Member Insight – Anjum Hajat

What sparked your decision to become an epidemiologist?

In college I was an international relations major. In thinking about how to spur economic development in low and middle income countries, it became clear that a healthy population was a precursor to any economic development. So I started looking into public health programs. At the time not every school had a global health program (it was the mid-90’s). The University of Michigan did and it was housed in the epidemiology department, so I sort of fell into it by accident. And I am glad I did! And the funny thing is, I haven’t done any global health work in over 20 years.

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

A big concern for public health as a whole is public trust. It has been really disturbing to see how the COVID pandemic has eroded the public’s trust in previously trustworthy institutions. It will take a while to build it back. And even then we won’t reach the whole population. The segment of the population that has alternative beliefs will make it harder to protect population health.

Do you have any pets?

Sadly, I don’t. We recently lost our lovely golden retriever after 14 years. I am currently in negotiations with my family about getting another. They want two puppies and I would be happy (and more sane) with one.

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

I joined SER in grad school and have been a regular member since. It is a great opportunity to get caught up on the latest methods and hear about all the cutting-edge research people are doing. Plus I get to see old friends and meet the new up-and-coming epidemiologists.

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

If your work is aligned with your passion it won’t really feel like work.  Whether its research, public health practice or something else, there are many rewarding and fulfilling career paths for epidemiologists. I feel very lucky to have found something that I am excited to do (most days).

Outside of epidemiology what do you enjoy doing?

Since the coronavirus pandemic begun, I have discovered the joys of walking. Going for a walk at the end of my work day while listening to podcasts really helps me de-stress. I also like to ride my bike, hike and travel. I am lucky to live in the Pacific Northwest where we have easy access to nature.

What is something that not many people know about you?

I dislike olives and pickles. Also I worked in public health practice (CDC, New York City DOH, non-profits) for almost 10 years before coming to academia.