Patricia Kahn: Alumni without borders – Alumni relations

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Patricia Kahn: Alumni without borders

Patricia Kahn, former EMBL staff scientist from the Structural and Computational Biology Unit, writes about her humbling and rewarding experience working as medical editor of Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

“MSF is known for its medical work after natural disasters, in very poor, neglected populations and in war zones. Less known about MSF is that we do a lot of operational research in these settings, and publish quite a bit in medical journals – 150 papers last year. That’s where I come in. I didn’t work on all 150, fortunately, but I help with some of them, from the initial brainstorming about what issues to focus on to shaping and editing manuscripts, selecting journals and helping authors respond to reviews. Besides research articles, MSF also publishes lots of perspective-type pieces and policy articles about what our teams on the ground are seeing and learning about health care delivery in very difficult contexts.

Patricia edits operational research papers, covering topics such as pioneering vaccination campaigns that inform new strategies for medical aid

“It’s impossible not to feel really humbled by the work MSF does, and proud to be even a tiny part of it. Every day I meet people who are coming from or going to the conflict or (post-) disaster zones we read about in the newspapers – Syria, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Haiti. Lots of other people are off to work in places that don’t make the headlines but where the need is huge: we’re doing a lot now in Central African Republic, one of the biggest ongoing disasters you’ve probably never heard about. The clarity of purpose within MSF, and the dedication and professionalism of its staff, are extremely powerful, and inspire me every day.

“Although I’ve moved from molecular biology into medicine and public health, research is research – and the scientific excellence and rigor that surrounded me at EMBL was training that continues to help me every day. I also made my first career shift while at EMBL, away from the bench and into the EMBL Data Library (the seedling for EMBL-EBI). The Data Library was my first in depth exposure to science communication across a big communication gap – biologists and computer people inhabited different planets back then, and they spoke very different languages. This was a very useful experience for a budding writer!

“Fond memories from my five years at EMBL include the raising of my two sons. Together with their father (Thomas Graf), we were heavily involved in getting the EMBL Kinderhaus started in Lennart Philipson’s days. Both my sons are EMBL Kinderhaus alumni, and though in their early 20’s they still have fond memories of the Kinderhaus, their friends, the songs they learned and all the different languages they heard as toddlers.”

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