This week we are featuring Dr. Jennifer Beam Dowd, our incoming Nerdy Girl-In-Chief & scientist extraordinaire.
Dr. Dowd is a health and social scientist who identifies most as a “demographer.”
What’s a demographer? We’re glad you asked. Dr. Dowd uses statistics to study patterns in human populations–especially how long people live and why. Her impressive body of scientific work includes research on how social and biological factors interact across the life course, which has included deep dives into the biology of stress and the human microbiome. Her research is centered on social determinants of infectious disease and immune responses, which positioned her to be a leading expert on social forces and the pandemic. She also studies the links between infectious and chronic disease. One of her main areas of expertise is human life expectancy.
If you follow Dear Pandemic, you know (and love) Dr. Dowd’s writing. She’s authored quite a few essays on how and whether we “count” deaths from COVID, as well as some very memorable posts about keeping your nose 👃inside your mask, the Sturgis Bike Rally🏍️, and how to identify bull💩.
Early in March, Dr. Dowd released a paper detailing how age structure affects COVID-19 mortality across populations. 👶🧒👨👴 This theme has continued to crop up in the context of “focused protection” and now vaccination priorities. As she says, “demography *really* matters for understanding this pandemic.” Her research group at Oxford University also wrote one of the first papers modeling the benefits of social bubbles.
Dr. Dowd says her work on Dear Pandemic has been a labor of love. She has a new identity as a Nerdy Girl and a science communicator. She says that looking ahead, besides continued #scicomm she’ll be researching the long-term health and social impacts of COVID-19.
❇️ Tell us about joining the Dear Pandemic team.
“I got a message from Alison via FB messenger on March 15th. Alison asked ‘Would you be interested in being a Nerdy Girl for a week or two?’ So I guess you guys reeled me in with a deceptively short time commitment 🙂. But seriously, this was actually the same day I released a COVID pre-print that went viral on twitter and started getting the first media calls of my life. It was clear by then I would be eating and breathing COVID data 24/7 and I was desperate to channel that energy into something that might actually make a difference. It was an easy sell!”
❇️ What’s the most frustrating thing about the way the pandemic has unfolded, from your point of view?
“The persistence of COVID-19 denial and the myth that deaths happen only to those with serious conditions. 😡 It’s unconscionable in the face of the data and must be so crushing to families and front line health care workers seeing this reality every day.”
❇️ Who is your hero?
“Dolly Parton, for sure. 👢👢 I mean, she was born in 1946, completely slayed the gender norms of her day in the form of a blonde Trojan Horse with big boobs. She wrote Jolene and I Will Always Love You on the same day. Porter Wagner, for whom she wrote I Will Always Love You, eventually sued her for leaving his show after she became so successful. She later paid off his debts and sat with him on his deathbed. She’s a musical and business genius. She’s also a long-term serious philanthropist who gave $1Million toward the Moderna vaccine. Basically, I want to be that badass AND that good of a human at the same time.”
❇️ What are you most proud of?
“Hanging on by a thread with three little kids (including twins ♊), a partner who traveled for work, and an academic career. I’ve now made it through to the other side and have my dream job. I’m still pinching myself that I survived the working mother gauntlet. (And feeling SO much empathy for my peeps with younger kids especially during this pandemic).
I’m married for over 21 years to my awesome (and data-loving) husband Dan 💕, and we have 3 teens who are 18, 15 & 15. Thankfully we love hanging out with each other so much it greatly eased the confinement woes of 2020. Each other, plus Tiger King.”
❇️ Superpower: Seeing connections across lots of scientific areas. 🖧
❇️ What you miss most from before the pandemic: Academic conferences. 🌐
❇️ What you don’t miss at all: Definitely non-elastic pants. 👖
❇️ Best way to manage stress: Netflix and lifting heavy things. 💪
❇️ Hopes for 2021: Getting vaccinated, and going to the first possible George Strait concert. 💉
❇️ Fun fact: Dr. Dowd loves the Dallas Cowboys -⭐- and was very unsatisfied with the conclusion of Daenarys Targaryen’s storyline. 🗡️🐉
After growing up in Nebraska and Texas, Jenn Dowd earned her B.A. at Washington and Lee University (majors: Political Science & Spanish). After a year working in East Java, Indonesia, she went on to earn an M.A. and Ph.D. in Demography and Economics from Princeton University in the School of Public and International Affairs and Office of Population Research. She completed postdoctoral training in Epidemiology as a Robert Wood Johnson Health & Society Scholar at the University of Michigan.
This year, in addition to dozens of essays for Dear Pandemic, Dr. Dowd has authored papers on COVID-19 in leading journals such as Nature Human Behaviour, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and The Lancet, as well as opinions for The Guardian and Slate. Prior to the pandemic, she wrote papers about infections, immunity, and social processes–including a few with fellow Nerdy Girl Dr. Amanda Simanek.
Today, she lives in the UK and is an Associate Professor of Demography and Population Health and the Deputy Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science at the University of Oxford, where she teaches advanced quantitative methods at the graduate level. She is on Twitter @drjenndowd