Waru Gichane

Waru Gichane is a PhD student in the Department of Health Behavior within the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and a research assistant at the Carolina Population Center. Her research focuses on the individual, interpersonal, and institutional barriers women face in achieving optimal sexual and reproductive health.

a young African-American woman
September 27th, 2017

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

Describe your research in five words.

“Sexual health, attainable for all.”

I had a really hard time making up my mind — on any given day I wanted to be a doctor, lawyer, actress, or journalist. By my senior year in high school, I decided I wanted to be a medical reporter like Sanjay Gupta on CNN so I could combine my interests in medicine and journalism.

Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose research as a career path.

Spring of my sophomore year in college, I took a course that introduced me to concepts about population health. I was heading toward a career in medicine, but this class expanded my understanding of health outside of a clinical environment. My senior year I completed an honors research thesis exploring young women’s decision-making around birth control. From there, I knew I wanted to enter a career in public health research.

a young woman and her mother

Waru’s mother is her favorite travel companion. Here they are on a trip to Teresina, Brazil.

What’s an interesting/funny story from your time doing research?

The summer before my senior year, I was working on a project assessing waterborne diseases in a peri-urban area — the landscape between town and country — in Zambia. I was working with a Zambian college student to interview community members about water treatment practices, sanitation, and overall health. We repeatedly found that the water treatment practices recommended locally were too expensive for most people in the community and that the high incidence of diarrheal diseases due to poor sanitation in the area was less of a concern than the lack of economic opportunities locally. That gave me a lot of insight about using the priorities and needs of a community to drive the development of a suitable intervention — rather than just focusing on the immediate issue.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming female researchers in your field?

Do not underestimate your value to a research team. No matter where you are in the hierarchy, the work you do is essential to the project.

UNC Research is proud of every scientist on this campus, but we are especially excited to promote our female researchers in 2017. Each week this year, we will publish a short Q&A feature on one of them — whether she is an undergrad, PhD candidate, or full professor. Please click here to make a recommendation.