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5 Questions for a Scientist: Epidemiologist Livia Navon

The gap between the science classroom and a real-life career in the sciences can seem distant for some students. The 5 Questions for a Scientist interview series was created to bridge this gap! We aim to inspire students to pursue careers in the sciences by showcasing the incredible diversity of STEM careers by talking to scientists themselves. See all of the interviews here.


Occupation: Epidemiology
Institution: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)/Illinois Department of Public Health
Field: Public Health
Focus: Communicable diseases and environmental health

Livia has an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry from the University of Florida and a Master of Science degree in Nutrition from Cornell University. She currently works as a CDC Career Epidemiology Field Officer assigned to the Illinois Department of Public Health in Chicago focusing on HIV/AIDS surveillance and public health emergency preparedness.

In her spare time, she enjoys biking, traveling overseas, community gardening, and working on improving her ability to communicate in both Spanish and French. To learn more about Livia or ask her questions, you can connect with her via LinkedIn.

1. Explain what you do in your work in one sentence (or two!).

I study diseases in populations to identify patterns and trends. This is important, for example, when solving an outbreak, but this type of information is also used to help guide policy decisions, including how best to allocate money and to identify strategies to improve health in communities.

2. When did you first become interested in your field?

I’ve always loved biology and, especially, learning about diseases. But, I am not good around needles or blood. After college, I learned about the field of epidemiology and that I could study diseases without working with patients directly or being limited to working in a laboratory.

3. What is your favorite part of being a scientist or of science in general?

Because we are always learning more about the microbial world, every day brings new challenges and interesting situations. What I really enjoy about working in public health is that it is very applied—the advice we give is used as soon as it is issued by healthcare professionals and the public to protect themselves and improve health.

4. What is a typical day like for you as a scientist?

Every day is different. Some days, I work on my computer analyzing health data and don’t talk to anyone. Other days, for example, when working on an outbreak, I spend my day talking to patients, healthcare providers, and other health departments. I often give presentations to various groups around my state. I’ve also been lucky enough to travel to different parts of the world to work on different outbreaks, including Guinea in West Africa to work on the Ebola response and, most recently, Puerto Rico to help with the Zika response on the island.

5. Do you have any advice for young people interested in science today?

You can never have enough math or computer programming skills. Regardless of what you do, these are key skills across all disciplines of science. And, no matter what technical skills you have, you need to have good communication skills to be able to explain your thoughts and results. Clear communication is the key to making your findings useful.

This post originally appeared on Science NetLinks.