Master of Public Health candidate
BS, Department of Biological Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University
PhD, Biochemistry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
NIH IRTA Research Fellow, Rakai, Uganda
Graduate Fellow, MIT Department of Biology
Tara Suntoke received her Bachelor of Science with university honors from Carnegie Mellon University in 1997. After volunteering with the Peace Corps in an aquaculture/fisheries program in Gabon, West Africa, she joined the graduate program in biochemistry at MIT. She studied the molecular basis of HIV-1 entry into host cells and received her PhD in 2005. For the last year and a half, she has been working as an NIH/NIAID Intramural Research Training Award (IRTA) fellow and a JHMI post-doctoral fellow in Dr. Thomas Quinn’s laboratory, doing HIV research in Uganda. She is a technical advisor to the molecular lab at the Rakai Health Sciences Program and is establishing real-time PCR technology for research and diagnostic purposes. Her research projects include determining the etiology of genital ulcer disease and assessing HIV subtype distribution in a rural Ugandan population. She also serves as study coordinator for an NIH intramural research study and is involved with a program evaluation for an urban community-based HIV care organization in Kampala, Uganda.
United States of America
Epidemiology with a focus on infectious diseases
What are your career goals?
To use evidence-based approaches to address public health needs—specifically those related to HIV and infectious diseases—in resource-limited settings, and to use my experience in laboratory sciences to help build capacity in developing countries, particularly to improve on-site diagnostic testing capabilities.
What sparked your interest in global health?
While in graduate school studying the molecular mechanism of HIV infection, Tara Suntoke was always drawn to the bigger picture: the effect of HIV on people’s lives, how the epidemic was changing in different parts of the world, and how access to care and treatment affected that dynamic.
One evening, she attended a lecture given by science writer and public health advocate Laurie Garrett. “She described emerging infectious disease outbreaks around the world, and the amazing detective work that ultimately leads to identifying the agent and containing the disease,” Suntoke recalls. “She depicted public health as a world that combined science, data analysis, policy, communication and compassion.”
Suntoke soon realized that her real interests extend beyond cellular and molecular biology, and into the realm of public health.