Kate Brien

Kate Brien headshot

Kate is the Vaccine Education Center at CHOP’s Research Coordinator, supporting research efforts to promote vaccination and protect populations against vaccine-preventable diseases. In college, Kate majored in biology, minored in African studies and completed a college honors project developing a PCR-based diagnostic test for dengue virus. After graduating, she completed a year-long fellowship at the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Kate earned her graduate degree in public health (MPH) with a concentration in global infectious diseases. 


What was your favorite science class?

It’s hard to choose one, but I took three “seminar” classes in college that I loved, and which shaped me as a young professional. Unlike regular classes, seminars focus on a particular topic. For example, I took a seminar class focused on emerging infectious diseases. It happened to coincide with the 2014 Ebola epidemic. Two weeks into the course our professor scrapped the curriculum and decided we would follow the epidemic and educate the community about Ebola. Our class of nine students decided how we would accomplish that. It was a real-time, real-world immersion into epidemiology and public health. Our class held a symposium for anyone on campus who was interested during which we discussed health concerns and dispelled misinformation. I remember that it felt great to be a source of knowledge and reassurance on this topic about which everyone was concerned at the time.

Who was your favorite science teacher growing up and why?

Laura Katz changed my world. She was my academic advisor in college, and she gave me my start in research. She did research on microbial diversity and evolution. She was the first person I met who had made a career in microbiology. When I asked her how I could get involved in microbiology research, she invited me to work with her. Working in her lab taught me a wide range of microbiology laboratory techniques that were useful in every job I had thereafter. It’s great to work with a professor who is personally invested in your training, even if it’s not exactly what you want to do. The skills are usually transferable, especially in science.

Did anyone or anything in particular spark your interest in science?

I got my spark in AP Biology. In my school it took a full year of 80-minute classes, five days a week, to cover the entire curriculum of AP Biology. I basically lived and breathed it for a year, but in all that time, we only spent five days on microbiology. I felt like I had only scratched the surface of this wonderful microbial world. How could something so small that I couldn’t even see it without a microscope cause something as big as a human to get sick and possibly even die?

What is your favorite part of your job?

I’m an infectious disease nerd. I get to engage with my passions every single day, while also promoting health and helping people better understand vaccines and the diseases they prevent, so they can make informed decisions.