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Spotlight on: Caroline Mburu

Every month, we will be profiling early career researchers working at CMMID. This month we are shining a spotlight on Caroline Mburu.
Caroline Mburu

Tell us about your current research

I am currently a PhD student at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine but am based at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) in Kilifi, Kenya. My PhD work is on the calibration of statistical and mathematical models to serological data in order to aid monitoring of antibody response to vaccination, assessing the impact of vaccination programmes and predicting the need for supplementary immunisation activities in Kenya. I am supervised by Ifedayo Adetifa, Stefan Flasche and John Ojal.

How did you first become interested in infectious disease modelling?

My first exposure to mathematical modelling was during a brief postgraduate placement at the Initiative to Develop African Research Leaders (IDeAL) at KEMRI in Kilifi, Kenya. My project, which was also my Master’s thesis, was on examining the feasibility of introducing a typhoid conjugate vaccine in Kenya.

The experience, which introduced me to the world of infectious diseases modelling, as well as living in Kenya, where preventable infectious diseases are on the rise, sparked my interest in the use of statistical and mathematical analytical tools in disease prevention and management, and inspired me to apply for a PhD.

Describe your career journey so far

My undergraduate degree was in mathematics and physics at the University of Nairobi in Kenya. I majored in mathematics and graduated with a degree in applied mathematics. Following this, I worked as a research assistant at the Biostatistics Department of the African Conservation Center (ACC) in Nairobi. At the ACC, I used various statistical software to examine the distribution of wildlife and vegetation in Kenyan national parks. I also worked on a second project on the use of statistical models to assess group fission and fusions as a strategy for resource competition among baboons in the Laikipia Plateau.

While working in animal and plant conservation was interesting, I had always been passionate about working in health, so I enrolled for a Master’s in medical statistics at the same university. My course work as a Master’s student introduced me to modelling dynamics of infectious diseases. I learned how to construct and solve SIR and SEIR models under different assumptions and later based my thesis on these models.

Following my Master’s, I got a placement at a summer studentship programme at the Nuffield Department of Medicine (NDM) at Oxford University under the Africa-Oxford scheme. At NDM, I was part of a project aimed at examining infectious disease dynamics using mathematical modelling, pathogen genetics and evolutionary approaches. Specifically, we modelled the within-host epidemiological dynamics of HIV in order to gain a better understanding of HIV transmission and inform more effective prevention strategies.  

So far, I have one publication from my PhD on the “importance of supplementary immunisation activities to prevent measles outbreaks during the COVID-19 pandemic in Kenya” published in BMC medicine. I have been lucky to present this work in different scientific forums. The publication was also timely as it showed me the value of research and modelling in addressing emerging public health issues.

What are your goals for the future?

My short-term goal is to sharpen my skills in developing and programming different infectious disease models and to finish my PhD.

My ultimate career goal is to inform disease management, especially in low and middle-income countries, by using mathematical modelling tools and working with policy makers and stakeholders in health governance to translate scientific findings into policy.

What’s your favourite thing about working at LSHTM?

The CMMID Slack channel! Although I have never been to the School, I have interacted with so many other PhD students, early career researchers and research fellows virtually on different topics, such as vaccines, measles, as well as more fun things!

I have also got timely and useful feedback on my project by consulting different people on Slack (who are all very friendly and eager to help).

I can also connect easily with my supervisors, which is useful as a remote working student.

Do you have any advice or tips for other early career researchers?

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
  2. Be open to feedback (both positive and negative)
  3. Take care of your mental health by taking breaks to recharge.

How can people get in contact with you?

Email: Caroline.Mburu@lshtm.ac.uk

Twitter: @CarolineNMburu

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