solutions to health disparities. My current work focuses on education polices as potential scalable, population-level solutions to health disparities for common causes of morbidity and mortality.
Why did you join SER? What keeps you coming back?
I joined SER / submitted my first abstract to the annual meeting the year the meeting was in Boston. I lived in Boston at the time and I had very little funding, so having the annual meeting in the town where I lived made it possible for me at attend. I keep coming back to SER because the annual meeting and the society are fantastic – there’s a strong focus on social epidemiology and methods, which are the areas of my research focus; SER is a great fit for me. Together with Kathleen Wirth, I’m currently one of the co-chairs of the Communications Committee, so I’m also required to keep my membership active – in practice, this usually means my memberships lapses each year and then I get emails from Courtney and Sue reminding me to rejoin ASAP. I encourage everyone else to be more attentive SER members than I am.
What advice do you give students who want to become epidemiologists?
Epidemiology is a amazing field because it allows us to use our skill sets to make a quantitative argument for change. One area I hope our field expands into in the near future is health care cost analyses; I think economists are currently much more effective in changing social policy because they make the economic argument for change, while epidemiologists almost exclusively focus on the ethical argument. I’d encourage students so start exploring cost analyses. And then, they should teach me how to do cost analyses.
Outside of epidemiology what do you enjoy doing?
I like hiking and nature and just being outside generally. I think spending time in nature (and away from my phone, internet, screens, distractions), changes the way my brain works. I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area just over 2 years ago, and I try to go hiking every weekend now. Releatedly, I like going for walks and I really like house plants. I’m the kind of person who can easily spend $100 on ferns (I did that in October). I’m currently bouncing around between a few worksites and I recently realized that I have the reputation at each office as the person who convinces everyone else to go for a daily walk. I like that reputation.