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Meet our graduates | Anneke Claypool, PhD '21

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Anneke Claypool

July 6, 2021. Interviewed by Linda Esquivel. Edited for length and clarity.

As part of MS&E's 2021 graduates podcast series, we chatted with Anneke Claypool, a graduate of the PhD program in MS&E.

Anneke shares how serving in the Peace Corps, teaching high school mathematics, led her to her area of research. While teaching overseas, she noticed healthcare problems, such as malaria, directly affecting her students’ attendance. After that experience, she decided to apply her mathematics background to the healthcare system. Anneke’s research focuses on infectious disease modeling and policies, while incorporating cost effectiveness analysis. She also shares stories about her time at Stanford and her plans for the future.

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Hi, my name is Anneke Claypool.  I graduated with my PhD in Management Science and Engineering, and I work on health systems and policy modeling.

Can you tell me a bit about your background? Where did you grow up and where did you study before Stanford?

I grew up in Fort Collins, Colorado, which is in the north part of Colorado. For undergrad, I went to the University of Colorado at Boulder, so I stayed at my state school. There, I studied math and international affairs, but I started off just studying international affairs; I was interested in politics and history. However, once I got there I missed problem sets and problems that had answers that were kind of puzzles, so I started taking math classes and then ended up declaring a math major.

How did you become interested in engineering?

It was kind of a long road to engineering. When I was a little kid, I wanted to be an aerospace engineer, but by high school, I was more interested in international affairs. Then after my undergrad, I went into the Peace Corps, where I taught 9th and 11th grade mathematics. For a while, I thought I was going to be a mathematics teacher, but when I was there, I noticed a lot of the health problems that were happening there affected education. For example, malaria was really bad in the town where I was. My students were constantly missing school because either they were sick or somebody they knew was sick and they were helping to take care of them. And the other teachers in the school were noticing the same thing. A lot of the problem was due to lack of resources at the hospital—not enough malaria testing kits, not enough malaria treatment.

With my background in math, I wanted to do something quantitative and supply-chain-oriented, but focused on health care. It's important work, because as we saw in the last year, health affects a lot of aspects of life from education to work to everything. I was telling a friend about my interests, and he said that it sounded like operations research. He told me about a few programs doing health and humanitarian logistics through operations research, and I found my way into MS&E through that conversation.

Can you tell us about your research?

My research is mainly focused on infectious disease modeling and looking at different policies that affect infectious diseases. It also involves a lot of cost effectiveness analysis, modeling the health outcomes of different diseases and different policies and weighing them against the cost of implementing different policies.

For infectious disease modeling, my dissertation is on mosquito-borne diseases like Dengue, Yellow Fever, Chikungunya and Zika. But during COVID, I started working on a team called SC-COSMO, which does simulation modeling of COVID-19. I was working on a project that aimed to project COVID outcomes, especially hospitalizations and deaths for each of the counties in California. A lot of these skills that I learned during my PhD can be applied to a lot of different types of diseases—sometimes infectious diseases, chronic diseases. Others on the SC-COSMO team utilized a lot of the helpful research on operations research and systems engineering, looking at hospital systems and how patients move through a hospital. That's the great thing about studying at Stanford, the team had those diverse options and knowledge bases to draw from.

That work was in addition to my dissertation work, but also kind of an extension of it, because when COVID started spreading in the United States, I really wanted to get involved and do some modeling because that's what I've been doing during my PhD. Working with this group, I got to work directly with policymakers, which doesn't necessarily always result in academic papers, but it can be really helpful.

How did the pandemic affect your time at Stanford?

It affected everything. I really enjoyed going to the office and seeing all the other PhD students and professors. But I was doing research, so I could work from home fairly easily. I just started working from home all the time. I had been part of the triathlon team at Stanford, and those practices stopped. I missed a lot of things about Stanford during the pandemic, but I was also happy to have the opportunity to work on a project modeling COVID-19. I ended up working a lot on that project; it took up most of my time. I learned a lot and I worked with a lot of great researchers, both at Stanford and in Mexico, and it was really cool to be part of the team. The group is still doing a lot of projects in California and Mexico, which is great.

How do you imagine your research interests might change over the next five to 10 years?

I imagine they will change a lot. Healthcare is really dynamic. And especially with infectious disease modeling and infectious diseases in general, we don't necessarily know which ones are going to be the most impactful and affect a lot of people. Sometimes we do know that diseases like HIV will continue to be a problem, but treatment has gotten better, so there's a lot of different developments in technology that I think make this field really exciting. So I'm not sure what diseases I'll be working on in the future, but for now I've been enjoying research on mosquito-borne diseases, and currently I'm working on HIV modeling and opioid abuse modeling.

What are your career plans after Stanford?

I recently graduated and I’m currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. I just started this position about a month ago. I decided on it because I wanted to work in global health and see what that was like. I’m working with a really great research group in the Institute for Technology Assessment and the Medical Practice Evaluation Center at Harvard Medical School that researches economic evaluation and cost effectiveness of HIV programs all around the world and in the US. I think it's a really cool opportunity to work with researchers, a lot of whom are doctors and physicians, to get more experience in global health research.

What excites you most about the future?

That's a big question. I am very hopeful about the COVID vaccine, and as it gets distributed throughout the US and throughout the world, I'm very hopeful that things can open back up. I’m excited and I hope there will be a renewed sense of focus towards public health and global health, to look out for other countries and also the US. Also, I'm excited to see what it does for communities and building community, since we've been isolated for a while now. I hope there's continued support for those community aspects like there has been the last year.

What advice do you have for future students or current students? How can they make the best use of their time in MS&E and at Stanford?

My best advice is to have fun while at Stanford. Everyone seems like they're doing really great research and really important work, but it’s also a great opportunity to have fun and learn new things that have nothing to do with research. There are so many amazing instructors and classes that have nothing to do with MS&E, too, like language classes, art classes, sailing—things like that. That has been a really great part about going to Stanford, experiencing all the other great resources here.

Another piece of advice is to take breaks, even though it seems like everybody is working all the time. It's necessary, and I hope we've all learned now that we've been working from home that it is necessary to have work-life balance.

How do you approach work-life balance?

I would always take weekends off, unless there was some really big deadline. For my PhD, I thought of it more as a job than a degree program, so I worked set hours during the week and then not so much at night or on weekends unless I really had to. Sometimes I felt a pressure to just work on a Saturday to get a little bit closer, but research takes a long time; it’s about playing the long game. That was really hard, especially in the beginning, because there are classes and deadlines and also research goals, but I think that it helped me in the long run to carve out that time. I've definitely experienced burnout, and carving out time—even when I could be doing more work and even when I don't necessarily have anything else I need to do—setting a time to stop work and pick it back up the next Monday really helped me.

What will you miss most about Stanford and the Bay Area?

I’ll miss all my friends there and the great people at MS&E. I already miss them because I haven’t been into the office in a while.

In terms of the Bay Area in general, I’ll really miss all the great hiking trails around there, and the redwoods that are just up the hill. It's amazing how close they can be to Stanford campus and how easy it is to get up into the hills and see some amazing scenery. Windy Hill was one of my favorite hikes.

Student stories & voices