What is your favorite part about being a scientist and how did you get interested in science? I really got interested in science in middle school when I first learned about DNA. The idea that every living thing is based on a unique combination of just four (or five) building blocks blew my mind! I remember asking myself: “What else don’t I know about the world around me?”. Ever since then, I’ve done everything I can to answer that question for myself!
My favorite part about being a scientist is feeling like I’m contributing to the betterment of the world. Science is more than just data points and lab work. Many scientists spend their days going into communities in need and asking them how we can help. We can study the impact of our contributions to those communities and use that research to ensure we’re doing the greatest possible good. Knowing that my work could both help people immediately in need as well as contribute to helping an uncountable number of people in the future is what drives me to do science.
What do you do? I like to think of what I do as being a doctor for a community rather than for an individual. First, I ask groups of people what problems they’re having. Then, with their help, I diagnose what’s causing their problems. Finally, we figure out what the best treatment is and do our best to improve the situation. Once we’ve implemented some of our solutions, we come back and ask ourselves “What worked? What didn’t? Why did some things work and not others? And how can we make sure that we do better next time?”. At the end of the day, I try to improve the lives of people in a community by utilizing the scientific method.
How does your research contribute to the understanding of climate change and the betterment of society in general? My research and outreach will focus on the policies designed to prevent future pandemics and protect vulnerable people from disease. Climate change is the existential issue facing our society today and its impacts will touch innumerable lives in the coming years. My priority as a public health scientist is to understand how climate change will affect the health of people globally and what we can do to mitigate the harm. I hope that my work will save lives and improve the quality of life for those most likely to be in harm’s way.
What are your data and how do you obtain them? I haven’t formally started my research yet, but I hope to work with policymakers to improve climate and disaster preparedness/response policies. My data will come from two sources. First, I’ll use research into past disaster responses to determine what went wrong and what could have been done to save lives or mitigate damage. Second, I’ll draw on existing policies that govern disaster preparedness and responses to determine where gaps still remain. The COVID-19 pandemic is an excellent example of how different policies resulted in better or worse outcomes around the world. I suspect I’ll be comparing those policies and learning from their outcomes for much of my career!
What advice do you have for aspiring scientists? You can do science. Don’t allow yourself to be fooled by the misconception that you can only do science if you were the smartest person in the class or that a career in science is only for a certain type of person. Science is for everyone. In fact, science is most successful when there are scientists with a broad diversity of backgrounds, ideas, and interests. No matter what you may have excelled at or struggled with, whatever your experiences have been, wherever you’re from and whoever you are, there is a field of science in need of a unique and brilliant mind like yours.