Andi Gillentine is the cofounder and head of operations and algorithm development at Whit.li. She has a mathematics degree from Bryn Mawr College and a masters degree in epidemiology from the University of Texas.
Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans – John Lennon
When people ask what I studied for my masters degree, they are frequently surprised by the answer. Epidemiology is not what you would expect for a masters of science of a founder of a technology startup. Computer science or mathematics, yes. Epidemiology, no.
Epidemiologists study diseases and epidemics, and I have been interested in the area since the AIDS epidemic exploded when I was a kid. So why am I not an epidemiologist? Life is full of surprises.
When I finished my undergraduate studies (I have an undergraduate degree in math from Bryn Mawr), I felt the need to not be in school for a bit. So I got a job teaching in one. Ironic, I know. In retrospect, when I graduated from college, I had spent the better part of 80 percent of my years in school. I didn’t really know anything else; teaching was like a halfway house.
And if that’s the case, then I am a recidivist. After two years of teaching — in which I learned that if I ever intended to have children of my own, I needed to quit spending all day with someone else’s — I went to graduate school in something I had always been interested in, epidemiology. I went to the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston.
In graduate school I met a whole community who had the same tolerance that I did for graphic lunch conversation, had an opportunity to do real epidemiology, and discovered that the human immune system might possibly be the coolest thing ever.
And I learned some unexpected things: that in order to do the epidemiology that I really wanted to do, I would have to go to med school, that I hate lab work – my hands hurt just thinking about it (this may have to do with having very small hands and pipettes not coming with sized handgrips and don’t get me started on arguing for extra-small gloves), and that the politics in academia are deeply ingrained, ridiculous power plays I have absolutely no patience or appreciation for.
Before I even finished my masters, I found a job in Austin and completed my thesis remotely. I didn’t attend my masters graduation, and I swore I wasn’t going to school again. The job in Austin was a great blend of my math and epidemiology experience. I worked as an analyst uncovering patterns that indicated billing fraud in Medicare claims. I worked several progressively higher positions in healthcare and healthcare quality (another good offshoot of the epidemiology training, believe it or not).
I learned I was a good leader. My teams got their projects done well and on time. I also learned that big companies do not always value their employees in line with my values. When I got the opportunity to try building a healthcare branch for a startup company, I took it. I loved the fast paced high-energy environment of a startup. I like the opportunity to make a more direct impact on the project and the people I worked with.That startup opportunity led to an opportunity to start another startup with one of the founders of that startup, and here I am: a female entrepreneur at a technology startup with a masters degree in epidemiology.
Image by Flickr user Cea