January 30, 2015
By Ashli Gerdes
A College of Saint Benedict graduate is using her research skills to help policymakers in the capital.
Teresa Abraham is a senior analyst for Gryphon Scientific, a consulting company that provides scientific support to the U.S. government on global health and homeland security issues.
The ‘02 graduate’s most recent project has been researching the security implications surrounding the Ebola crisis in West Africa. A speech that she delivered on the subject garnered interest from congressional offices.
She soon found herself looking into the policy implications of a comprehensive travel ban. Would the U.S. government prevent people from going to West Africa? Would it stop people — including doctors and nurses – from returning to the U.S. after providing treatment to patients infected with Ebola? How would such a ban affect imports and exports – not to mention the fragile economies in West Africa?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the 2014 Ebola epidemic is the largest in history.
“If we look at Ebola for example, I think it’s very easy to say ‘Oh, we need to have a travel ban,’ but when you actually sit down and think about what a travel ban looks like it gets a lot more complicated,” Abraham said. “My job is not to predict outcomes, but more to compile the information that’s already available and explain it to a lay audience in a way they can understand.”
“As you start to do research, more questions start to pop up,” Abraham said. “You start to go down these rabbit holes to figure out the answers.”
Abraham is from India. She received her bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry at CSB before going on to get her Ph.D. in cellular molecular biology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She spent time working for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the Division of International Health and Security before landing her job at Gryphon Scientific.
“Usually we have projects,” Abraham said. “We bid on a project and outline what we’re going to be doing. That involves a lot of literature review. We look at the existing literature whether it’s scientific or policy oriented and find out what the leaders in the field are thinking.”
It all starts with a simple Google search. She studies current trends to get a broad look at what is currently being published in the news and in scientific literature.
“I’ve learned that sometimes you’re going to have to be the expert really, really quickly and read up on the information as fast as you can,” Abraham said. “As with any research, regardless of what it is, I don’t think you ever know that you’re done.”
She has conducted research on a variety of infectious disease projects for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Defense. Another one of her most recent projects has been researching how the CDC could best prepare for a radiation incident.
“I enjoy trying to take research findings and make it applicable and tangible in the real world,” Abraham said.
She admits that it’s a stressful job with a steep learning curve. “You go from knowing nothing about it to trying to figure out how to construct the project.”
Abraham said the small community at CSB has helped her find success in her line of work.
“We like to joke that in the top universities, as an undergraduate, you get taught by the best graduate students, but at Saint Ben’s you actually get taught by professors,” Abraham said. “I think having that sort of access and being able to go up to professors and ask them questions gave me a really good education.”
It is this process of continual learning – one that she picked up at CSB – that makes Abraham an asset for our nation’s policymakers.