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Epidemiologist: Gloria Coronado

Gloria Coronado, Ph.D.
Gloria Coronado, Ph.D. is an Associate Member and Epidemiologist in the Public Health Sciences Division of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA.

How did you choose your career? Was this an easy or hard process for you? If you struggled, how did you overcome these struggles?

Having graduated from Stanford University, I had accomplished my dream of going to college and had not considered going to graduate school. I moved to Seattle and I sought and gained employment as a Research Project Coordinator for the University of Washington's Department of Orthopedics, and there began work on a research project that was directed by an epidemiologist. This interaction led to my application and later acceptance into the Epidemiology Program at the University of Washington.

What kind of training, both formal and informal, did you receive to prepare you for your career? If applicable, how did you select where to attend graduate school? How did you choose your postdoc? How about any additional training? How did you choose what additional training to pursue and how did you choose where to do it?

I received an M.S. and a Ph.D. degree in Epidemiology. In addition, I have attended several professional conferences and workshops and have served on grant review committees. I selected the University of Washington for graduate school because of its strong programs in public health sciences and, being from Washington (state), I wanted to be close to my family.

After graduating from the doctoral program, I served as a Short-Term Consultant for the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in Washington, DC. At PAHO, I led an El Salvador-based project that sought to design and implement an information system to monitor cervical cancer screening and follow-up care. The project took me to several parts of El Salvador, where I toured health facilities and interviewed medical personnel about their goals for such a system. I also established a local advisory committee of in-country stakeholders who would guide the implementation of the system.

How competitve and/or rigorous was the training for your career?

The University of Washington has one of the top-rated epidemiology programs in the country. The coursework was difficult.

In general, how much did the training cost? Was the investment worth it?

In graduate school, I was fortunate to have been offered a position on a training grant that covered my tuition expenses and provided a small monthly stipend. So, the only cost was associated with turning down other opportunities. The investment was completely worth it.

How long did it take you to train? Was it shorter or longer than anticipated? If you had any setbacks, how did you deal with them?

It took me 5.5 years to complete my doctoral program. This was the average time for students who did not have a prior master's degree. One of the setbacks I faced was during my third year of the program, when my grandfather passed away. This was a big loss for me and it caused me to question whether I was doing what I wanted to be doing with my life. I felt very strongly that I should drop out of the program, because, "it just wasn't me." I discussed my concerns with a mentor, who convinced me to keep showing up — eventually the feelings went away and I was able to complete the program.

What was the process like to apply for your first job after your training was over? Was it easy or difficult? How did you cope with any difficulties? Did that differ from subsequent jobs you've had?

In retrospect, my first job was very easy for me to get. The director of the cervical cancer program at PAHO visited the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center a couple of months before I graduated. I talked to her about the possibility of working short-term for PAHO. I later re-contacted her and she set up a position for me. After that, I came back to the Hutchinson Center, and started my first position as a Staff Scientist.

What advice would you give to someone interested in following a similar career path?

The advice that I would give is to really find your passion. Beyond that, persistence is important. A public health degree can allow you to contribute to addressing many important issues facing our world, such as how to prevent cancer and how to maintain optimal health if you have cancer.

What would you have done differently in preparing for your career

I think I could have used better strategic planning. In graduate school and even afterward, I did not establish a solid career plan because I was afraid that I could not achieve it. I would have planned better and asked for more help from mentors in developing and executing the plan.

How much do you like what you do? Why? Is it what you imagined it would be? If not, how have you adapted?

When I entered a graduate program in epidemiology, I really thought that as a professional, I would sit in front of a computer day in and day out churning out data. I quickly discovered that my position required that I be much more interactive — I have regular meetings with collaborators, give talks on a regular basis, and meet with community representatives.

How do you achieve career-life balance? Is this easy or hard to do? How many hours do you typically work per week?

This is such an important topic and I think this is a constant struggle for many professionals. In my case, I do not work on weekends if I can avoid it, and I am fortunate to have a boyfriend, housemates, nieces, and parents that remind me regularly about the value of taking breaks from work.

What strategies have you figured out over time to help you succeed?

In the past couple of years, I have learned the value of asking for feedback and mentorship from senior researchers. This has meant setting up phone conversations and really listening to suggestions. I really believe that, if asked in the right way, people are very willing to help others find direction or make choices.

How do you see your field changing in the next 5–10 years?

Years ago, public health professionals focused on the prevention of infectious diseases; now there is greater focus on chronic conditions, and ways to improve treatment by considering genetic influences on disease progression. There has also been a growing amount of research interest in health disparities. In the coming years as our nation recovers from a recession, I predict that research on health policy and comparative effectiveness will be important growth areas. I also think that the intersection of public health and energy will be important, too.

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