Ask an Alumni Anything: Stephanie Booth, '14 BSc, '17 MPH

Augustana alumna Stephanie Booth gives advice on graduate school, working in public service in the government, provides insight for the field of epidemiology and much more.

20 January 2021

As a biology major and drama minor during her time at Augustana, Stephanie could be found in the science labs doing experiments, at the old Theatre Building rehearsing shows or engaging with other students through the Augustana Science Club or Augustana Queers and Allies.

Since finishing graduate school, Stephanie has worked in various positions within the public health sphere, including as a policy analyst on the opioid crisis, a research analyst on vaccine effectiveness, a research advisor and evaluation specialist at the Edmonton Police Service and as a research assistant on community-based LGBTQ+ research. She is currently working as an epidemiologist at the Public Health Agency of Canada where she focuses on training and development of other epidemiologists and public health professionals—especially as they work to support Canadians during COVID-19!

Q: As a public service employee, does the governing party have a large impact on your work?

A: In my experience, the nuts and bolts of public service work stay the same, but political platforms will steer some of the bigger strategic direction. For example, when I worked in opioid policy at the Government of Alberta the change in government (2019) brought a different focus and mechanism for responding to the opioid crisis, which changed the focus of grants and policies I worked on. However, the day to day work of shaping policy, managing grants, and working with stakeholders stayed the same!


Q: What are your thoughts on completing both degrees at the same university? Pros? Cons?

A: Pros:

  • You are more familiar with the 'who's who' of programs and professors.
  • You can get a leg up on volunteering with profs or labs you are interested in for grad school.
  • it's easier to navigate the administrative parts of being a student (such as resources and support, scholarships, etc.).


  • Going to a new university means you can expand your network more.
  • Different universities have different research focuses and strengths which you could miss out on.

I stayed at U of A for my master's degree because I wanted to build connections in Alberta (which definitely helped me to land my first few jobs), and to enhance public health and give back to my community here!


Q: What degree/experience did you get/have at Augustana that led you to wanting to work in public health?

A: 1. Getting to do interdisciplinary courses that honed my critical thinking skills.

2. Doing Community Service-Learning courses + volunteering = made me interested in a career that required looking at problems creatively and centered helping people and populations (a.k.a public health!).

Also shout-out of course to Dr. Sheryl Gares who introduced me to the concept of epidemiology in her Pathogenesis class!


Q: Can international students work for the public service for the government?

A: I would recommend looking at some different job postings to see the citizenship and visa requirements for jobs at the Government of Canada, Government of Alberta, or municipal governments.


Q: Why are you such a rockstar?! But for real...what is the most rewarding part of working in PH?

A: Insider information: I am at my most rockstar status when I am crying over data coding that isn’t working.

Public health is rewarding because we get to influence the lives of thousands or millions of people with the work we do. We get to see programs, policies, and services that we help shape that support people and help them to live healthy lives.


Q: What does a typical day look like for you right now during COVID?

A: Epidemiology is a really broad field, and I work at a slightly atypical epidemiology job. I work for the Government of Canada in a position where we focus on training and developing epidemiologists and public health professionals across the country. Our job has been a bit different lately in that a lot of the training and development we're doing is focused on COVID-related topics. The projects I'm working on right now involve the COVID vaccine and figuring out what other epidemiologists need to know about tracking the data and epidemiology as the vaccines roll out.

Another project I'm working on involves scientific competencies—ensuring epidemiologists have technical skills around things like making infographics or writing scientific papers, as well as cultural competencies so they can understand what considerations they need to think in terms of the diversity of Canadians when they're looking at data.

So, a day in my life will typically involve a couple meetings—either with people on my team or external stakeholders that we're working with—lots of project work and then doing some training!


Q: Did you always know you wanted to enter a medical-related field? When did you decide on epidemiology and why?

A: I was always interested in the health field and convinced that I was going to be a physician until I was in my early 20s. I took a year off after undergrad to work and figure out what I wanted to do, and it was at that time that I learned about the field of public health and how cool it is. I decided to specialize in epidemiology because it sounded SO interesting - it's a combination of biology+math+sociology+psychology and we get to be 'disease detectives'!


Q: What did your minor in drama add to your science degree and why did you decide on it for your minor? How has it helped you in your career now? 

A: I always loved science but also loved theatre, and didn't want to have to give either up! Doing drama was a great way to work the creative side of my brain after long days of labs and theory. It has helped me so much in both school and my career—I am a much more confident public speaker and communicator!


Q: What's been something you've done in your various jobs that you're most proud of?

A: When I was at the Government of Alberta I got to manage a grant program where we gave grants to non-profits and communities across Alberta to raise awareness about the opioid crisis. It was really rewarding to see how creative these groups were and how passionate they were about trying to raise awareness and stop opioid deaths in their community.

When I was at the University of Calgary, I got to be part of some multi-country research—that included the CDC in the US—where we looked at the vaccine effectiveness of the flu vaccine when given to pregnant women. It was the first study of its kind, and we found the flu vaccine was effective when given to pregnant women for preventing hospitalizations and some other serious outcomes. This was really rewarding because we got to make new research that is going to help pregnant women and their families make decisions around vaccination and have healthy pregnancies.


Q: Do curfew programs actually work? What evidence does the government have on this?

A: I can’t speak to the specific evidence that different governments use to determine if they implement hourly-specific ‘curfews’ to slow the spread of COVID-19, although it would likely include the peer-reviewed, published research available on this topic.
Like much research on COVID-19, this is a developing area and there is a small but growing amount on this topic. From my understanding, there isn’t a consensus on this topic, although there is research to suggest that curfews in combination with non-pharmaceutical interventions are effective at reducing COVID-19 spread.


Q: We're seeing 90%+ effectiveness with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines—how rare is this for vaccines? Is there a certain threshold most vaccines need to meet?

A: So one thing I'll note is that with the Pfizer and Moderna numbers that are out there, which are around 90-95%—that's vaccine efficacy, which is how well the vaccine performs in clinical trials and really structured environments within the initial studies before it gets released to the public. So we'll get a better sense of vaccine effectiveness, which is truly how it works in a large population, as the vaccines continue to roll out.

In regards to how rare this effectiveness is for vaccines: most childhood vaccines, the routine ones that you get throughout childhood and as in early adulthood, have an effectiveness that's over 90% at the very least. Flu vaccines range a little bit every year, so they can be 65-90% depending on the year and type of strain. 

For thresholds: the interesting thing is that as vaccines move through clinical trials, most of them won't get funded or continue on in clinical trials unless they are showing a really, really high efficacy. So for vaccines to actually go through the clinical trial process, get reviewed by Health Canada and other agencies and then actually get released to the public, they have to have very, very high efficacy. Then, there's other considerations we make before deciding if vaccines go on the market—not only how effective they seem to be, but how common the disease is, what the transmission looks like and if there's any side-effects.


Q: What's an intersecting field in your work that most people wouldn't expect?

A: There is definitely an aspect of psychology and human behaviour that touches a lot of epidemiology work. Beyond just looking at biological aspects of illness or math behind disease prevalence and spread we also have to try to understand why people act the way they do or what is needed to get them to make healthier choices.


Q: Is there something you wish most people knew when it comes to infectious diseases or your work?

A: We can’t effectively study infectious diseases without considering the social determinants of health—diseases aren’t only a phenomenon that exist within a biological/physiological construct. We can’t effectively reduce the burden of infectious diseases without first addressing more systemic problems such as poverty, racism, and inequitable access to healthcare.


Q:What’s your favourite Augustana memory or what is something you think every Augustana student should do?

A: This may be the hardest question yet!!! Most of my best memories involve living in dorms—getting to have dinner and laughs every night with all my friends is something that I miss a lot! Late nights in the Ravine Dish, Vikings hockey games and the first Augustana Pride Week are also highlights.

I would 100% recommend that every Augustana student take advantage of the liberal arts environment and take a class that’s totally out of their degree path.