Women’s History Month Q & A w/ Dr. Beth Mueller

Women’s History Month Q & A w/ Dr. Beth Mueller

By: Alexandra de Leon Date: March 12th, 2021

  • Do you have any advice for females that are just starting their career- especially in today’s day & age

For those interested in STEAM (and probably all fields), do what you like, and work it in depth. Work it hard so that at least for part of your career, you’ll be the world’s expert. But don’t ignore the other stuff in life – family, hobbies, travel, etc., as they refresh you for your career. Find mentors, colleagues, and friends who will help you.

  • Tell us a little about how you started and where you got to where you were today

I was working in an emergency room as a patient representative, registering patients and doing crisis counseling, when once on a quiet night shift, I began counting up in the log book the number of injuries and psychiatric-related visits we had during a full moon compared to other nights. The ER Chief came up to me, asked what I was doing, and then said, “there’s a name for people like you”, and introduced me to epidemiology. He even helped me figure out how to make a table showing the numbers and percentages of events. I switched gears and went into epidemiology as a career because I liked the process of using the scientific method to test hypotheses to answer health questions.

  • You’re currently working in women’s reproductive health & cancer at Fred Hutch- can you tell us about this work-

I’ve been a “jack of all trades” for much of my career – bachelor’s in bioengineering, master’s in Women’s & Family Health, and doctorate in epidemiology. My doctoral project was injury-related, but when I moved to Seattle, my first job was studying infertility in women, subsequently augmented with working at the HIPRC on injury studies. That’s the thing about epidemiology – your training helps you build a tool box that can be used in several areas. But I think the field I feel most connected to is studying the effects of pregnancy on subsequent child and mother outcomes, including cancer and chronic diseases. I also study long term effects of cancer therapy. But the injury work remains important even in that field, as I’m currently examining increased rates of injury in childhood cancer survivors compared to children without cancer.

  • What are some of your best lessons you’ve learned throughout your career?

Especially when you are starting out, try different aspects of your career. I never thought I’d end up teaching as much as I have. I assisted in an epi methods course ~35 years ago and ended up teaching it for >25 years because I loved working with students.

  • You currently teach epi at UW (correct me if I’m wrong)- do you have a message to students during women’s history month?

I finished teaching my last formal course in epi methods about 2 years ago, although I still work with students on thesis projects and mentor early career scientists. In all my classes and mentorship situations, I try to sneak in examples of how to cope with some of the situations that students and early stage scientists, especially women, may face, including fending off the “wandering hand” of the man seated next to me when he put it on my knee under the table while presenting on a panel where we were all seated on a stage (there was a table cloth so the audience didn’t see it), being in meetings where a woman has to interrupt assertively to be heard over a mostly male crowd, to hearing a newly appointed female professor referred to as “a peach” by an older male professor. Sadly, these things still happen, although hopefully less now than 30 years ago. You have to be brave and speak up! I’m a quiet, shy person by nature, and learning to do this took time, but this process was aided for me by the strong female mentors and colleagues I’ve had.