Meet DEB: Karen Alroy, AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow


Basic Profile

Name: Karen Alroy

Karen Alroy, AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow

Karen Alroy, AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow

Education:

Bachelors in Science, Double Major in Biology and Environmental Studies, Tufts University

Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine and Masters of Public Health, Tufts University

Research Experience/History:

While I am trained as a clinician in veterinary medicine, I have always been fascinated by research. In veterinary school, I studied animal health and disease at the individual level, however, by way of my MPH, I was able to take a step back and appreciate the 30,000 ft. perspective on health and disease in both human and animal populations.

I was granted a Fogarty Institute Clinical Research Scholars Award through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2010 and relocated to Lima, Peru. I gained excellent experience in global health research, working on the epidemiology of Chagas Disease in the high jungle of Peru as well as the pathophysiology of neurocystisercosis, the leading cause of seizures in people across the developing world.

After returning to the US, my advanced clinical training in small animal emergency medicine and surgery was in the District of Columbia, at a 24-hour referral practice in 2012.

I came to NSF shortly afterwards, in September 2013, as an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellow. AAAS is the largest scientific society in the world, and through this fellowship, it facilitates doctoral level scientists opportunities to work in various government agencies, gaining experiences in the realm of policy.

Competitions I currently work on: At NSF my role as a AAAS Fellow is in support of the Dimensions of Biodiversity Program. Through the Dimensions Program, as well as more broadly across the Division and the Foundation, I am able to explore my interests through activities in broader impacts, as well as international research and partnerships.

Q&A

What are your study system(s) and area(s) of expertise? My area of specialization is the intersection of human, animal, and environmental health, often described as the field of “One Health.”

I first got hooked on “One Health” as a lab technician in the Cohen Laboratory at the Romberg Tiburon Center of San Francisco State University. Our lab studied, among other things, the genetics of colonial invertebrates and how these organisms achieve self-recognition. I was impressed by the similarities between the genes we studied, and the genes in humans that govern acceptance or rejection of organ transplants. This intersection of nature and medicine drew me to “One Health.”

There is not one study system that I can call my own, but there is a wide range of species I have worked and fallen in love with. Since joining the world of veterinary medicine, the size of organisms that I work with has scaled up from the aquatic invertebrates of San Francisco Bay. I have still maintained a preference towards wildlife, and in particular aquatic and avian species. Some notable favorites that I have had a chance to work with include: diamondback terrapins, blacktip and whitetip reef sharks, California condors, and sea otters from Monterey Bay.

DC Snowy Owl. Photo Credit: City Wildlife, Washington, DC

DC Snowy Owl
Photo Credit: City Wildlife, Washington, DC

I stay involved in the world of clinical medicine by consulting on the weekends at a wildlife clinic called City Wildlife. It is the first of its kind in the District of Columbia, and it has proven to be phenomenally important in assisting in the care of injured urban wildlife. In fact, City Wildlife played a pivotal role in the care of D.C.’s beloved snowy owl this winter. This bird, after being spotted for several days in downtown in McPherson Square in January, was hit by a bus. I am happy to report, however, that the owl made a tremendous recovery and was recently released back into the wild!

Biggest surprise you’ve encountered coming to DEB? Before coming to NSF, large federal funding agencies seemed mysterious to me: proposals went in, and either acceptance or rejection letters came out. I have been very impressed in DEB to see how the Program Officers work closely with their community of investigators. Transparency, communication and advocacy on behalf of the investigator community are all highly valued in DEB. It has given me a great appreciation for the service that DEB Program Officers and staff provide to the scientific community.

Share an awesome experience:

During my time in Peru, I participated in a three-day river raft race, covering over 180 kilometers on the headwaters of the Amazon River.

Admiring the Peruvian intertidal zone

Admiring the Peruvian intertidal zone

The highlights of this trip included paddling alongside pink river dolphins as well as under bright starry Amazonian skies!

Who do you admire, and why?

Marie Curie has always been an inspiration for me. As a Nobel laureate, physicist and chemist, who made ground breaking discoveries in radioactivity. Not only did she pave the way for women in science, but she maintained a youthful curiosity towards scientific exploration and understanding.

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