Resources for pivoting to public health data science

9 minute read


About two years into my PhD, I realized that the field I actually wanted to be in was public health, not necessarily biological engineering. Around the same time, I also fell in love with coding and data science. That’s when I realized that combining public health and data science could be an ideal career path for my technical abilities and interests and my desire to have social impact. But immersed in the world of academia, at an institution without a school of public health, and with mentors who had all chosen routes in biotech or academia, it was really hard to learn more about my options for pivoting to a career in public health.

So I started to scrounge around and look for opportunities for a highly-trained technical person like me to pivot into public health and social impact. I never actually ended up pursuing any of these opportunities because my former labmate started Biobot Analytics, which was an obvious career fit for me. But I know not everyone is lucky enough to have a unique opportunity like Biobot, and I’ve had a few folks over the years ask me about transitioning to public health and/or data science from a PhD. So I’ll excavate the list of links and resources I’ve accumulated, in the hopes that they are one day useful to someone. (Again, I didn’t actually apply to any of these (except the Luce), so I can’t speak to what they actually are.)

Public Health Fellowships


Epidemic Intelligence Service, 2-year fellowship for doctors (healthcare professionals and PhDs). You get placed in a CDC office (you don’t get a say in where you get placed, I think) and work on the front lines of epidemiological response.

From informational interviews and asking around, seems that EIS is pretty legit and prestigious in public health, and are a very common way for non-MPH’s to break into a career path at the CDC.

CDC Fellowships

CDC has a list of many fellowships for bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD-level candidates. Actually, now that I look through this again this is probably the best place to start.

ORISE Fellowships

Fellowships across a broad variety of government agencies (including the CDC), available at the undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral levels.

APHL-CDC Fellowships

A few different types of fellowships available with the Association of Public Health Laboratories, including a mix of lab and computational fellowships. Looks like the fellowship descriptions vary slightly, but all involve some placement in a state, local, or federal public health laboratory to do real-world public health work.

Postdocs with a public or global health focus

Big Data-Scientist Training Enhancement Program (BD-STEP)

Looks like this is a VA-sponsored fellowship that you can apply for at multiple locations (and presumably projects). Seems like a semi-generic postdoc, except that I imagine you have excellent access to cool VA data.

Fulbright-Fogarty Fellows in Public Health

Looks like this is a public health-specific Fulbright.

Global Health Program for Fellows and Scholars

12-month research fellowships in low- and middle-income countries, administered through Harvard, UC Berkeley, University of California Global Health Institute, UNC, University of Washington, and Vanderbilt. I’m guessing you apply directly through one of the participating institutions, and I imagine it’s a fairly generic postdoc fellowship.

International Research Scientist Development Award (IRSDA)

Funding for a postdoc or junior faculty to do research in a low- or middle-income country.

International fellowships

These aren’t public health-specific, but you can swing a pivot into a new field with these.

Luce Scholars

Not public health-specific, but how could I not include the best fellowship in the entire world? :)

The Luce Scholars program places you in a job in an Asian country for a year. No requirements beyond beyond smart and driven, having a degree from a qualified institution, being a US citizen under 30, and having had little to no exposure to Asia. If you get it, you can go work at a local public health agency or public health-focused NGO.

Princeton in Asia

Like the Luce but less competitive, more participants, and less well-paid. But also has a lot more options than the Luce: the Princeton in Asia program basically funds a bunch of internships all across Asia. Lots of public health options here.

From my experience in Cambodia, PIA is far less structured than the Luce (you’re basically just in an internship on your own) but you have more co-fellows in your country so it’s easier to find community.

Gates Foundation Global Health Fellows

Looks like the fellowship is currently on pause, but intended to relaunch by 2022.

Global health corps

Seems similar to Princeton in Asia in that there are many placements to choose from (only in Rwanda, Uganda, Malwai, and Zambia).


Of course, there’s always a Fulbright. I wasn’t ever interested in pursuing a Fulbright because you have to come up with your own project (and I’ve heard you get basically zero support while in-country), but it’s definitely an option for folks who already have a clear idea of what they want to do.

Data science fellowships and postdoc funding

Data science for social good

One of the first and most well-regarded data science for social good fellowships. Spend a summer working closely with governments and non-profits to apply data science to have real-world social impact. Not directly public health, but I’m sure many projects are health-related!

IBM Social Good Fellowship

From the website: “The IBM Social Good Fellowship is an opportunity for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars to develop their skills and develop data science solutions that benefit humanity.”

BIDS Data Science Fellows Program

Funding for a 2-year fellowship at the Berkeley Institute for Data Science (BIDS).

Columbia Data Science Institute postdoctoral fellowships

Looks like a generic postdoc fellowship to work with Columbia DSI faculty.

Also in general, lots of institutions are starting up data science institutes which usually come with data science-specific opportunities.

Schmidt Science Fellows

Kind of like the Luce, but if it were a postdoc and for scientists wanting to pivot to a different field.

Policy fellowships


The classic. AAAS Science Policy Fellowships are an excellent way to get hands-on experience working on science policy issues in the federal government. The congressional (legislative) fellowship supports two people each year to go work in the office of a member of Congress (my friend just finished it, she worked with Ed Markey!). The executive fellowship has a lot more openings, and there you can work in basically any federal agency.

The Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship Program

I actually know very little about this one, though from the website looks like it’s at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in DC and for only 12 weeks.

Other federal opportunities

Honestly, the best thing you can do is to sign yourself up for as many emails from federal agencies as possible.

I think once you enter into one agency’s email subscription management service, it’ll give you options to sign up to other agencies’ emails as well. I find it easiest to start with the CDC emails and go from there. NIAID and NIH emails have been mostly useful, but there is a whole treasure trove of federal agencies with intriguing sounding names!

These emails are a good way not only to get notified of potential cool opportunities (including data science!), but also just to better understand that landscape of federal agencies beyond the CDC.

Public Health Service Corps

Did you know that there is an official uniformed service corps in the US Public Health Service? This is the group that’s led by the Surgeon General. I have no idea what applying or working for the public health service corps entails, but it’s good to know it exists!

Data science at the NIH

Looks like there’s a handful of data science-related opportunities available through the NIH’s Office of Data Science Strategy.

Job boards

These job boards are for a mix of GovTech, political tech, public health, computational biology, and related.

  • USAJobs ( federal government’s official employment site.

  • US of Tech ( more IT and software development focused, US of Tech is trying to get skilled technical folks into government. Job and internship opportunities across a variety of agencies.

  • Outer Join ( recently found this one. Not focused on anything government or public health, just generic data science postings. All are supposed to be remote-friendly.

  • Progressive Data Jobs ( data science jobs in progressive and Democratic campaigns and organizations.

  • Higher Ground Labs ( another job board for progressive tech

  • Jobs That Are Left ( Google group email list for a bunch of jobs in progressive spaces. Majority of the jobs are to work on campaigns, but I’ve also seen quite a few interesting data science jobs come through this list.

  • All Hands ( looks to be less of a job board and more of a recruiting site. You submit your resume to join the talent pool, and then they connect you to jobs? No idea how effective this is.

  • Coding it Forward ( has an email list with weekly job drops. Focused a little more broadly than the other political tech ones, they focus on social impact and civic technology.

  • Fast Foward Tech ( focused on tech nonprofits.

  • IDD Jobs ( job board for fields related to infectious disease dynamics, which overlaps considerably with epidemiology and public health-relevant worlds.