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10 Tips for Starting your Epidemiology Career Off on the Right Foot

Posted By Angela Rohan, Friday, August 7, 2015
Updated: Thursday, August 6, 2015
So, you are ready to embark on your new career as an epidemiologist. If you are anything like me, you might have explored a number of fields before finding your way to applied epidemiology. Or maybe you have always known that epidemiology is the place for you. Either way, I’ll bet that you thoroughly enjoy a good joke about confidence intervals, and perhaps you even took time out of your honeymoon in London to visit the John Snow pump (okay, I admit to that one). Here are a few lessons I have learned in my time as an applied epidemiologist that I hope will aid your success.
  1. Find a mentor
    Identify a mentor who can serve as a sounding board and provide advice on your projects and professional development activities. A peer mentor works as a great alternative if you are unable to identify a senior career mentor. If you are still in school, connect with a faculty member for opportunities to work on an analytic project under their guidance.
  2. Take advantage of learning opportunities
    You will not be able to attend every available webinar or stay completely up-to-date with each journal in your field, but by signing up for listservs and alerts you can be aware of and take advantage of these opportunities when possible. Joining CSTE subcommittees is one great way to stay connected!
  3. Consider a fellowship
    One of the most intense and rewarding learning opportunities available in public health is a 1- or 2-year fellowship program, such as the CSTE Applied Epidemiology Fellowship. I enjoyed the flexibility a fellowship provided me to identify projects that would help me to develop new skills and explore a position in epidemiology. The fellowship mentors were an amazing resource, and the host site environment exposed me to many new learning opportunities.
  4. Be open to a variety of content areas and workplace settings
    When looking for a position in applied epidemiology, don’t limit yourself to considering only one content area or workplace type. Occupational health might allow you to use and develop different skills than you would working in infectious disease epidemiology, and each will provide valuable experience for any future positions.
  5. Partner with others to expand your skills
    If you are struggling to find professional development opportunities at your current worksite, partner with colleagues to create some! Epidemiologists at many health departments have joined together to hold regular journal clubs, seminars, or poster sessions in order to learn from the work and perspectives of others.
  6. Connect with the users of your data and analyses
    We all intend for our analytic activities to help improve the health of the public. Reaching out to and understanding the needs of the program managers, health educators, and key partners who will be using your results in their work will give you the best chance of moving from data to public health action.
  7. Understand the data
    One of the biggest mistakes that we can make as epidemiologists is to jump in to an analysis before we fully understand the data source and the data set. The mode of data collection and the wording of the survey questions are just as important to be aware of as the variable type and coding in the data set. We should always interpret our results within the context of the data being used.
  8. Clearly communicate your findings
    Communicating the results and limitations of an analysis in language appropriate for a non-technical reader can be a challenge. Utilizing your understanding of the audience and data sources can help provide context to our findings and move the results to action.
  9. Remember that applied epidemiology is sometimes messy
    Few epidemiologic analyses are done with ideal and complete data, and the answer is rarely as simple as a classroom exercise where the ice cream is clearly responsible for the foodborne outbreak at a family reunion. But if you stick to the basic concepts you will find that you are able to apply them even in those messy situations.
  10. Identify creative opportunities to use and share your skills
    Take advantage of chances to use your skills in unexpected ways. Whether it is helping a local partner design a survey, providing information on key datasets to a student working on a class project, or taking on a special assignment, you will undoubtedly find value in these experiences.
Angela Rohan, PhD is an alumna of the CSTE Applied Epidemiology Fellowship (Class VI) and serves as a mentor for the program. Currently she is a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assignee for Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology at the Wisconsin Division of Public Health.

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