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Berkeley Public Health student profile: Helena Archer

Helena Archer
  • PhD student, Epidemiology
  • Expected graduation: May 2024
  • Hometown: Chapel Hill, North Carolina
  • Preferred pronouns: she/her/hers

What is your focus in school?

I’m studying epidemiology, with an emphasis on public health systems. Epidemiology provides a great skill set to identify and assess health disparities and to inform policy and programming for strong, equity- and rights-focused health systems.

Why did you choose Berkeley Public Health for your degree?

I was excited about the collaborative research environment; the dedication of faculty, staff, and students; and the connection to local health organizations.

What are you most excited to pursue this coming semester?

I’ve been doing research on COVID in the California state prison system, and am looking forward to analyzing the information and presenting findings with support from people in the system and at Cal and UCSF.

What are you most looking forward to when we head to campus in person?

Meeting all of the other students! Hearing what people are excited about working on and learning from them is my favorite part of being back in school.

What’s the first community involvement activity you want to be part of this fall?

An event with the Black Grad Student Association—they’ve been great.

Can you tell us about any research you’ll be conducting this academic year?

As mentioned above, I’ll be looking at breakthrough infections and infection control measures in the state prison system. Additionally, I’ve started working on an environmental justice-aligned project looking at oil and gas well development and COVID-19.

What’s been your favorite class or professor so far?

I took a really great injury seminar course with David Ragland, Glen Shor, and Lisa Peterson. It was a great opportunity to revisit some of my past work with injuries, and to learn much about the field with wonderful instructor support.

If you have already been in the workforce, what did you do? How does that tie in with your studies?

I’ve been working full and part time for the past 5 years; as a CDC PHAP fellow stationed in Flagstaff, as a Global Health Corps fellow in health informatics in Zambia, and most recently as a global health research consultant with the START Center during my masters program at the University of Washington. My first job happened to be epidemiology, which brought me here, but all of my jobs have helped shape my research interests, my desire to connect data to policy, my appreciation for management and mentorship, and my connection to the communities I work with and serve.

What would you like to do with your degree after graduation?

I have a couple of years so I will stay open-minded, but my tentative plan is to work in applied public health, most likely with a government or government-aligned agency. I’ve worked in government a few times in my career and found it to be a good fit—and of course I want to keep working in epidemiology!

How do you think UC Berkeley School of Public Health has set you up for success in your future career?

One of the reasons I wanted to do a PhD was to broaden my skill set in approaching complex problems. One of things I really appreciate about Berkeley Public Health is the great balance of range and collaboration. I think they equip us well to use both of these by offering a wide set of methods and the foundation to learn new ones, and as the opportunity to leverage the expertise and connections of our colleagues to approach challenging, often multidisciplinary questions.