Research Assistant in the Anthropology and Ecology of Infectious Disease Unit at Institut Pasteur; Paris, France; Funding: YSPH summer grant
What is your career goal?
After obtaining my MPH, I hope to apply to law school. I eventually want to work in policymaking around infectious diseases, in particular by examining the societal context in which outbreaks occur. I am especially interested in issues of access to health care, marginalization in association with disease, and the intersection of infectious disease emergence with the ongoing climate crisis.
What were your duties/responsibilities during your internship?
I led the preliminary research for an upcoming publication on the history of microbes. As the project was in its very early stages, I worked closely with Dr. Tamara Giles-Vernick to identify key topics to include in the eventual publication, which is intended to examine the narratives that have surrounded various infectious diseases and their epidemiology – especially when such narratives contradict the historical record. I conducted a literature review of the topics we had selected and analyzed them in reports for Dr. Giles-Vernick’s reference.
What did you take away from your experience as an intern? What was the value of the internship to you?
I was able to improve my ability to direct my own research. Though my supervisor was always available to provide guidance, she encouraged me to pursue my own ideas and interests. As a result, I was able to make surprising connections throughout the literature I read, which I was able to communicate in my reports. Given the short duration of this internship, it was optimal to work in-depth on a single project; I feel that I better understand how to undertake an extensive project, especially in its early stages.
What was the most rewarding aspect of your internship? What was the most challenging aspect? The most surprising aspect?
The most rewarding aspect was working in an international environment; it was fascinating to learn how research approaches and frameworks differ across countries. However, navigating the administrative process in a different country was complicated. Though I had no issues with a language barrier, there were a few instances in which it was difficult to convert American documents into acceptable formats for a French research institution. Fortunately, my supervisor was of great help in navigating this challenge.
How did your first year at YSPH prepare you for this internship?
As a joint-degree program student, I had a less conventional first year at YSPH. Since my undergraduate requirements had to be finished first, I had to delay several core YSPH classes until this upcoming year. However, I found that I was uniquely prepared for this experience, as the classes that I had been able to take at YSPH were all very relevant to my work. I found that I already had a strong foundation in infectious disease biology and the ways in which policy can significantly impact outbreaks.
What would you say to a student who’s considering a similar internship?
Students considering a similar internship should be prepared to self-motivate, to take the initiative, and to be flexible. Joining a project in its early stages is exciting, as there are so many possibilities for the final product. However, it can also be challenging to work without a clear research question. To succeed in such a position, one must be able to enjoy the process and the knowledge that comes with it.