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Career Profile

Rhiannon Cooper

Government of Newfoundland and Labrador (Department of Health and Community Services)
Rhiannon Cooper headshot taken outside with trees and plans in the background
Rhiannon Cooper headshot taken outside with trees and plans in the background
Location Born
Location Now
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I monitor the patterns and trends of infectious diseases across the province.

About me

I was born/grew up in: St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador

I now live in: St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador

I completed my training/education at: BSc (Hons.) in Biochemistry (Nutrition) from Memorial University; MSc. Health Research Methodology (Clinical Epidemiology) from McMaster University.

What I do at work

I monitor the spread of infectious diseases across the province. I look for patterns that will help us understand what is happening. I work with provincial and national health teams. We work to understand how fast infectious diseases may be spreading. We also measure who is being affected the most. For example, is it mostly in young or old people? To understand an outbreak, we collect large amounts of data. We then analyze the data using statistical software. Our data analysis is used by others to make decisions about public health policy.

A big part of being an epidemiologist is being able to problem-solve. Datasets are never perfect and often have missing or even incorrect data. As a result, we must identify what is missing and correct errors. This is called “cleaning the data”.

Issues can arise in the cleaning process. This is where problem-solving and critical thinking comes in. I draw upon my STEM background every single day at work. My background in Biochemistry allows me to understand complex scientific terminology in literature and reports. My love for mathematics allows me to perform and draw meaning from statistical analysis.

My career path is

Throughout high school, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do for a career. I knew I wanted to "help people" in my career. I started university studying engineering. I decided to switch into the biochemistry program because I had a huge interest in nutrition.

Throughout my undergrad, I loved the research aspect and understanding research methodologies. I took an immunology course and developed and interest in virology. This led me to do my honours work in virology. I had a hunch that a career in research might work for me. I did a summer research internship in northern Canada. This is where I first heard the word "epidemiology". Once I looked into it, I decided that was the career I wanted to follow.

I am motivated by

Being an epidemiologist means being able to collaborate with people across a wide range of disciplines. This includes such people as veterinarians and physicians. Every day is an opportunity to learn from other disciplines. This helps me add new knowledge into my practice. For me, the most exciting part of the job is being able to solve tough data problems and answer important questions through data.

How I affect peoples’ lives

Epidemiologists improve public and population health. We do this by using data to answer questions that guide evidence-based decision making.

Outside of work I

In my spare time, I like to do all kinds of movement activity. I enjoy hiking, resistance training, running, and yoga. I am also a big foodie and love good documentaries!

My advice to others

Epidemiology is a diverse field - there are many paths to get to where you want to be!

When I was a student, I enjoyed:
  • Art
  • Literature and Language arts
  • Math
  • Science
  • Foods & Nutrition
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
  • Liked helping people
  • Was motivated by success
  • Was really creative
  • Felt great satisfaction in getting good grades
  • Wasn't sure what I wanted to do
  • Learned best "by doing"

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