Sadie Jane Ryan
Associate Professor of Medical Geography, in the Department of Geography and The Emerging Pathogens Institute, at the University of Florida
Be kind, and do good science.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
Combining training from quantitative ecology, conservation biology, disease ecology, anthropology, geography, and social-ecological systems approaches, I explore how humans and non-human animals, interact with their place, space, and time, using computational models, survey data, GIS, epidemiological data, and climate models.
At present, I'm most into examining how climate-health patterns, such as global change pushing vector borne diseases across the face of the planet, can best be described, and communicated. We make a lot of mapped outputs, to visually demonstrate the 'how much' and 'where' we will see changing impact. We do lots of data crunching and computational analyses to assess demographic and climate impacts, to understand the range of possible outcomes. We explore the scale - in space and time - that impacts happen, and how interventions like vector control, bednet distribution, human behavioral shifts, and policy changes, can shift these, or if we are completely off-scale with the frameworks in place.
I have worked with purely academic model frameworks of malaria, dengue, Zika, forest cover change, wildlife conservation - and also with agencies, to set the modeling into the applied world, to help shape decisions, and provide tools and collaborations with practitioners.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?
I've always been passionate about the natural world, and spent a lot of childhood time in museums and zoos, on beaches and in the woods, and have traveled internationally (academic kid) since very young. Being interested in collections and data, in the shape of population dynamics (animals, diseases, humans), and searching for the right intersection of how to tackle the challenges in global change impacts, I have always been in interdisciplinary programs in academia, broadly in Ecology, and at every career step, have had choices to stay on the academic track, or jump fully into the applied side. In the US, Geography is currently the stronghold of the intersection between large scale computational landscape questions and the social sciences, which allows a sub-discipline like Medical Geography to thrive and grow in recognition, and to address quantitatively sound applied questions in spatial disease dynamics, interventions, climate impacts on health, and much more.
I didn't choose this particular field, I feel more like it chose me, and it's a great fit.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"
I think if you had told younger me that I would be creating continental scale computational disease models, and turning them into maps and tables for reports to inform malaria intervention strategies for international aid funders, I would have been floored. Particularly if you told me I would go to DC and talk directly to those funders.
WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?
Science is that curiosity we're all born with. We look at something and ask "how does that work?", "why?", "where else is that happening?", "what is different?", "how different, and does it matter?" Working with people across multiple disciplines, I get to put pieces together, take systems apart to inspect them, crunch lots of data and numbers on a computer, talk to people whose very lives are impacted by whatever I'm looking at, and maybe, just maybe, make a difference in a changing world. That is why I like the *doing* part.
BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?
My advice is to keep exploring, and learning new things from new people. You will find things you are passionate about, and will find a path that is yours. Always strive to do a good job, even if that helps you find out it's not the job you want. There is no single clear checklist or path to being the best in STEM, and we will need many skills in this changing world. Learn the difference between working hard to achieve your goals, and not enjoying the work you are doing. It is okay not to like some things. Figure out something you're good at that everyone needs, and offer that skill to be on a team, and you'll get to be part of amazing things.
Importantly, be kind, and do good science.
INSPO / FUN FACT
Oops, I put it on the previous one - it's my mantra to the community - Be kind, and do good science.