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Profile of Dr. Monica Ruiz

rival week


George Washington University


Profile of Dr. Monica Ruiz

The public health revisionist will speak at TEDxFoggyBottom


Dr. Monica S. Ruiz is one of two George Washington University professors who will present at TEDxFoggyBottom, an independently run TED-style presentation, on Saturday, April 22. Before joining the Department of Prevention and Community Health at the Milken Institute School of Public Health, Ruiz received a variety of awards and honors for her research against transmittable diseases- specifically AIDS.

Through her dedication, discipline, and passion for helping others, Dr. Monica S. Ruiz has become a pioneer in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Ruiz served as acting chief of the Prevention Sciences Branch in the Division of AIDS at the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, study director with the Institute of Medicine, acting director for public policy at The Foundation for AIDS Research, and assisted the HIV Prevention Trials Network in testing and implementing non-vaccine solutions to prevent disease transmissions.

I was fortunate enough to interview Dr. Ruiz in preparation of her talk at TEDxFoggyBottom. A self-proclaimed and proud nerd, Dr. Ruiz was humbled to share her findings in science and in life.

Have you ever presented your research to such a large audience before TedX?

I have presented my research to large audiences, a couple hundred people, but never this large. In the scientific world we present at a conference, it’s very dry. Introduction, method, results, discussion. With your typical conference presentation, they don’t get a sense of who you are. The challenging thing is, in science and when you’re used to presenting to the scientific audience, they care only about the data. It’s not the time for personalty to come through. Nobody really gets to know you.

So it sounds like you prefer the TED talk setup?

I prefer the TED talk (since) being able to tell the story is very important. A TED audience is much more diverse, they don’t know what I’m talking about, my area of research, or about me. With TED talks, you get to see more of a person behind the science. Part of what I’m talking (about) Saturday isn’t just about the work, but how I got there. Why I am doing what I do now. What influences me. As a scientist I think I’m cool. I love what I do. I never on Earth thought people were interested in what I was doing or my backstory; the unexpected coolness of being a nerd. You get the history. You get a little more of a story. Hopefully the viewer on Saturday will see the work I'm doing and why I’m doing what I’m doing.

"With TED talks, you get to see more of a person behind the science."

What advice do you have for students pursuing a degree in epidemiology or any other sciences?

Find something that fascinates you; that keeps you awake at night- in a good way. (Something) that keeps you up at night because you want to make change. If it doesn’t trouble you, you’re being complacent. Think of it like being in a loveless relationship. If you’re not happy, if you’re bored, then why are you there? Do something you love. With any of the sciences there is so much we still don’t know. And there are so many of us who live to answer those questions. Life is too short to be bored. With anything. If it doesn’t give you those little kernels for growth-- personal, or professional--you’re doing the wrong thing.

What lessons from your career and/or life do you hold true?

The thing I always tell my students is from the Life is Good company (you know the one with the dog), “Do what you love, love what you do.” If you do what you love, there is always purpose. If you love what you do then you have a purpose. I’ve always been able to do what I love, and that’s why I love what I do.

"If you do what you love, there is always purpose."

What influenced you to work with disease/AIDS prevention?

It was seeing the impact of the disease on the people around me--in my friendship group, in my community--, finding that impact to be unacceptable, and needing to do something to change it. HIV prevention, for me, is not just a job. It’s a calling. It really is a calling. In grad school I wasn’t sure about what I was going to do. I wanted to study disease, but did not know what area. I have been very lucky to have had that moment of realization and finding out what I am meant to do. That’s never been a problem for me.

Photo credits to TEDxFoggyBottom