Alumni Profile: Amethyst Gillis, MS 2011

Amethyst Gillis had always been interested in emerging infectious diseases, and in 2010, was looking for a way to apply her experience to solving problems that affect the world. With PhD training in cell biology, she had many years of experience in basic science research and wanted to build on that knowledge.

“When I decided to leave basic science in academia to pursue a degree and career in global health, I felt that it was a huge risk, and a lot of my peers and mentors questioned if it was a smart idea,” she says. “But I followed my heart, and have never regretted it.”

Gillis enrolled in the UCSF Masters of Science in Global Health Sciences program, graduating in 2011. For her fieldwork, she worked in Tororo, Uganda on a lab science project on drug-resistant strains of malaria. She was able to work directly with samples from patients and also got her first real experience in capacity building and conducting sophisticated research in a low-resource setting.

Gillis says the UCSF Masters program gave her a wide breadth of knowledge in global health and development, as well as introduced her to many of the key figures in the field, including Nathan Wolfe—long a role model, and now founder and Chief Executive Officer of Metabiota (formerly Global Viral Forecasting).

Gillis is now putting her experience to work at Metabiota as the lab manager for the USAID-funded project on emerging pandemic threats called PREDICT. She is based in Cameroon, but also works in building the capacity of other laboratories throughout central Africa and Asia.

“Management is not easy anywhere, and it’s been a challenge and big learning experience managing a team of Cameroonian scientists,” says Gillis. Long term, she would like to continue to work in scientific capacity building and project management.

“I love the science of emerging infectious diseases and hope to contribute to preventing or reducing pandemics,” she says. “I also really enjoy traveling and living in interesting places around the world, and being able to do that as part of my job is fantastic! And as for helping to build capacity for local scientists — if I can work myself out of a job, I have done my job right.”