When you hear the words “lab manager” you probably think of high school science class. You’d sometimes be right, but then again, it’s Kat’s work as lab manager and medical monitor for clinical research studies that led her to Uganda, where I got to spend a few weeks with her in Kampala last fall. Outside of her global health adventures, Kat shares some of her coolest encounters like coming face-to-face with wild animals in the Amazon Rainforest that have me desperate to replicate her itinerary.
I’m super excited to feature Kat and give this glimpse into another career that’s well outside of the travel industry, but which can offer some chances for epic international experience. For students who aren’t sure what majors to pursue for careers that involve travel, Kat proves that global health jobs are definitely a contenders.
Usually living in: USA
Job title: Lab Manager
Place you’d visit again: Mexico D.F.
Destination on your bucket list: So many! I’d really like to stop in Zanzibar the next time I’m in East Africa for work.
Tell Us About Yourself
Hiya! I’m Kat, an epidemiologist working in tropical medicine and global health. I am part of a large team based in the US, Kenya, and Uganda. Our main goal is not only to eliminate malaria but to empower our African counterparts with the tools to build a sustainable medical/science research program in their respective countries. I don’t get to travel as much as I would like but I try not to pass up any opportunity to go somewhere new, whether it’s to the other side of the world or just 30 minutes down the road.
Why Do You Travel?
The world is full of so much natural beauty as well as so many different cultures with varying world views. It’s the biologist and anthropologist in me, but I want to see it and experience it all!
Explain what you do for work.
I am the lab manager of a clinical malaria lab that does research in Uganda and Kenya. Our focus is on malaria immunology, epidemiology, and pathogenesis. It’s more of a hodge-podge of a job than a traditional lab manager role – just the way I like it! To give you an example, I do a bit of bench science, mentor undergraduate and graduate students, liaise with our labs overseas, analyse data, and monitor our clinical trials, to name a few roles.
Are you able to easily balance work and travel? If so, how do you balance them?
Mostly. I am very lucky to work with a group who understands the importance of taking a break (a real one, where you totally disconnect from work) so requesting the time for travel hasn’t been an issue. What I do find difficult is resisting the urge to check my work e-mail when I travel for leisure so that I am not terribly behind when I return to work. I’ve now limited myself to checking work e-mail only at the airport! Of course, this is turned around whenever I travel to our overseas sites where I juggle local work during the day and US work in the evenings.
I was doing field work in the Amazon studying bats. Because bats are nocturnal creatures, we usually set off into the rainforest after midnight to set up mist nets. Getting to our sites always included a boat ride and a decent trek sometimes into areas near not-always-so-friendly tribes. One night, I was checking the net farthest from our base camp when Mayer, one of the rangers from the biodiversity station where we were based, firmly told me to stop and slowly walk towards him, away from the embankment.
I ignored him partly because I was keen on getting the bats off the nets and partly because I didn’t quite catch the urgency. He called again and this time shone his headlamp toward the embankment where I saw two yellow circles reflect back. Then, he said a word that I did not expect to hear that night, “Jaguar!” In disbelief I swung my light toward the two circles and since I was much closer to the embankment, I saw it more clearly. There, about 20 feet away from me, slowly making its way down toward the mist net, was an adult jaguar!
I must have frozen on the spot because the next thing I knew, Mayer was at my side urging me to get some photos of the jaguar as we slowly put distance between ourselves and the embankment. It turned out that we were never really in any danger as the jaguar left as soon as it got close enough to the net to see there was nothing of interest. I escaped with my life but I did have to deal with Mayer’s ribbing for the next few days for not reacting quickly to take photos faster during a such a rare encounter.
Walk around a place when you can. I’ve found that you can learn a lot about a place just by seeing where your feet take you. Not only are you reducing your carbon footprint, but you’re getting exercise and you never know what hidden gems you’ll find! Of course, do this only if it’s safe for you to do so and always know how to get back to where you’re staying.
Global health is high on my list of unexpected careers that allow you to travel. Check out my post on other great and unexpected careers for travel, or head to the Woman of the Week archives to see interviews from other fields.