Emma Wager

Projects & Research Assistant, Catalyst for Payment Reform


Coding is an amazing skill that has so many applications, even beyond STEM. It's also really fun!

What do you do?

I've had a few roles and they've all been slightly different, but health data analytics has been the underlying theme. A big chunk of my work has been centered around public health research at the state and local level - everything from vaccines to hospital financing to substance abuse. My favorite projects involve taking a huge raw dataset and turning it into something that's digestible for both policymakers and the public, essentially breaking down and disseminating a healthcare issue. You can't solve a problem unless you understand it, and that's what data is for.

Why did you choose this field?

I grew up in a healthcare family (my mom is a nurse and my dad is a physician). I never gravitated towards clinical medicine, but I always understood the importance of healthcare in society. I love politics, and I actually wound up studying politics and economics in college, but with a special focus on health. I studied public health in graduate school with a focus on policy. But I wound up taking classes in biostats and epidemiology as well as statistical software, and I just fell in love with data analysis. I've been lucky enough to build a career that covers all of my interests! Public health is my favorite thing on the planet.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

When I was younger, I thought I had to look and act a certain way in order to be "taken seriously" in my industry. I'm naturally a super feminine person, but I would wear boring clothes and skip makeup and nail polish because I thought those things could hurt my career. A few years ago, I realized that all I was doing was perpetuating that stereotype, and I had a total change of heart. Nowadays I bleach my hair and wear pink lip gloss and take all my notes in rainbow pen colors, because I want to. And if someone thinks less of me as a researcher because of it, then that's their mistake and not mine.

Why do you love working in STEM?

I love data. I love getting a colossal, nonsensical file full of random letters and numbers and making it "talk," so to speak. My favorite moments in STEM are when I run a new chunk of code on my dataset and it executes perfectly and spits out a series of results, and I look it over and think "Oh wow, there's a story here." It's like journalism, but with numbers.

Best advice for next generation?

Pick up a programming language! You don't have to major in Computer Science or work in tech to become a decent coder - you can learn online for free with YouTube videos and a few hours a week of practice. Just knowing the basics of Python and SQL has been a huge help to me in my career. Coding is an amazing skill that has so many applications, even beyond STEM. It's also really fun!

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

George Mallory was a British mountaineer about 100 years ago who made one of the first expeditions up Mt. Everest - at one point, someone asked him why he wanted to climb the mountain and he said "Because it's there." That's my favorite quote. Why study something? Because it's there. Why run this program, why look at this data, why try to understand this phenomenon? Because it's there!

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