Katie Kindle, focused on the Public Health strand of the Social Inequality, Health & Policy BDP certificate, conducted research on predicting and preventing the Zika virus, under the supervision of Dr. Sahotra Sarkar. She learned about the function of research in the creation of preventative measures for maintaining and improving public health.
Please describe how you found the Research Assistantship opportunity.
I became interested in the Zika virus during the beginning of 2016 and wanted to do research on the virus for a Connecting Experience credit. I googled “Zika UT Austin” hoping to find professors doing research on the topic, and Dr. Sarkar’s name was the first result. I emailed him asking if I could join the research group, which consisted of a few other students in one of his classes he was teaching at the time.
Describe the work you have done as a Research Assistant.
During the time I spent on the project, I learned to create species distribution maps using data from all over the world using a program called arcGIS. I also spent a lot of time at the arbovirus lab at the Department of State Health Services, where I learned about the process of “keying” mosquitoes, which is the tedious process used to identify them. I realized the Zika virus was not going to be an easy problem to solve, and I gained a new appreciation for public health epidemiologists.
What was the most rewarding aspect of your Connecting Experience?
All of these experiences this research project entailed allowed me to realize exactly what it means to be a public health epidemiologist. You have to be a scientist, a sociologist, a critical thinker, a problem solver, and essentially a “disease detective” as I like to say. I experienced what a day in the life of a disease epidemiologist might be like, and that was very rewarding and eye opening. This Connecting Experience enhanced my understanding of how huge the field of public health is.
In what ways has this Connecting Experience shaped your plans for the future?
During the course of the Connecting Experience and in the months since then, I have become interested in the intersection between human evolution, virus evolution, and public health. This field has a separate name: evolutionary medicine. Essentially, I am interested in how we can combat virus evolution and solve these public health problems that human evolution has created, for example, living in close proximity to one another and frequent international travel. This Connecting Experience exposed me to so many different topics I had never really learned that much about, so I am excited to see where all my interests take me.