Alumni Stories: Katharine Kripke

Katharine Kripke
Immunology  PhD, 2000
Microbiology Postdoc, 2003

Senior Health Policy Analyst
Avenir Health
Washington, D.C.

How do you define career and professional success?

I have found my dream job, and I am successful because I love my work. I conduct analyses that policymakers use to make real-life decisions that directly impact international public health programs. Specifically, I focus on HIV/AIDS and do mathematical modeling – mostly epidemiological, program impact, and economic analyses. I also create mathematical models that policymakers in developing countries, mostly in Africa, can run, using their own data, to help guide their decisions. Everything I had done at Stanford – bioinformatics, statistics, and computer science – as well as my experience working for USAID and NIAID prepared me for this position.


How did you decide you wanted to go into this field?

I followed my instincts and pursued exciting opportunities Initially, I became interested in mathematical modeling once the benchwork for my PhD project was completed. There was a lot of data analysis to do, and I found that I enjoyed it. For my postdoc, I asked my advisor Dr. Peter Small if I could focus on the analysis of the microarray data that his lab was pioneering at the time. These were the early days of microarrays and genomics, and Stanford statisticians and bioinformaticians were creating new approaches for analyzing the data.

After Stanford, I became a technical advisor for HIV vaccine and microbicide research at the US Agency for International Development (USAID) working in the Office of HIV/AIDS. My timing coincided as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief was being launched. Now, it is a multibillion-dollar program that provides prevention and treatment for HIV in highly-affected countries worldwide. Next, came a position as Assistant Director Extramural HIV Vaccine Research Program at NIAID where I learned about clinical trials and the development of new products for HIV prevention.


What are the top skills necessary for success in your field?

There are a number of skills that are important. My experience in the lab has given me an understanding of HIV at the molecular level that is essential for understanding how certain HIV prevention technologies work or the dangers of drug resistance. Mathematical modeling requires: a combination of quantitative skills, with a practical understanding of the diseases, and the programs being modeled, as well as an ability to communicate complex scientific concepts to policymakers. Writing and presentation skills are key. Fortunately, I had participated in Stanford’s I-RITE program that teaches skills for communicating science to lay people. Last, management skills – knowing how to develop work plans and manage people and budgets — are needed. Oh, and I shouldn’t forget to mention an ability to sleep on planes and change time zones!

If you are interested in international public health, consult the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship Program and the Epidemiological Intelligence Service at the Centers for Disease Control.

For more on opportunities in this job sector, see Government/Non-Profit Research and Policy