Sitting in with Fatou Jallow – A Career at the Intersection of Reproductive Science, Community Engagement & Public Policy

As an undergraduate at Dillard University in New Orleans, Fatou Jallow wasn’t really sure she knew how research was done or by who. She recalls,

As immigrants from Gambia, my parents were completely focused on medical school as the only possible outcome of studying biology. I knew that wasn’t for me, yet despite my love of biology I was unclear about what my next steps should be?

Fast forward to present day in Madison, Jallow, now with a PhD in Endocrinology and Reproductive Physiology, is preparing to take up a post in Washington DC as a Biological Research Advisor with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). She was recruited for this position as part of successfully competing for a prestigious Science and Technology Policy Fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Her career journey has been marked by hard work, luck, and excellent mentors at key points, as well as a dedication to unraveling the mysteries of reproductive physiology and a devotion to working toward health equity. Since spring 2018, Jallow served as a Recruitment and Retention Specialist with All of Us–UW-Madison, part of a national precision medicine initiative funded by NIH. Woven through everything she has done has been an ongoing commitment to addressing health disparities, working with members of the public in diverse communities, and inspiring a love of science in school children. Jallow comments,

Part of our graduation requirements at Dillard were 300 hours of community services. Starting my freshman year, I joined some of my classmates in volunteering in the science classrooms at local schools in some of the poorest and most diverse parishes in New Orleans

I loved it! We easily completed our required hours and kept on going because it was so rewarding to work with these children; some of them have actually become lifelong friends.

Subsequently, while interning in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UW-Madison, she worked both with Manish Patankar, PhD, doing laboratory research focused on diagnostics for epithelial ovarian cancer, and also with a team led by Gloria Sarto, MD, PhD, to examine data underpinning black infant mortality rates in Racine and Dane Counties. After completing a PhD dissertation on the role of prolactin crosstalk with estrogen receptor ligands in breast cancer progression under the direction of Linda Schuler, PhD, VMD (School of Veterinary Medicine), Jallow parlayed her interest in the health disparities in breast cancer rates into the position with the All of Us team,

Working with All of Us turned out to be a pivotal learning experience that allowed me to appreciate the difficulties and rewards of supporting population-level, community-engaged research. Over the past year, our team began incorporating direct science outreach activities with local children and families into our All of Us program efforts.

We volunteered with UW Science Alliance to bring our message to schools, community centers, and also to campus-wide events such as UW Science Expeditions. This really deepened our ability to engage successfully with community partners. I’m convinced that these experiences were key to my being offered the post at USAID.

Jallow also noted that serving as a role model for young girls of color has been one of the most rewarding part of the outreach experience.  The look in the eyes of these young girls when they realize she is a scientist with a PhD is something that continues to inspire her and energize her work.

Sarah Esmond, administrative director of All of Us-Wisconsin, comments,Sarah Esmond

Fatou is well on her way to becoming a leader in developing science-based public policy around issues of reproductive health and health inequities. She has that rare combination of expertise in basic bench science and effective community engagement, and she can TEACH.  She inspires junior and senior scholars and we are really going to miss her. But we wish her all the best and look forward to seeing what she does next!

Click here for more pictures from Fatou’s community outreach efforts.