Profile with Jennifer Babik

Jennifer Babik (New Jersey & Magdalen 1995) is an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Department of Medicine at University of California San Francisco. She specializes in clinical infectious diseases, with a particular focus on infections in immunocompromised hosts. She is also interested in medical education and is the Inpatient Site Director for the Internal Medicine Residency Program and the Infectious Diseases Fellowship at Moffitt-Long Hospital. Jennifer holds an MD. from Stanford University, a DPhil in Physiological Sciences from the University of Oxford and an AB in Molecular Biology from Princeton University.

Rhodes Project: Can you share a favourite childhood memory?

Jennifer Babik: I grew up in New Jersey in a town called Piscataway.  The area is very suburban, like much of New Jersey, and I lived with my parents and my older brother. One of my favourite memories is that my mom used to make very elaborate birthday cakes each year for my brother and me – for example, a train or baseball glove, whatever we were really into that year. It was amazing and I didn’t really appreciate it until now that I have my own kids and my younger son wants me to make him a garbage truck cake (which is completely beyond my baking capabilities)!

Rhodes Project: How did you first become interested in the study of infectious diseases?

Jennifer Babik: I have always found bacteria, viruses and different infectious agents quite fascinating.  I studied molecular biology at Princeton and I loved trying to understand how things worked at a molecular level,.  With infectious diseases, you have to think of things at that microscopic level: how the bacteria interact with each other, how that interaction leads to disease, and then how we can manipulate those interactions to treat, vaccinate or cure diseases. 

Rhodes Project:. As well as that micro-perspective, there is a strong human element to this branch of science. Is that important to you in your work?

Jennifer Babik: One of the things that I like with infectious diseases is that it isn’t limited to one particular organ system, so we have to think of patients from a holistic standpoint.  There is a lot of patient interaction and we get to ask them all sorts of odd questions like “Do you have any pet lizards?”  It’s really interesting (and a privilege) to get a glimpse into people’s lives in that way.

Rhodes Project: How much of your work is interpersonal and how much is research based?

Jennifer Babik: Right now I’m not doing any research.  I had done a fair amount of research during my DPhil at Oxford and then during my medical training at Stanford and then UCSF.  But I realized that my true passion lies in teaching and in seeing patients.  So now I my time seeing patients in the hospital; teaching students, residents and fellows; and doing administrative work which supports the running of the Internal Medicine programme and the Infectious Diseases fellowship.

Rhodes Project: What has been the most important thing about life that you have learned through science?

Jennifer Babik: In medicine you have to come to peace with the reality that patients are going to get sick and sometimes we can’t control the outcome.  This is very humbling.

Rhodes Project: What advice would you give to a young woman looking to go into your field?

Jennifer Babik: Some of the best advice that was given to me when I was trying to navigate my early career decisions was this: what you end up doing should be fun. You should navigate your own path in your career to find out what you are passionate about.

Rhodes Project: What would you say most inspires you?

Jennifer Babik: I love interacting with my colleagues and with the trainees.  I feel very lucky to be in a field where there is so much natural curiosity and a lot of drive to educate ourselves and become better physicians.

Rhodes Project: Can you tell us about a favourite past project?

Jennifer Babik: I help teach in the microbiology course for the medical students.  I give a couple of lectures and I lead some of them in small groups.  It’s really fun to work directly with the students, to try to teach them in a way that is accessible and try to get them excited about a topic that I think is really fascinating.

Rhodes Project: What would you say is an important learning moment that you have had recently?

Jennifer Babik: I have two little boys and I feel like I learn from them all the time. It’s really wonderful to see the world through their eyes. The things that they notice are the things that we take for granted in our lives. My older son, a while ago, said, “Is Big Bird a chicken?  “ I stopped in my tracks and said, “Wait, I think you are right!  Big Bird is a chicken!”  I had never thought about it before! This is not a life shattering thing of course, but he’s so curious about these things- is Big Bird a chicken?  Is Santa Claus nocturnal?  

Rhodes Project: Can you tell us about a memorable journey you’ve been on?

Jennifer Babik: I think having kids has been a huge emotional journey for me.  It was a departure from anything else that I had ever done before, probably because most of what happens now in my daily life is so out of my control in so many ways!  

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