Member Insight – Elizabeth Bertone-Johnson

What sparked your decision to become an epidemiologist?

  • During my undergrad, I studied biological anthropology, women’s health and nutrition. This led me to a master’s program in population and international health, which ended up being more focused on policy than physiology and health science than I’d hoped. I discovered epidemiology in my first semester of graduate school, fell in love with it, and switched programs. I did my doctoral work in epidemiology and nutrition, focusing on ovarian cancer, which ended up being the perfect way to blend these interests.

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

  • Funding! We all know it’s harder and harder to get grants in today’s climate. Also, it often feels like many of the ‘big’ etiologic questions have been answered already. Intervention research promoting behavioral change seems increasingly important.

Do you have any pets?

  • Yes, 2 pugs and 3 cats. My kids are also trying to convince us to adopt a retired sled dog.

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

  • I started attending SER meetings 20 years ago as a doctoral student, and found them so exciting. The variation in research presented, both in terms of topics and methods, was invigorating. I loved hearing directly the experts whose work I’d been reading and also having a chance to interact with other students. All of these remain true, and now I’m glad to be able to give back to SER by chairing the Awards Committee.

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

  • As undergrads, take public health, biology and biostatistics classes. As you head through your graduate studies, take advantage of as many opportunities as you can. In addition to your dissertation research, get to know what faculty in other areas of public health on your campus are doing. Work on some collaborative projects. Go to SER and meetings in your specific sub-discipline. And find opportunities to teach! I find teaching to be one of the best parts of this job.

Outside of epidemiology what do you enjoy doing? What is something that not many people know about you?

  • I started training in Okinawan karate during graduate school and earned a black belt. Now that my kids are a little older and I have more free time, I’m training again but in a different style. I’m so happy working towards new goals.