Member Insight – Susan Diaz

What sparked your decision to become an epidemiologist?

The research work of Professor Dr. Miguel Hernán.

How long have you been a member of SER? 

Since 2017.

What role do you have in SER?

I am a member of the SER Membership and Nominations Committee, co-chaired by Erin A. Bowles and Whitney Robinson.  I am also the lead of the Subcommittee – Masters and Non-academia.

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

I was looking for a professional society in Epidemiology, and was told by colleagues that SER was the premier society for Epidemiologic Research.  They were correct!

Initially, I was excited to take full advantage of the membership resources.  I watched every single Causal Inference/Methods webinar taught by the experts, and kept notebooks just for this purpose.  It was wonderful to be able to add to my knowledge base, as a benefit of my membership.  I am confident that I sent quite a few emails to Courtney Long thanking her after every webinar!

Attending the annual meeting in 2019 was so worthwhile.  I drank several cups of coffee a day there so as not to miss one of the great Methods workshops/sessions.  The most challenging part was not being able to attend two sessions at once!

What’s so special about SER?

Where do I start?

Initially, I would have indicated it is the membership resources.

Now, I would have to add the people I work with at SER.  Erin and Whitney set a great example with their leadership of the Membership and Nominations Committee.

I also have the pleasure of working with the Subcommittee Members:  Stephen S. Morse, Robert C. Orellana, Kara Michels, Nnaemeka Odo, Mrudula Naidu, and Russell Grffin.  They are industrious, innovative, and keep me on my toes. I often joke with them that I am learning as much as I am working. They are each very talented in their own right, and I genuinely enjoy our work together as a team.

Working with Sue Bevan and Courtney Long has been an incredible experience for me. I have great admiration and respect for them as individuals and for their superb work ethic.  Sue and Courtney have an uncanny ability to make each of us think that we are the only member that they are working with, but this is far from the case! They are exceptional.

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

Be very proud of the field that you have chosen.  These times reveal the importance of good Epidemiology and good Methods.

Don’t underestimate your potential.  We have organized a SER 2020 Masters-Level Symposium, full of Epidemiologists – early career and established. There is so much important work to be done in Epidemiology.  Each Panel Member is doing valuable work in their respective area of interest.

Find a good mentor – or better yet – let a good mentor find you along the way of studying something that truly captures your heart.  The right mentor for you will open you up to a whole new way of thinking, and really impact your life. I consider myself very fortunate to have the most wonderful mentor, Dr. Harvey J. Alter (NIH).  A great mentor will hold a vision of what you can be, even when you cannot see it for yourself.  Any moment of time your mentor is kind enough to invest in you is a gift to be treasured.  I don’t feel that I am owed a moment of time, but am thankful for every single moment of patient teaching and guidance I’ve received along the way.

Outside of epidemiology what do you enjoy doing?

Honestly, I find articles in Causal Inference and save these as an incentive to read after I finish other work.  I hate to sleep sometimes because I want to stay up and read through the night!

Outside of my passion for Methods, I enjoy reading Psychology: Developmental, Self, and Object Relations,  Masterson, Kohut, Kernberg, psychopathology, and the transition into Psychoses.

Beyond being a voracious reader, I am fortunate to have the most amazing, close circle of friends. They are like family to me, and those in Epidemiology are peer mentors to me:  Drs. Ambrose Agweyu, Babatunde Oloyede, and César Caraballo Cordovez.

What is something that not many people know about you?

I’m half-Cuban and half-Iranian.  My great grandparents are from the Canary Islands (Spain) as well as Russia.  My family looks like the United Nations!

I was born in the States to a Cuban father who was the most patriotic U.S. citizen I have ever known.  He was so grateful to this country for welcoming him.  Because of the Cuban revolution, he completed his medical school training at the University of Salamanca in Spain.  With only a penny in his pocket, he arrived in the United States to complete his post-graduate training. He became a Professor in Psychiatry at the University of Miami School of Medicine.  We still have that penny in my family’s home.

I grew up riding around on the back of his Harley-Davidson motorcycle, going to get Cuban café from restaurant windows in Miami. Since I was little, he gave me every version of the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual (DSM) as a gift.  He had a love of the abstract.  My Iranian mother worked in private practice and at the public health department in gynecology/high-risk OB/STDs.  She enjoyed reporting statistics and working in the most underprivileged part of the county.

I was so proud the first day I walked into the CDC to start my internship, as the daughter of immigrants.  This is a wonderful country that gave my parents a home and our family many opportunities.  I feel so blessed to be here, for all the opportunities I have had at CDC, at NIH, and now… in SER – my new home.

SER is a genuinely open and welcoming place for Epidemiologists at all levels and from all backgrounds.

It’s really good to be home.