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Career Profile

Isha Berry

University of Toronto
Portrait de Isha Berry
Portrait de Isha Berry
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I look for patterns in disease outbreaks and health outcomes in populations across the world.

About me

I was born/grew up in: New Delhi, India. I have been lucky to move around a lot growing up - India, Bahrain, Canada and the USA.

I now live in: Toronto, Ontario.

I completed my training/education at: BSc in Environment at McGill University; MSc in Epidemiology at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

What I do at work

I am studying to be an epidemiologist. I research the way infectious diseases spread between people, and from animals to people. My work focuses on trying to understand how population behaviours and other factors affect the spread of disease.

I work with global and local teams to design and carry out population surveys. We ask individuals questions about their daily activities. This includes who they interact with (including animals!), and where they buy their food. Other questions ask about their hygiene practices as well as their general health and well-being. The answers to these survey questions become the data that we analyze. The goals of these analyses are to identify patterns in the population. It also helps us understand behavioural and system-level factors related to health outcomes. To do this, I use statistics and code my analyses in software packages like Stata or R.

I spend the last major part of my time writing up my findings. I have to interpret my findings to understand what the numbers mean. To do this I summarize the statistical results. I write papers to share this with other researchers. Here, I focus on how the data were collected and how analyses were conducted.  I also write papers to share information with the populations who contributed to the data. When I do this, I highlight the key health outcomes.

Three things make up my work. These are project set-up, statistical analysis, and writing. Usually these flow over the course of a month or so. Sometimes they all happen in the same day!

My career path is

I always liked math. I also liked interacting with people and teams to solve problems. It turned out that these are the two key skills needed as an epidemiologist. I didn’t know what epidemiology was until I took a research assistant position in my second year of undergrad at McGill.  In this position, I worked with a health-geography research group. This allowed me to see the application of my environmental science, geography, and health classes in action. I took advanced math and statistics classes. This helped me move from just observing how research was done, to actually doing research. It also really sparked my interest in epidemiology!  

Doing scientific research can be tough. All research involves some rejection. Sometimes it is when you submit papers to journals and they get rejected. At other times, rejection happens when you apply for funding and you don’t get it. Without funding you can’t do research. Having supportive mentors, friends, and colleagues is important. They remind you that your work is not only interesting, but important. They also help keep you grounded.

I am motivated by

Epidemiology is about bringing together different information to understand a population’s health needs. This information could be numbers of individuals with a health outcome. It could be looking at those who are practicing a certain behaviour. On the other hand, it could be looking at those who believe an opinion or attitude about health. Using such different sets of information, I act as a disease detective. This means I try to identify patterns to improve population health. I do this by creating scientific evidence to support public health policies.

Epidemiology is exciting to me because it is so interdisciplinary. I get to work with veterinarians, doctors, and statisticians. Together we make sure we build a strong evidence base. Then we turn this into actionable results to improve the health and wellbeing for populations.

How I affect peoples’ lives

Research in the fields of public health and epidemiology addresses health issues by looking upstream. This means that the work doesn’t cure or treat a single patient. Instead, it aims to inform policy and support health systems to create healthier populations.

Outside of work I

I love trying to cook new vegetarian dishes – particularly if they involve eggplant. I enjoy playing tennis. I also like knitting, but I can only make rectangular-shaped items!

My advice to others

Having an open mind, and enthusiasm for exploring health patterns in your local, national, or global population can take you wherever you want to go in epidemiology!

When I was a student, I enjoyed:
  • Art
  • Foreign languages
  • Geography
  • Math
  • Science
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
  • Brought people together
  • Liked helping people
  • Engaged in volunteer activities
  • Was really creative
  • Felt great satisfaction in getting good grades

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