Women in Science: Montira Pongsiri

By Marguerite Huber

As part of Women’s History Month, I recently spoke with EPA scientist (and occasional Greenversations blogger) Montira Pongsiri, who studies the connections between environmental change and human health.

Dr. Pongsiri focuses on the benefits that healthy ecosystems provide, and how changes we make to the environment affect our health. Things that we do to change the environment, such as climate change and deforestation, can lead to changes in biodiversity, which in turn can affect the transmission of human disease. She is studying these relationships, and from that understanding, working with colleagues to identify tools and strategies to better manage and protect ecosystems and reduce risks to public health.

After studying neuroscience, Pongsiri went on to complete graduate work in environmental sciences and infectious diseases epidemiology at Yale. She was attracted to the discipline of science in approaching and solving problems, but I was amazed to learn that Dr. Pongsiri had not envisioned a career in environmental science until her later graduate school years. It was at that time that she met an environmental risk and policy professor who influenced her to change direction and bridge the connections between environment and human health. It didn’t help that the environment and public health programs were on opposite ends of campus.

In her dissertation work, she studied the tradeoffs between the use of pesticides and malaria. Coming to EPA out of graduate school, Dr. Pongsiri found that EPA challenged her to think about how science can be applied to solve real world problems. She enjoys working with a committed team to address issues at the intersection of ecosystems and human health through the Biodiversity and Human Health initiative, which is the first of its kind at EPA.

“People value good ideas, especially innovative ideas that come from a diverse set of perspectives that can help solve longstanding problems,” Pongsiri said. She believes that it is up to scientists to play a primary role in getting more girls involved with science. They need to be able to show how their work benefits society, from the individual to the community. Additionally, teachers have a responsibility to peak their interest, as her professor did for her. Had it not been for him, she would be working in a different field. Good thing, because we need scientists out there working on environmental health issues, especially because this is something that affects us all.

About the author: Marguerite Huber is an intern from Indiana University currently working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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