Member Insight – Ali Rowhani-Rahbar

rowAli Rowhani-Rahbar

Associate Professor, Epidemiology
Adjunct Associate Professor, Pediatrics
University of Washington, School of Public Health

What sparked your decision to become an epidemiologist?

Epidemiology was a part of my childhood – my dad is a retired epidemiologist. I actually never seriously considered epidemiology as a career until the 5th year of medical school in Iran (it’s a 7-year program there). I was really forcing myself to fall in love with some other discipline, but we all know it never works that way. I found epidemiology to be a perfect blend of health and quantitative sciences. So, I conducted an epidemiologic study of bloodborne infections among incarcerated injection drug users in my hometown of Mashhad (a city in northeastern Iran next to the border with Afghanistan) during medical school for my dissertation. I then applied for the MPH program in Epidemiology at Yale, and that’s how the journey began. I am certain now that it was the right decision for me as I truly enjoy being an epidemiologist.

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

In an increasingly multidisciplinary and interconnected world, the main challenge facing us collectively as epidemiologists is to clearly articulate, and continue to define and refine, the contribution of our discipline to the advancement of science and betterment of lives. To practice “epidemiology of consequence”, as others have called it, we need to ensure what we do stays relevant and is also translated and disseminated to others outside of our discipline highlighting the incredible value that our field can bring to the table.

Do you have any pets?

No. I do have several pet peeves, however.

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

I joined SER about 14 years ago. It was an easy decision. SER provided a terrific opportunity for me to get to know other students at that time, learn from the visionaries of our field, and keep abreast of the cutting-edge methodologies that are the cornerstone of our field.

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

Do not stay within the boundaries of epidemiology. Seek collaborations and initiate interactions with those outside of our field. They often have incredible insights related to your work. In my own work, I have learned a tremendous amount from colleagues in sociology, criminology, public policy, pediatrics, social work, and law. I have become a better epidemiologist because of them.

Outside of epidemiology what do you enjoy doing?

I run around Green Lake in Seattle, watch (older episodes of) Shark Tank, and try to learn piano with my 5-year old.

What is something that not many people know about you?

I am obsessed with fonts. I also used to do theater and Persian calligraphy when I was younger.