Katie Harmon

Katie Harmon is a postdoctoral research associate at the UNC Highway Safety Research Center. She uses data to analyze pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and fatalities to encourage safe and best practices among commuters of all kinds.

Katie Harmonphoto by Alyssa LaFaro
February 5th, 2020

Q: When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

A: I wanted to be a physician like my dad. But when I was 16, I fainted during a routine blood test. I knew then that I was destined for a less “bloody” career. I still cover my face during the gory parts of movies!

Q: Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose your field of study.

A: From my first day as an undergraduate, I knew I wanted to do something related to public health, but I wasn’t sure in what capacity. While obtaining my master’s in environmental health, I researched heavy metal poisoning in occupational and residential settings. Post-graduation, I interviewed for an applied epidemiology fellowship focused on the then-emerging opioid overdose crisis in North Carolina. Heavy metal and drug poisonings don’t have all that much in common, but I decided to go for it. Since that moment, I have pursued a career in injury epidemiology. Now, my focus has since changed from drug overdoses to transportation-related injuries.

Harmon and her partner hiking the Pichincha Volcano near Quito, Ecuador in 2016.

Harmon and her partner hiking the Pichincha Volcano near Quito, Ecuador in 2016.

Q: Tell us about a time you encountered a tricky problem. How did you handle it and what did you learn from it?

A: I had a difficult time narrowing down the thesis of my dissertation. I ran five to 10 different half-baked ideas by my advisor while making very little progress. Rather than wasting more time, he recommended I start putting my various ideas on paper. As soon as I began writing, my research started to coalesce. Since then, I always find that writing something — anything — keeps me from getting stuck on challenging tasks. This has been extremely helpful for writing grant proposals.

Q: Describe your research in 5 words.

A: Creating safe streets for all.

Q: What are your passions outside of research?

A: My dog Evie and my partner, in that order (just kidding, Sam). Since my job keeps me mainly indoors, I prioritize spending some time outside every day — running, hiking, or just sitting outside with a book. Also, I am a firm believer in taking a break from work and email. About once a year, I take a vacation in which I go off the grid for a week or so. This year, my partner and I will backpack across northern Spain.

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