What is your current job?
I am the country director for the UNC (University of North Carolina) Global Projects Liberia research group.
Describe your work and why you find it rewarding/challenging.
I manage the day-to-day aspects of all research studies and development projects that UNC leads in Liberia. I work with partners, write new grants and projects, manage data and regulatory affairs, and oversee a staff of nearly 50, including community health workers, lab techs, research nurses, and project coordinators. The main research focus of our team is viral hemorrhagic fevers (Ebola, Lassa), but we are starting to also look at more endemic viral infections like Hep B and HIV. We work with many partners on increasing surveillance and diagnostic capacities, especially for Lassa, across Liberia. The data coming from our studies is novel and just so cool. I am really excited about the impact on VHFs (viral hemorrhagic fevers) in West Africa our team will contribute to.
How did YSPH prepare you for your current work?
During my time at YSPH, I got to learn from a lot of really cool researchers and faculty.
I worked under Dr. Sunil Parikh (MD, associate professor of Epidemiology (Microbial Diseases) and of Infectious Diseases) for a couple of years on multiple clinical trials across Africa. I got a firsthand experience with writing grants and proposals, creating surveys, managing data, collecting samples, and running PCRs (polymerase chain reactions). I was able to experience every part of a study, both on the ground and remotely (thank you, Downs Fellowship!). But I also learned great communication and management skills. Dr. Parikh would challenge me to try something new, whether it was taking a stab at writing SOPs (standard operating procedures) and creating instruments in REDCap, or learning new skills and techniques in the lab. I didn’t always get it right, but he pushed me and encouraged me to do more during my time at YSPH and after, and that is a skill I definitely see myself using consistently now as a manager with my own staff.
I also was able to work with Dr. Kristina Talbert-Slagle (assistant professor at the Yale School of Medicine; affiliated faculty and associate director of faculty mentorship and academic programs at the Yale Institute for Global Health). Through her work, I was able to help design and then implement a four-week intensive math and science camp for Liberian students who would be entering the medical field. As I had previously worked and lived in Liberia as a Peace Corps volunteer, I was pumped to be able to work on a larger project and be able to travel back. It was during the time I was back in Liberia for the camp that I met the UNC team.
Together, between my work on clinical trials with Dr. Parikh and my work and travel under Dr. Talbert-Slagle, I found a dream position.
Were there any faculty/staff mentors who influenced your YSPH experience?
Dr. Sunil Parikh.
Do you have a favorite YSPH experience you can share?
I met so many amazing friends during my time at YSPH. There were many great experiences, from working together on projects, going through the applications for Downs together, hyping each other up for interviews and presentations, to winning intramural sports tournaments. However, my favorite experience during my time at Yale was definitely Gryphon’s Pub – at first as a patron, but then as a door worker and later bartender. I had the most incredible nights there dancing and singing karaoke, but also getting to know the graduate students from other schools was invaluable. Plus, you couldn’t beat those prices anywhere else in New Haven!
What advice do you have for current YSPH students?
Balance. While the class content is great, the experiences are invaluable. Go to the seminars, network with visiting lecturers that interest you, try your hand in the lab or in consulting, volunteer outside of your department. Experience as much as you can! When COVID hit, and everything was moved online, that was one of the things I missed the most in my last semester: being able to physically be around people and do things.
But also, definitely take advantage of what’s going on in New Haven and actively be a part of the community. Go to the Night Markets, join protests, watch the Wednesday movies next to Elm City, study at G Cafe or a coffee shop. Put your energy back into the community that’s supporting you.