Ana Beiriger and Halley Aelion
For this month’s career spotlight, we chatted with Dr. Celeste Mallama, who is currently an epidemiology fellow at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Scientists working in the field of epidemiology want to understand how diseases are distributed within defined populations, what causes them and affects the rates at which they are transmitted, and which treatments are most effective. For example, an epidemiologist studying the flu may focus on its prevalence within urban populations in the United States, and the ways in which vaccinations can be distributed to help keep it from spreading. As such, epidemiology is an immensely important area of research which often informs government policies relating to public health, including preventative healthcare measures and the regulation of medications on the market.
This last part – the regulation of medicines – is where Dr. Mallama’s work at the FDA comes in. During a typical day at her job, Dr. Mallama analyzes datasets to identify patterns of drug abuse and drug-related mortality in the United States. The FDA uses this information to determine whether safety standards should be updated and when problematic medications should be pulled from the market. Dr. Mallama’s work requires her to write code that can query databases about a variety of medications and pull statistics about their effectiveness and potential side effects. This information contributes to a body of knowledge that helps keep the public safe from medications with negative side effects.
Dr. Mallama became interested in public service while studying for her master of public health (MPH) at Northwestern University. She worked closely with the Chicago Department of Public Health to track drug-related overdoses and identify neighborhoods in need of funding for treatment services. Last year, after graduating from Northwestern with her MPH and a PhD in microbiology, she relocated to Washington, D.C. to begin her career at the FDA. In reflecting on her work, Dr. Mallama told us, “I enjoy my career for a multitude of reasons. I work with wonderful, energetic, brilliant people. I’m constantly learning new things. [And] I get to make an impact on public health.” Her advice for young aspiring scientists is to find a mentor who is invested in helping them develop their skill set and can provide guidance for breaking into their career of choice.