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Alumni Spotlight: Jessie Abbate (’99)

June 10, 2017 / Catherine Nicholas / Blog

Jessie Abbate (’99) began doing infectious disease field work in the French and Italian Alps in graduate school.  She was awarded a Chateaubriand fellowship in 2011 to finish her doctoral dissertation with a French collaborator. Landing a post-doc position at the premiere ecology lab in France (CEFE), located in Montpellier, she moved shortly after graduating with her PhD from UVA.

Jessie’s post-doc work involves “understanding how parasites interact to influence the outcome of infections and the evolution of host resistance.” With Swiss and Canadian colleagues, Jessie wrote the model now in use by the World Health Organization to assess risk posed by sexual transmission of the Ebola virus from convalescent survivors.  Her research is expanding in tropical diseases in Africa and Southeast Asia.

Jessie loves the French way of life.  “In the states, especially in academia, there is the sense that you must work hard, and then every so often, you earn the right to play hard,” she explains.  “Here, the idea is that without the balance of ample vacation, you can’t expect to work efficiently. They value not only vacation and family time, but good food for EVERY meal.”

Jessie’s advice to current students: “Don’t take the opportunities you have for granted. Have fun – by all means, have fun!!! – but take the experiences you are offered seriously. Also, take YOURSELF seriously.  Realize early that the things you have to ‘learn’ or ‘memorize’ are not infinite. Very, and I mean, VERY soon, you will hit the wall that is the end of our current understanding of things. So that crazy idea you’re sure someone must have already thought of? Be a Scholar first and look it up, but chances are that it isn’t as obvious to the rest of the world. And even if it has been done, ask if it’s been done well.”  She adds, “Look left and right – this is your tribe. No matter how great college is, these are the friends that will still be at your side in 15 years.”

This profile originally ran in our 2015-16 Annual Report.

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