What do you do?
I build software to help predict malaria. Our system uses both malaria case numbers and environmental data to make forecasts. Environmental conditions affect mosquitoes, the vector of the malaria parasite. We currently work with public health and other officials in Ethiopia.
Why did you choose this field?
My career path has not been a straight-line. I have degrees in three different fields, and worked for different types of employers (industry, academia, local government) in-between each degree. Originally I had wanted to biology bench science focused on infectious disease. But after my bachelor's and got a research job in a lab, and I realized that it wasn't for me. But I did want to stay close to what I already had learned, and did my masters in public health. I worked for several years after my masters, but I stumbled across geospatial analyses and decided that I wanted try going back and getting my PhD. I did my degree in geography (medical geography) focused on the geospatial modeling of the spread of infectious disease, but in animal systems. After graduating, I knew I wanted to do more application work (than academic track) and wanted to return to human health. I fortunately found this post-doc position that had both research and application components and was focused on geospatial forecasting of malaria, and got the job!
What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?
Changing fields/careers. As an undergrad, I was worried that my degree choice would lock me into a path and close too many other doors.
Why do you love working in STEM?
I love working on real-world problems, where I can feel that my work is helping to make a difference. My day-to-day work is a lot of coding, which is like solving little puzzles. And it is very satisfying to be building and improving software that we and others are using.
Best advice for next generation?
Reaffirm to yourself that you belong here. Try not to let others or situations make you feel like you don't belong, or rather acknowledge the feeling and take your place anyway. Try to enlist friends and supporters who will help change these conditions. Try to find a group who will support each other.
Inspo quote / fun fact / role model
“Accept no one's definition of your life, define yourself.”
― Harvey Fierstein