Alumnus Profile: Julia Finkelstein, MPH, SM, ScD

I know that you are working at Cornell University, could you tell me a little about your job?

I am the Follett Sesquicentennial Fellow and Assistant Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University. I am also an adjunct Associate Professor at St. Johns Research Institute in Bangalore, India, where my research program is based, and a Fellow at the Center for Geographic Analysis at Harvard University.

Could you tell me more about the research you are doing?

My research focuses on the intersection of micronutrients, infectious diseases, and maternal and child health in resource-limited settings. As a scientist, I am intrigued by the role of micronutrients in the etiology of anemia and adverse pregnancy outcomes As an epidemiologist, I examine these mechanistic questions at the population level, through randomized trials and cohort studies. As a public health practitioner, I think about the translation of evidence and scientific findings into programs to improve the health of at-risk populations. This approach integrates epidemiology, nutrition, immunology and infectious diseases, and biostatistics, with emphasis on translating cutting-edge laboratory findings to inform interventions and public health approaches in at-risk populations.

Did you always want to work in public health?

No, I started out as a biology and pre-medical student, and didn’t realize there was a field called public health. The kinds of opportunities that exist now for international experiences and global health are really incredible. For me, it was work experience in research and public health in Montreal with some passionate public health practitioners that motivated me to pursue advanced training in public health. I was interested in international work, but it was experiences in my Master of Public Health at Brown that really inspired me to pursue a career in global health.

What was your most influential moment at Brown University?

If I had to pick a single moment, it would be my first experiences working in a resource-limited setting, in the rural highlands in Guatemala. Here I first witnessed the vicious cycle of under-nutrition and infectious diseases and its impact on the health of mothers and young children. During my fieldwork, I became intrigued with this interplay between under-nutrition and infectious disease, and the role of malnutrition as a cause and consequence of disease. Through my international field research experiences, I realized that this was something that I was meant to do, and my MPH training provided a strong foundation for me to pursue a career in epidemiology and international nutrition.

What about public health inspires you and drives you to do what you do every day?

Public health is an environment where no matter what disciplinary training or expertise, everyone can contribute. Public health is an opportunity to understand some of the most complex health problems and work across disciplines to design  interventions to prevent and  target health problems and improve the health of populations.

In what ways has your public health education from Brown helped you in your career?

The Brown Master of Public Health program provided  me with an outstanding foundation in public health. The education I received in the classroom, as well as my internships, work experiences, and my thesis research, all contributed to my Brown MPH. It’s that interdisciplinary training and critical thinking about public health issues that has prepared me for the real world. I am still connected with many of the faculty and classmates. Dean Wetle took the time to help me explore my interests, encouraged me to develop research skills, and inspired me to connect  with leaders in the field of international health. Dr. Steve McGarvey, my MPH thesis advisor, inspired me to pursue  a career in international health, and continues to be an incredible mentor and colleague. I have had the privilege  of working across the globe in many different research settings such as Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, Sub-Saharan Africa, India, and Ecuador. I have also worked in academic, governmental, non-governmental, and private sectors before joining the faculty here at Cornell. Brown University’s MPH program has prepared me for all of these opportunities. As a faculty member at Cornell University, I now have the opportunity to recommend the excellent Brown MPH program to my own students.