Raga Ayyagari left Dallas, Texas five years ago — with her twin sister, Sneha — to study human biology as an undergraduate at Stanford. Now, she's wrapping up a master's degree in epidemiology and clinical research and looking forward to her next step: pursuing a career in public health research and policy.
I met with her recently to learn more.
How did you become interested in public health?
I wanted to use my education to give back. Biology was my favorite subject in high school, and coming to college, I wanted to find a field that combined my interests in science, public service and writing.
I was drawn to public health because of its preventative, holistic and interdisciplinary approach to well-being.
What are you working on today?
Right now I'm working on my thesis, which is developing and validating predictive models to understand the risk factors for diabetes in young adults.
I have many family members who are affected by Type 2 diabetes and am interested in examining how to prevent the disease earlier in life.
The thesis has been a great experience learning how to apply different statistical tools to explore a topic I'm passionate about.
What is most fulfilling about your work?
The belief that I'm contributing in a small way to understanding how we can prevent disease and improve well-being.
I also really enjoy constantly learning and making connections between different fields.
Is there anything frustrating?
Sometimes it's possible to get stuck in the weeds or get lost in abstractions. Remembering the stories behind the numbers keeps me motivated.
What advice you would give to someone hoping to pursue a career in public health?
One of the best things about public health is that no matter who you are or what your interests are, there is a way to contribute.
Listen. Try to talk to as many people as possible who are working directly in the community. Remain curious and humble.
How do you unwind?
I love listening to all types of music. I play the piano and my sister and I are learning Indian classical singing.
I also enjoy reading and writing poetry and creative nonfiction. And, I love running, taking long walks and appreciating nature.
What are you reading now?
I'm reading an inspiring book called Infinite Vision about the founder of the Aravind eye clinic in India. The clinic's business model offers care to people regardless of their ability to pay in a way that is equitable, efficient and provides a high quality of care.
What do you like to eat?
I really love any type of fruit — I'd say mangoes are my favorite.
Do you have a role model?
I really look up to my family who inspires my dedication to service and passion for learning. For example, I'm really proud of my grandfather, who turns 80 this year and is wrapping up his PhD in philosophy and of my dad, who is taking classes in organic chemistry.
They've taught me to remember that everyone I meet is both a learner and a teacher and to do my best to approach everyone with kindness and respect.
Photo by Becky Bach