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Grace Noppert is a Postdoctoral Scholar at the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. You can follow her on twitter @gracenoppert.
Tell us about your professional journey and how you started out as an infectious disease epidemiologist and how have you since integrated sociology into your work?
My journey as an infectious disease epidemiologist has had several important twists and turns. In college, I was on track to go to med school. However, my junior year I studied abroad in Durban, South Africa—a city with some of the highest tuberculosis (TB) and HIV incidence rates in the world. It was there that I first heard the word ‘epidemiology’ and I was hooked. I was fascinated by a discipline that sought to understand the health of a whole population, rather than a single individual.
After college I became a middle and high school science teacher in Baltimore, MD. My time in the classroom has formed the basis for how I approach my infectious disease work, and specifically how I integrate sociology into that work. My students in Baltimore were remarkable young people, resilient in the face of so many challenges facing them. Many of them lacked basic opportunities to achieve health and wellness, opportunities such as healthy neighborhoods and adequate food and housing. Additionally, many of them were either caring for family members or were themselves suffering from what should be rare infectious diseases in the U.S. It was then that I really started thinking about how experiencing infectious diseases might age your body prematurely, and how the social environment is inextricably linked to the distribution of infectious disease.
I suppose sociology has been baked into how I approach infectious disease from the beginning. Thankfully, over the past few years I have the opportunity to formalize this training with some excellent sociologists and social epidemiologists. They have helped me build a framework around what I have been observing, with regards to infectious disease, for years.
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