Episode #37

An Epidemiologist in the Covid-19 Spotlight with Becky Dawson

Dr. Becky Dawson is a public health epidemiologist who has strategically navigated her journey through academia with determination and purpose. Prompting from an early mentor led her to discover her passion at the intersection of environment and health. 


Becky shares her path through graduate study, PhD defense (on her due date!), leaving a tenure track job at an R-1 institution to return to her alma mater, winning tenure, and co-founding a brand new health agency on her campus. We talk about how education can encompass many different avenues, and how relationships and community building can enhance academia just as much as publishing and traditional teaching. 


Becky shares her sudden propulsion into the spotlight as an expert on infectious disease in the time of Covid-19, and how this has amplified her work and message. She also gives us her top thinking points and recommendations for our own health during the pandemic. 


Key points discussed:

  • Picking a college based on athletics, confidence as a college athlete [5:45]
  • Finding her senior project topic and future field of graduate study through the valuable advice of a mentor [10:30]
  • Returning for her PhD with newfound clarity after working in a post-grad position in D.C. [11:45]
  • Finding a model job and pursuing the person who occupied that job for information and advice [13:30]
  • Starting a Phd at 30 (her nickname was “gramma”) and pregnancy during the dissertation process [16:45]
  • Receiving a gift of time from an advisor and paying forward kindness and grace [18:00]
  • Landing and leaving a tenure track job at a top research institution [23:00]
  • Having a “yes/no” friend to help talk through important decisions [25:30]
  • Restarting the tenure track clock and proving herself at her current institution [30:00]
  • The emergence of Covid-19 and how it thrust her into the spotlight as an epidemiologist [36:30]
  • Fame as an academic [40:00]
  • Using time blocking and boundaries to structure her time and accomplish her goals [41:30]
  • Teaching epidemiology during a pandemic [45:30]
  • Co-directing a brand new agency and stepping away from teaching for a time [48:30]
  • Dr. Becky’s top items we all need to think about going forward in the time of Covid-19 [1:00:30]


Key Quotes:

  • “One person can make all the difference.” -Becky Dawson
  • “I’m looking forward to the day that I actually have the opportunity to pay it forward…” -Becky Dawson
  • “Everyone needs to go get yourself a yes/no friend.” -Cathy Mazak
  • “I’m in it because I want communities to be healthy, and I want to train the next generation of students that also want to make communities healthy.” -Becky Dawson
  • “I was very careful with my time.” -Becky Dawson
  • “Who am I at my core?” -Becky Dawson
  • “Who is your team?” -Becky Dawson


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